Recording Engineer

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Recording Engineer


A mixing board may be thought of as the recording engineer's best friend. Recording engineers make their living by the ability to create, scrutinize, critique, modify, shape, control, enjoy and rejoice in the details and sound quality of music and audio sound. They operate equipment to record, mix and edit sound, music and videotape for motion pictures, television and radio programs, videos, music recordings and live events. Recording engineers use a variety of electronic equipment and techniques to record, mix, process, manipulate and edit sound. They alter the sound and clarity of voice and instruments to create polished recorded sound.

Recording engineers control audio consoles to mix sound and dubbing machines to play back edited dialog, music and sound effect tracks. They may operate equipment designed to produce special effects, such as the illusions of a bolt of lightning or a police siren. Accordingly, they can add echoes, delays, speed up or slow down tempos and fine-tune voices. In so many words, it is the recording engineer who manipulates sound to appease their client's desires. In a television show, laugh tracks are sometimes added in to create a more humorous effect. The goal is to both enhance sound and direct listener's focus on specific areas of dialog. Entry-level engineers may not have any creative control whereas more experienced recording technicians will make suggestions to their client as to how the sound quality can be improved.

Most sound recordings are produced using digital audio systems enabling them to record hundreds of tracks for sessions or on hard disc based computers and samplers. For example, when recording an album for a band, multi-track recording systems or MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) systems tape each instrument and voice separately. The recording engineer then takes each of these separate recordings and mixes them together to form a polished sound. The same happens in film during the post-production stage. Recording engineers work closely with producers, directors, arrangers and performers to achieve the desired sound for these different audio and musical recording media.

Recording engineers must keep up-to-date with these new technological and digital advances, moving away from the mixing boards to new digital and software sound recording programs. In recording studios, radio stations and some post-production studios, traditional analog recording is still used, but most recordings nowadays use SMPTE or MIDI time codes for synchronization. Recording techniques are increasingly computerized and digitized, which allows allow recording engineers to work in a non-destructive format, at a faster and more efficient pace while collaborating with others in locations throughout the world.

Recording engineers also maintain video and sound recording equipment. When technical difficulties occur, it is the recording engineer who must come to the rescue and fix the problem. This can be quite stressful, especially when working with quick-tempered celebrities who do not take well to problems and delays.
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  Interests and Skills  
Recording engineers must be patient, understanding and flexible because they will spend long hours in the studio. They must have good ear for musical sound, pitch and tone and have the ability to pay close attention to details. Good communication skills and an outgoing personality are necessary to clarify what particular sounds are desired, and they must constantly make suggestions and accept criticism.

Recording engineers need to have an open mind when it comes to a variety of musical styles and work as part of a team. They are quick thinking individuals and have solid decision-making abilities to solve problems as they arise. They should also enjoy using electronic equipment to perform tasks requiring precision, and troubleshooting problems. Finally, they must not only love music, but also be able to understand it, including reading music and possibly playing an instrument.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Operate audio equipment to record and edit music, dialog and sound effects for films, videos, radio and television programs and recordings
  • Operate videotape recording and editing equipment to record videos, television programs, concerts and live events, and to edit videotape after production
  • Operate recording consoles or computers, tape machines, microphones and sound processing equipment to change the signals from microphone or line inputs to usable audio signals that can be sent to multi-track recording machines or digital audio processors
  • Operate audio consoles to mix music and sound at concerts and live events
  • Operate dubbing machines to play back edited dialog, music and sound effect tracks from different sources, in synchronization with motion picture film
  • Mix, combine or edit recordings to create master tapes for commercials, film soundtracks, CDs, computer audio files, such as wave files or multi-media presentations for later broadcast or retail sale
  • Do audio post-production mixing and editing for film and video work
  • Create MIDI programs for music projects, commercials or film post-production
  • May supervise and coordinate the work of other audio and video recording technicians
  • Recording engineers may be required to work extremely long hours in a studio or on a film set to meet project deadlines. Some spend a great deal of time traveling. They generally work indoors in soundproof studios without windows. Since studio time is expensive, bands will play and play until they get their perfect recording. Film recording engineers often spend half their working hours in the studio and on location.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Recording engineers work for sound recording firms, concert production companies, film and video production and post-production houses, multi-media companies, live sound recording companies, television and radio stations, advertising agencies, clubs, bands and musicians, theater and dance companies, recording studios and on film sets. Some freelance recording engineers set up their own "basement," "project" or "boutique" recording studios.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What is the long term potential for recording engineers? At the beginning of their career, they may start out as a gofer or assistant engineer, and work their way up. In this industry, it is important to be willing to work for little money to gain practical experience and establish a reputation for good work. Experienced studio recording engineers may advance to producer positions.

Other career possibilities include becoming a music composer, sound designer or sound effects producer. Therefore, recording engineers should keep updated on technological advances within their field.

  Educational Paths  
It can be extremely difficult to break into the recording engineering business. Experience working at a co-op placement through a school training program or as a volunteer at a cable television station is an asset. Beginning in radio commercial production is another option.

Although a related postsecondary degree, certificate or diploma is an asset when seeking employment as a recording engineer, there are no formal education requirements. Most recording engineers acquire a working knowledge of today's computer-based recording technologies, such as digital mixing and random access editing, and adapt quickly to many different recording formats and devices by learning on the job or taking related training courses.

A real understanding of music theory and harmony is an asset for those who work on music projects. Formal training is very specialized and relatively few schools offer such programs. Occasionally, colleges, technical institutes and electronic music stores offer evening courses or short seminars in sound recording. Aspiring recording engineers should discuss their career plans with people and employers in the industry before enrolling in any training program.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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