If you’re interested in music, recording and putting on events, you may have thought about becoming a sound engineer. This thought, however, is at once appealing and daunting for many people. The work of a sound engineer can seem incredibly complex to the layman – they handle all kinds of different equipment with countless knobs and buttons, fashion their own devices and talk about sound in often unfamiliar terms like ‘attack’, ‘sound envelope’ and ‘amplitude’, among many others.
It is fair to say that, as long as you have a good sense of hearing and have an interest in sound, there is nothing to stop you from becoming a sound engineer. If you have a hearing impediment, it will be extremely challenging for you to become a sound engineer – although most sound engineers will become partially deaf during their careers (research shows than more than half of sound engineers have lost hearing in the range of frequencies between 1.5 kHz and 5 kHz).
As most sound engineers work with musicians, it would be appropriate for you to seek training in music, by learning a musical instrument and studying different genres, musical terminology, acoustics, traditions and so on. Your training will overlap with these areas, but it will be expected that you have at least some knowledge of music.
A good way to get some training is to apply for college courses in sound, audio, music, theater and performance. If you could combine that with some volunteer work at a studio and by joining a local performance group or a band, you’ll start picking up the basic tools of the job very quickly. The volunteer work will also stand you in good stead for paid work further down the line. Being able to say that you have worked with certain producers, bands and on certain projects means that your name is out there and engenders confidence in your ability and personality.
Personality is important because sound engineers make up a vital part of a team. If you have trouble following instructions or getting along with people sometimes, you will need to work on improving this. As a junior member of a team, you may not agree with the way things are done, but you are expected to get on with it and do your best. Later, when you command a more senior role, you will also expect those below you, with less experience and knowledge, to follow the instructions you give them. You’ll need to chip in to help others and be prepared to go the extra mile. One last thing about personality – don’t bring people down. If you turn up to a job and don’t smile or talk to anyone, you’d better be exceptionally brilliant at your work if you want any chance of being hired again, or getting your name passed on.
The amount of learning you can do on your own has grown a great deal, thanks to the internet. Pretty much all of the theory you will need is right there, for free. The problem with that, however, is that a sound engineer’s job is very much weighted towards the practical realm. You may have learned from the internet what the different uses of a shotgun mic are (http://microphonegeeks.com/pro/shotgun-microphone/), but can you spot, by listening, where one has been used? More to the point – can you spot where one should be used?
Many people imagine a sound engineer, in their mind’s eye, to be a beer-guzzling, leather—clad, long haired nerd, who is tyrannical in their views on everything from bass flangers to Bob Rock. Don’t worry, however, if you don’t fit the stereotype – a sound engineer’s work can be very varied and you can find opportunities to work with your passion, whether it be computer games, movies, opera or amateur dramatics.
A real interest in sound and production, coupled with determination is what will get you far in the business of sound engineering. At first, the pay will be low, the hours will be long and the people may be obnoxious. If you can deal with that and let your passion drive you through, you’ll be able to make it to the point where you can make a lot of money, turn up late and be as obnoxious as you like.