There are many avenues you can pursue to become a sound engineer. You will go through at least three stages to mastering the craft of sound engineering. The first stage will be mastering the basic terminology, vocabulary, and basic skills. The second stage will be applying this information to real-world work experience. The third stage will be continuing education, learning advanced practices and new technologies.
Several colleges and universities offer two and four year degrees in music production and sound engineering. There are several trade schools who offer BA’s in various music concentrations. There are online courses that range in both the scope of study and price. There are many very informative online tutorials that are free, and manufacturers continue to offer free training seminars.
It may be a good idea to start exploring what you want to do by taking short courses and seminars. Some community colleges offer extensive production courses geared to working in live concert production, but most offer an introduction to stagecraft or pro tools. These are inexpensive options and allow you to get your feet wet.
One to Two-Year School Programs:
Collections of courses into complementary diploma or certificate areas.
- Trade Programs will assemble courses necessary for licensing or union recognition.
- Career changes or shifts may require this training.
Four-Year College/University Programs:
- Comprehensive degree programs where a core curriculum in liberal arts is coordinated with professional studies. A College is a collection of complementary schools. A University is a collection of complementary colleges.
But Do I Really Need to Go to School?
You Don’t Need A Degree To Do This For A Living
You do not need a degree to become a sound engineer. You do not need a degree to work in concert production. Many of the people working in the music industry do not have degrees in audio or music production; some did not attend college at all.
Being a sound engineer is a craft. No amount of study can make you a sound engineer, only practice. The usual pattern of training is obtaining an apprenticeship; this is harder in live sound. Just as much as having a solid technical background is experience and connections.
You can beg your way into being an unpaid intern at a studio, and begin the slow and process. You will pour coffee, sweep floors, edit in pro-tools, assist with sessions and then finally mix a session. The same is true for live sound, obtaining an internship with a sound company or at a club will help you get your foot in the door. Remember to stay on top of the ever-changing technology. Having a basic understanding of electronics and electricity is important and would recommend a basic course in business management as chances are you will be working as a freelancer.
If You Can Pay For School, Then Go
Going to college for audio engineering is an invaluable experience. But consider student loans before shelling out $80,000 or more for a degree. It is hard to justify being in debt because the truth is you are still going to have to pay your dues working as an intern somewhere.
Getting an education is great. Going to college is great. You will learn and be exposed different ideas and theories. Each person’s situation is unique, whether it’s through school, interning or freelancing; you just have to start.
How to Get Started in Live Sound
There are many colleges and technical schools that offer degrees and education in audio engineering and music production. If you’ve already got a basic background in audio try and find a Mentor.
Visit SoundGirls.Org and our Profiles page you’ll find a constantly growing collection of stories about the successful women engineers/producers/ and technicians in the industry. They’ve got excellent advice and information to share about what it takes to make it in this business and how they did it.
Start by learning as much and getting as much experience wherever you are at the moment- if you’re in school, does your school have an active A/V department or music production program? Does your school have a sound system that it uses for events such as band concerts, theatrical performances? Get involved and learn how to use the equipment.
Already have some experience? Approach local sound companies, venues, or local bands for a job. Explain to them your interest in live sound and ask if they will give you the opportunity to work and learn from them. Be prepared to work as an unpaid intern until you have enough experience. Gaining knowledge and experience whether it is shop work, loading trucks, or working a show are all valuable assets. Be available and open to working every opportunity that is offered to you. Proving that you are reliable is as valuable as your mixing abilities.
No experience- Are you a fast learner? Can you learn on the job? Are there any opportunities where you live? Inquire with sound companies, bands, and venues for internships. If you have no experience you will need to find an opportunity to learn on the job. Inquire with local sound companies or sound engineers if they will take you under their wing. Often bands cannot afford a sound engineer but desire to work with someone capable, that they can trust and knows their material, approach local bands and see if they are open to this. Expect to start out working for free, consider the experience you acquire as payment.
Is there a local club or live music venue with an in house sound system. Explain to them your interest in live sound and ask if they will give you the opportunity to work and learn from their house engineer. Be prepared to work as an unpaid intern until you have enough knowledge.
Join the local stagehand labor company or union (IATSE) and work as many shows as you can, request that they put you on the sound call.If you live in a major city such as LA, NYC, Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, you have many options available to you: sound companies, stagehand labor companies, IATSE, equipment rental companies and rehearsal spaces (such as SIR).
If you’re not good at learning on the job and/or have no idea where to get started, get an education at a trade school or college. Your best bet is one that offers real world hands on training. Understanding signal flow and theory such as proper gain structure, troubleshooting are as valuable as getting your hands on the console and mixing. Work as hard as you can. Learn as much as you can. Show initiative, have a positive attitude and be prepared to jump at opportunities as they arise!