Sound Engineer / Sound Technician
Note: Completion of a TAFE SA course does not guarantee an employment outcome. Formal requirements other than educational qualifications (eg licensing, professional registration), may apply to some occupations.
||Openings 5 years to 2016-17: 5 000 < 10 000
||Median weekly earnings: > $1401 to (Source: DEEWR Australian Jobs 2012: www.deewr.gov.au/australian-jobs-publication)
||Each time you play your favourite CD or watch the evening news you'll be experiencing the auditory creation of the sound engineer (also known as recording engineer or sound technician).
There are approximately 240 sound engineers working in South Australia. Employment is mostly full-time with the majority working in the Arts and Recreation Services industry. Majority of persons in this occupation are males and most are employed in the Adelaide metropolitan area. This occupation has a younger age profile with less than a quarter of sound engineers/technicians aged 45 years or older
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TAFE SA courses that may be relevant for: Sound Engineer / Sound Technician
Take a ghetto-blaster into the bathroom and turn the tone knob down and the volume up. The resulting mishmash of sound is what you'd get in a studio without the sound engineer. They are in effect sound balancers. Sound engineers use an array of electronic equipment to amplify, edit, record, mix and modify sound for different types of performance. They use equipment such as recording consoles or computers, outboard equipment (processing equipment), microphones and tape machines to direct and manipulate the sound signal. Sound can be recorded on multi-track tape recorders (digital or analog) or on hard disc.
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There are no formal educational requirements to become a sound engineer, although completing a certificate or diploma will be advantageous in gaining employment.
TAFE SA offers courses relevant to this occupation including the Advanced Diploma of Sound Production. Pathways include the Certificate III in Technical Production, Certificate IV and Diploma of Sound Production.
Entry to this occupation is highly competitive. This occupation is small in size, with few opportunities, especially in the studio recording avenue. Employment growth is expected to be slight and job turnover is already below average. Many recording studios are owner/operator and as such don't hire sound engineers. The most significant change has been the advancement in digital recording.
Cultural and Recreational Services
Legend has it that when the Beatles recorded the 'Sergeant Peppers' album, they assembled two four tracks together to make an eight track system. These days, most bands are recorded in studios using anything from 24 to 75 tracks. John Villani should know about the changes in the music industry. For 29 years he's been involved with mixing and recording local and overseas acts. A job he still loves. ''I love music. This is how I got into the job in the first place. It's great to know I can make a living out of something I love. I still get a buzz out of the creative process, especially working with different types of musicians. ''John has worked with a wide range of artists, including Blues legend BB King, Chris Rea, Marcia Hines, Billy Thorpe and all girl local band, Lash. He is currently working on a guitar album for Perth musician Dom Mariani (DM3). Each artist is different and needs to be miked, recorded and mixed in different ways. For example, to achieve a warm, intimate sound, John and Dom chose to put the recording to tape using 2 inch 24 analog rather than digital. ''You must be inventive and creative. For example, changing the mikes slightly will produce a different mood, making the music feel great as well as sound great. If you've got the music feeling great, it means you've captured the best performance. ''John is from the old school where nobody completed formal training or did diploma courses. He originally started working with bands, setting up systems and equipment. He then spent time with good engineers from overseas and Australia who taught him the ropes. ''Some of the best engineers in the world started off as coffee boys and sweeping floors. It can be a ruthless business and hard to get into. But if you're really confident, you could buy a small computer or budget mixer and mikes and start from home. Get as much work experience as possible. Sit in on sessions, see how musicians react and learn to get on with people. Musicians are an interesting breed! ''John believes that the most important quality for a budding sound engineer is to have a good ear for music. You don't need to be a trained musician, but certainly playing and reading music can help. ''If you know you're good and have a good ear and really love music, then pursue it. The biggest thing with music is that we all have different ears and ways of hearing music, and they're not necessarily right or wrong. You just have to be prepared to experiment.''
Nature of the Job
Sound engineers can work in recording studios, in sound re-enforcement companies (concert venues), radio, film and television, post production studios and theatre. They usually work with a team of creative professionals, including performers, producers, directors and programmers.
Studio sound engineers have the luxury of working in an acoustically stable environment. Here they can simulate different effects with digital processing, creating sound effects like singing in a hall, canyon or cathedral, without actually being in one. Most professional studios use 24 or more, multi-track recording systems (tracks are the separate sound layers). A common way to record a band would be put down a rhythm track and then layer other instruments via the console onto tape. After everything is recorded to tape, the 'mix-down' occurs, where all the effects and processing is brought into play. ''In the old days the whole band had to play and get it right. Now with overdubbing, the drummer and the bass player can come in at different times to play their parts. Computer editing means you don't have to play and get it right in one hit,'' says Tony, an assistant sound engineer. Sound engineers can also create midi (musical instrument digital interface) programs, whereby instead of recording a sound, they can record 'an event', for example, by pressing a key on a keyboard. These are pre programmed commands for different instruments.
Typical Physical Working Environment
Talk to anyone in the industry and you'll be told you must have an ear for music. Knowledge of musical composition is certainly desirable. However, it is just as important to have an affinity for sound, to be a good listener and an excellent communicator.
Typical Occupational Example
Being a sound engineer involves an amalgam of technical skill and artistry to enhance any given performance. At Channel Nine, Audio Supervisor, Joe Branco, is part of the creative team working on shows such as 'Postcards'. After capturing the sound in the field, the audio is added after the video editing. During this process, sound effects and music are mixed to accompany the visuals and contribute to the story as a whole. ''I like the fact you can manipulate sound, mix in effects and add music to change the story for creativity. Different music can make something moody or happy, but you still have to work with the team's vision in mind,'' says Joe. Out on location many things can go wrong and it's vital to be able to respond quickly to unforeseen events. ''In the field you're at the mercy of nature, for example, dogs barking or lawn-mowers going. If you're doing a take and there's a plane going overhead you have to make a decision whether to continue taping. It's not just about putting a mike out there,'' advises Joe.
Concert sound recordists may work in similar challenging situations. They are responsible for setting up the equipment, checking processing gear (are reverb, echoes or delays working?) and mixing or integrating the elements to balance the performance. Things don't always go to plan! Equipment can fail, there might be a problem with a lead or microphone, or singers might go to a microphone unexpectedly.
Salaries vary according to experience and reputation. Expect to earn approximately $25,000 as a junior sound engineer, increasing to around $52,000 a year for a senior sound engineer. Those with an international reputation can earn in the vicinity of six figures!
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