What is an Audio Recording Engineer?

Mike Howells

An audio recording engineer, professionally speaking, is an individual who works in the field of audio science related to the analog or digital recording of sounds or music. Generally not related to classical engineering, an audio recording engineer is more closely associated to the creative processes related to music and other audio. Technical competencies ranging from analog reel-to-reel taping and digital recording to both soundboard and computer post processing are critical, however.

An audio recording engineer in the studio.
An audio recording engineer in the studio.

In the most common recording studio environment, an audio recording engineer is tasked with recording, editing, cleaning, adjusting, mixing, and finally mastering sound. The quality of a particular engineer is typically judged by his ability to adjust the final product to suit the wishes of the producer or recording musicians. The tools of the audio recording engineer include mixing boards or sound boards, pre-amplifiers and amplifiers, sequencers, signal processors, microphones, and computers. Increasingly, computer software is becoming more and more capable of emulating the features of a traditional mixing board, simplifying post-production and reducing studio costs.

Recording engineers should know how and where to position microphones in the studio.
Recording engineers should know how and where to position microphones in the studio.

Less common, though not unusual, work environments for an audio recording engineer can include post-production for television, cinema, marketing, advertising, and computer games. Additionally, live recording for concerts and other events demands special training. Similar credentials are needed for each industry, though specialization is common. Specialization among the four main aspects of commercial recording — recording, editing, mixing, and mastering — is typical, as individual engineers gravitate to the aspect of audio engineering which they are most comfortable.

While many older audio recording engineers are self-taught or otherwise informally trained, most newer engineers undergo specific education for audio recording, and can hold anything from a degree in electrical or general engineering to music and audio production. Moreover, audio engineers often have experience making music themselves, and are familiar with the creation as well as the technical aspects of recording. In recent years, as digital technology has become increasingly prevalent, demand for audio recording engineers with experience working in the digital medium and in analog-to-digital transfer has similarly exploded. The number of accredited schools dedicated to recording science has also grown dramatically.

Audio recording engineers enjoy a strong professional brotherhood in the form of the Audio Engineering Society, which was established in 1948. It serves to develop, review, and standardize audio engineering techniques and best practices. The society holds annual conventions in Europe and the US, and publishes a peer-reviewed magazine.

Most audio recording engineers are in charge of mixing and mastering sound.
Most audio recording engineers are in charge of mixing and mastering sound.

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