In the vast world of music there is limitless room for learning and improvement and there are many benefits of learning about audio engineering for practicing musicians A musician is faced with hundreds of styles and genres to learn, practice, and develop, and becoming a great musician often means learning a number of instruments and as well as about sound and the world of music in general. One aspect of music education that can be overlooked is the study of sound itself. In addition to music theory, it is of great importance for a musician to understand audio, acoustic, and sonic theory.
Music is made up of sound waves, and the way that these waves interact and are impacted by the world around us is complex and intricate. Knowing how these sound waves behave allows a musician to manipulate them more effectively and achieve a sound that they desire. Being able to correctly hear the music you are making is integral to improvement, and this takes some knowledge of how sound works and the many technologies that are currently used by the music industry for recording.
An understanding of how sound is perceived by ears and influenced by acoustics opens many doors for a musician. A fundamental knowledge of the physics of sound allows a musician to have a greater control and understanding of the sound that their instrument creates. A guitarist, for example, who understands the sonic spectrum that our ears can hear will have an easier time manipulating the equalizer on their amplifier—and they will do so more effectively. Understanding this spectrum fully, allows a songwriter to better create a sense of balance between the high, low, and mid-range frequencies in a song.
Knowing how the acoustics of a room impacts the sound perceived can help a studying musician to create a practice space that accurately represents the sound they are making. Correctly hearing the instrument you are playing is essential to progressing and developing a consistent style and expression. If the room in which you are playing creates an unbalanced representation of the sound, then you will incorrectly alter the tone and style of your playing to compensate. While the differences may be minimal, over time they can lead to bigger changes in playing. Capitalizing on these minor influences and paying attention closely to the details is critical to becoming an amazing musician rather than just a good one.
Among the many reasons for learning some fundamentals of audio engineering are the countless opportunities that knowledge of audio creates. The audio field is massive and the job opportunities vary from studio work to touring to electronics development. Many musicians find audio engineering to be a supplementary career that fuels their passion for music and allows for involvement in the industry without many of the difficulties of being a day-to-day musician.
To further understand how the subject of audio engineering can influence the studies and practices of a musician we to look further into what audio engineering is, how one can study it, and how it is applied to an aspiring musician. There are many ways to get involved in this area of the music industry, and sorting through all of them can prove overwhelming for some people, so let’s look at the basics of it.
What Exactly Is Audio Engineering
In its simplest form, audio engineering is the manipulation of sound, either recorded or amplified. When an instrument is captured, converted to electrical signals, and reproduced as a recording or amplified sound, there is often a loss of quality and a change in the character of the sound. This may be an electric guitar played through an amplifier in a music venue, a drum set recorded in a studio with a number of microphones, or a voice singing into a microphone.
In its purest form, audio engineering seeks to preserve and hone the quality of the sound of these instruments, so that they are broadcast as an accurate portrayal of the song being played. There are many tools that are used to achieve this, and the process involves manipulating the loudness of each frequency of the audio spectrum (equalization), removing unwanted noises like hum and buzz (gating), and adding effects that replicate the sound of a particular environment (such as adding reverb or delay).
Beyond preserving and crafting the tone of individual instruments, audio engineering often also involves creatively influencing a recording or performance. In digital music production, an audio engineer may chop up and rearrange recordings or add any one of a number of different effects to achieve a wide array of sounds. This can been seen in just about any genre of music; adding distortion, fuzz, or drive to an electric guitar will create a full, powerful sound that is requisite to rock, blues, and many other genres, and adding reverb to a violin can help to replicate the sound of a performance in a large space when it was recorded in a small studio.
How Is Audio Engineering Practical for Musicians
The most practical application of knowledge of sonic theory comes with an understanding of acoustics. Everything from where you stand in a room to where you place a microphone can greatly alter the sound of a performance. For a gigging musician just getting started performing, there are many benefits of learning about audio engineering. Often as you get started playing music live, there is no engineer available to help you set up and create a quality sound. Be it a large band or a solo performance, there will come a time where it’s helpful to know how to set up some audio gear, place a microphone correctly, choose the correct microphone, and adjust the levels and tone of the projected sound.
One part of becoming an audio engineer is training your ears to hear properly and correctly. Knowing how various frequency levels relate to specific keys, and being able to hear a key and attribute it to a frequency level, can help a musician create the best sound possible when making a recording or giving a performance. Training your ears is hard work, and it requires long periods of studying and remembering tones, but the payoff is one of the most rewarding practices a musician can do.
One of the greatest benefits of learning about audio engineering is recording. At some point, as a musician, it is necessary to record yourself playing. Whether it’s for a demo recording as a band seeking sponsorship or representation, or it’s a self-recording to listen to your own playing and further develop it, there is a lot involved in learning how to create a recording that sounds decent. With the many recent technological developments in the recording and audio engineering industries, it is possible to record at home and achieve quality results without spending a large sum of money. However, there are so many new technologies and means to record at home, it can be hard to sort through the all of the options. Many of the recording programs and equipment have a learning curve. All of them are different to operate, but if you have a set of fundamental skills and a base knowledge of recording principles and applications, the process can be greatly simplified. It can even be easy and fun.
How To Become an Audio Engineer
Whether you’re interested in audio engineering as a hobby, career, or as a musician looking to supplement your knowledge and playing, there are many paths to learning the practices and skills of the industry. There are schools that offer programs in audio ranging from traditional four year bachelor degrees, to shorter intensive programs that offer only a certificate and extensive knowledge and training in a short period of time. It is even possible to become an audio engineer without any schooling. Traditionally many of the skills of this trade were taught by hands on real-world experiences in studios or music venues.
The ‘old-school’ route to becoming an audio engineer typically involves finding an internship in which you work for education and opportunity rather than pay. Internships in high-end studios can be incredibly competitive and promise nothing, but the benefits of learning about audio engineering in this way is that if you work hard and are well received the opportunities and doors that are opened are endless. Internships can even turn into paid positions as a junior engineer or monitor engineer in a venue, from which you can become a senior engineer or professional in the industry. The key to making this work is finding a good mentor who will teach you everything you need to know.
One of the most common approaches to learning this trade is self-study. This is a particularly good option for musicians who are looking to supplement their music career, develop their skills on the side, and learn a little about recording. Self-study can be difficult, as you often don’t have an outside educated opinion to let you know when you’re doing something improperly. There are many online programs and courses that can aid the process of learning this on your own. Often trying to learn this on your own will involve the purchasing of expensive audio equipment, as it’s impossible to learn without experimenting with the tools yourself.
University schooling is seen as one of the most comprehensive options to learning the tools of the trade. You will be provided with studio space, hands on experience, and close mentorship from industry veterans who know the best practices and can help you develop them.
What Jobs Are There In Audio Engineering
There are many different jobs in audio, but most of these fall into one of two categories: working in a recording studio or in a live venue. While many of the skills and knowledge base overlap, these two areas in the industry offer jobs that are tremendously different from each other. There are important areas of specialization whether you are working to record a performance or you are amplifying a performance for a live audience.
The lifestyle of the two facets of the industry can vary greatly as well. If you are working in a music studio, you will have a job with fairly regular hours, whereas a touring sound engineering can spend months on the road working late nights and early mornings. On both sides there are jobs which specialize in particular tasks.
In a recording studio you can be responsible for only recording: setting up the instruments and microphones, adjusting the levels and sound, and ensuring that the sound is captured as accurately as possible. It’s also possible that you work only on the post-production of a recording, where you take the finished recording and manipulate the recorded sound with a number of technologies and different equipment. In smaller studios these jobs may be done by one person, whereas in large studios there will be people who specialize on each aspect.
There are many jobs available specializing in the production, creation, and optimization of audio equipment. Some studio engineers have gone on to develop microphones and other recording gear, as an innate knowledge of sound manipulation is necessary to creating these products. This industry is ever evolving and there is new equipment constantly being developed as technologies change and improve. Many engineers will specialize in one type of equipment or even one particular type of software, becoming an expert, teaching, and consulting for others.
The opportunities created and the benefits of learning about audio engineering are boundless. It is the single most important area for a musician to study outside of music itself, and the ways in which it can influence the quality of a musician’s playing and life are numerous.
While the amount of information on the subject can be daunting with so many resources to sort through, picking up a couple of books on basic sonic theory can go a long way towards the betterment of any musician. There are many free resources online that offer information on where to begin studying audio and how to use audio engineering to become a better musician.