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Do you need musical talent to be a sound engineer?

Ask anyone thinking about embarking on a sound engineering career, "Why?, and they'll say, "Because I like music". But do you need musical talent to be a successful sound engineer?

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There is a strong perceived link between sound engineering and music. Ask anyone thinking about embarking on a sound engineering career, "Why?, and they'll say, "Because I like music".

There's nothing wrong with that, and I would guess that most current sound engineers came into the job through music in some way. But there is so much more...

Sound engineering is comprised of speech (dialog), sound effects and music. There is also a smaller category where previously recorded music is applied to a production, typically mixing music with speech for a radio commercial.

In fact, the main source of employment in sound engineering is speech. Think of all those TV and radio channels, all those microphones. Every microphone is positioned and connected by a sound engineer. And that means a lot of sound engineers.

Obviously then, you don't need musical talent to be a sound engineer if you work with speech. Or sound effects, which is another excellent source of employment. But do you need musical talent to be a sound engineer working with music?

The answer once again is no, believe it or not. Although I would say it's not the best thing to come into sound engineering simply because you have failed as a musician. You have got to love sound, sound equipment, and manipulating sound through electronic and digital means.

Over time, sound engineers develop an intense analytical appreciation of sound, and that sound can be music. They will hear exactly what is coming through the loudspeakers and tell the musician that the balance isn't good, for instance, because musicians often hear what they think they should be hearing rather than what they actually are hearing. And a good musician will respect the judgment of an experienced sound engineer and incorporate it into their playing.

The next logical question would be, "Can you be a sound engineer if your hearing isn't perfect?" That would be an excellent question to ask. Another time...

By David Mellor Friday February 25, 2011
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