Sound engineering is about capturing, recording, copying, editing, mixing and reproducing sound using electronic devices. It involves both production and post-production activities. Production can involve everything from set-up to the actual recording. During post-production, the recorded material is ‘polished’. Study courses involve technical and creative aspects of sound recording, editing and mixing. Students start by learning the basic theory of sound and then go on to cover recording, post-production, live-sound reinforcement, as well as broadcasting. Technical aspects, such as sound mixing, giving special effects, as well as, use of recording tools, microphones, etc is covered.
What do they do?
After finishing his undergraduate degree in commerce, Rajeev Iyer told his father, a businessman and a postgraduate in English literature, that he wanted to be a sound engineer. His father was baffled and asked his son mockingly: “Do you want to repair radios or check mikes at public functions?”
His remark stemmed from his frustration over his failed plan to send his son to Australia for an MBA, which would have prepared Rajeev for the 50-year-old Cochin-based family car-battery business. Such was his passion for his calling that Rajeev protested by leaving home - only for a couple of days though. He returned as soon as his father saw his resolve.
Six years later, Rajeev’s father is “proud of Rajeev” and says: “His business is far far (sic) better than mine. I was clueless of the potential possibilities available in this profession,” says S Subramanian Iyer.
Rajeev now runs a production house — Hear Pictures — in Delhi and manages sound for radio/ TV commercials. “When you want to do something creative, nothing else can fascinate you. I was hooked to ‘sounds’ when I watched Jurassic Park while in college. I saw the same movie four times only because of its enchanting sounds,” says Rajeev.
Apart from working on the sound for advertisements and commercial movies, sound engineers are also hired at radio and TV stations as well as five-star clubs to create, streamline and record sounds.
Tarun Rishiraj, a sound engineer at 93.5 Red FM, got interested in sound while working as a DJ a few years ago. “Working as a sound engineer is very exciting. Every day, you get to experiment with new sounds. It’s refreshing to make radio promos,” says Rishiraj.
But pressure of work can take a toll especially when a mega event such as Cricket World Cup is round the corner. “We produce jingles that are used to promote corporate sponsors during the course of the event. During this time, there is no fixed eight-hour shift like on other days. We might have to (work) for a long time,” he says.
These are the times when Rishiraj has to walk the thin line between quality and quantity.
“If we are asked to make an ad film by 5 pm then we have to do it, come what may. And just because we are racing to meet a deadline, it won’t absolve us of our mandate to produce quality sounds. A sound engineer has to be fast and creative at the same time,” he adds.
Another challenge in the industry is to live up to the client’s (sometimes wild) expectations. When a client — an advertiser or an agency — is not satisfied with your creative output, he can simple turn down your proposed work. “You can’t afford to have an inflated ego in this profession. Any non-creative person from the client’s side can reject your work for reasons, which are random and inexplicable, at times,” says Rajeev.
. A keen interest in music
. A combination of creativity and technical knowledge
. Knowledge of electrical, electronic, and mechanical equipment
. Good communication skills are a must
. Team player
. good understanding
. Sense of pitch, timing and rhythm
. Software and hardware integration skills
How do I get there?
Earning a diploma or degree in sound engineering is the first step in pursuing a career. After the course, one can find work in movies, television, advertising and broadcasting, live concerts, as well as multimedia organisations.
One starts out as an assistant to an established recording engineer. With experience, one can specialise in different aspects of sound and can become a music producer or start his/her own recording studio.