How Much Money Does a Sound Engineer Make?

Sound engineers can earn up to $150 an hour for high-budget recordings.
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Sound engineers can earn up to $150 an hour for high-budget recordings.

Recording music is one of many responsibilities of a sound engineering technician — or sound engineer, for short. These “mixers” must know how to set up and strike equipment, run a wide array of mixing software and process the music once it's recorded. Though little education is needed, and most techs learn on the job, salaries can reach upwards of six-figures, especially for seasoned pros. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

Salary Overview

In 2011, sound engineering technicians averaged $56,110 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But high salaries can sometimes skew the average, and median wage is often a better indication of a sound engineer’s salary. Half of all sound engineering technicians earned $46,750 a year. Neither figure, however, accounts for variations among industries.

Industry Salaries

A survey by Berklee College of Music found that sound engineer salaries vary by industry. For example, sound engineers mixing sound for video games averaged $35,000 to $75,000 a year in 2010. Broadcast engineers, on the other hand, earned $50,000 to $70,000 or more. In the motion picture industry, mixers — as they’re often called — earned $40,000 to $120,000 a year, while those in the music industry can make anywhere from $25,000 to over $150,000 a year.

Recording Rates

“Film Music Magazine” offers a little more detail into the hourly rate of recording engineers, and the fees vary by the budget of the project. All rates entail set-up, recording and mixing. As of 2012, a recording engineer earned $35 to $65 an hour for recording demos. Low-budget projects pay a rate of $40 to $70 an hour, while medium-budget projects pay $75 to $100 an hour. With high-budget recordings, you’re looking at a rate of $75 to $150 an hour. Seasoned mixers, however, command rates of $2,000 to $3,000 for a nine-hour day.

Local Variances

As with any job, location affects salaries, and sound engineers are no exception. Those working in Nevada tend to earn the most, averaging just over $77,000 a year. Sound engineers in California are a close second, earning an average of almost $75,000 a year, while New York-based mixers were third with an average wage of almost $66,000. The same, however, can’t be said for sound engineers in Nebraska, where salaries average $27,130 a year.

Job Outlook

Through 2020, sound engineering technicians should experience an employment growth of just 1 percent, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is slower than the national average for all U.S. occupations — an estimated 14 percent. As technology improves, those technicians already employed use computer-controlled programming, limiting the need for additional sound engineers.

2016 Salary Information for Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians

Broadcast and sound engineering technicians earned a median annual salary of $42,740 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, broadcast and sound engineering technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,200, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $62,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 134,300 people were employed in the U.S. as broadcast and sound engineering technicians.

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