How Much Money Does a Sound Engineer Make?

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

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.

 

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.

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