Audio School: Salaries, Opportunities and Graduation Rates for Sound Engineers

Image courtesy of Flickr user fensterbme

We’ve heard our share of studio sob stories over the past decade. Since 2000, multi-room facilities have closed all over major metropolitan areas, and here in the NY Tri-state area alone we lost Hit Factory, Sony, and Bennett Studios, just to name a few.

All the while, audio schools pumped out record numbers of graduates, even as physical CD sales plummeted and steady jobs were seemingly nowhere to be found. But has it really been as grim as all that?

We’ve done days upon days of research this month, and as always, it turns out there’s been plenty of good news mixed in with bad.

The Good News

Part of the reason we’ve heard so many dire stories over the past 10 years is that media thrives on conflict. Journalists are much more likely to publish stories that highlight dangers, challenges and transitions, and I have to admit that I’m not immune.

It’s also true that even optimists may recall bad news more readily than the good. That’s because as a species, we’re wired to weigh loss more heavily than gain.

Although you may have heard about a famous studio in your city going out of business, or about accomplished musicians and engineers lowering their rates, there’s a parallel story you may not have heard.

According the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed “sound engineering technicians” has increased by more than 50% since 1999. Jobs in this sector actually grew at a rate faster than the rest of the economy, even through the Great Recession.

Sound engineers saw even greater growth in this span than related occupations such as “audio visual technicians” (up 25%), “broadcast technicians” (up 20%), and “musicians” (sorry, down 10%).

Before you take these data too seriously, know that they aren’t perfect. The OES survey that we draw these statistics from is based on forms the government collects from employers only. When we spoke to economists at the BLS for more context, they readily offered that the data  may incorrectly account for the self-employed.

Also on the other plus side, there’s anecdotal evidence which suggests it’s been boom-time for small to mid-sized studios that are able to appeal to a specific niche.

When Systems Two opened in the 1970s, it was a basement operation, and one of the only recording studios in all of Brooklyn. As of today, the studio’s A room can comfortably fit a whopping 54 musicians – and still have room for another 12 vocalists in its isolation booth. 

This is just one of over 3 dozen bustling studios for my Brooklyn Recording Studio Tour series, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of one borough Despite the big studio closures, a few local mid-sized rooms have been busy enough to warrant doubling their size. For more on that, also see Studio G, The Bunker, and Strange Weather.

The Bad News

The bad news is twofold.

First: Remember the 50% growth that sounded so fantastic a few moments ago? Well, that’s all you’re gonna get for now. Going out the next 8 years into 2020, federal economists anticipate job growth for specialized sound engineers will slow to 1%.

The second problem is that even with decent growth, the job market for those who work exclusively with audio is incredibly small. Although the employment classifications and reports from the BLS leave plenty of room for ambiguity, it’s safe to say that at best, pure sound jobs number in the low tens of thousands on a national level

What’s Next?

Even taking the bad news into account, the outlook isn’t all gloom and doom.

Analysts expect growing opportunities in smaller markets, as well as in sound and music for TV, film, and video. Audio editing skills, event production, and computer troubleshooting experience are relevant to more jobs than ever before, and audio school graduates are trained for those challenges.

Furthermore, jobs for musicians, A/V technicians and broadcasters are expected to grow again, keeping pace with the average for other occupations in the economy. It’s also worth noting that sales of recorded music are now on an upward trend, as are purchases of hi-fi headphones.

It may not be the best time to open a new studio without clientele already established, but for those who already operate a room, things could be far worse.

While Sony’s recording studios may have closed, their music division remains profitable even as the rest of the conglomerate struggles. Likewise, Hit Factory didn’t implode, so much as the deceased owner’s family caved to more profitable options and converted the legendary studios to high-end condos for tens of millions of dollars.

Small and mid-sized rooms have cropped up all over the city to replace facilities like these, and as mentioned, some studios have even grown to offer services that only larger rooms can. Although we might expect additional sorting and retraction in the future, many of these new rooms are making a go of it. It’s likely that we may have seen more of a changing of the guard than an outright collapse.

For much more on this topic, stay tuned this May, as I’ll be starting a new series for SonicScoop to explore these very issues.

We’ve been crunching the numbers and talking to educators, employers, trade organizations, and engineers. Expect detailed coverage of salaries, job opportunities, education programs, growth areas, and graduation rates.

In the meantime, please write in with questions of your own, and we’ll do our best to get them answered.

Read the series on SonicScoop:

Part 1 – Industry Intel: Recording Engineer Salaries (By Industry and Region) – released 05/10/20012

More coming soon.

Justin Colletti is an audio engineer and journalist. He is a staff writer for SonicScoop and managing editor of Trust Me, I’m a Scientist.

This entry was posted in Featured Stories, Industry Trends, May 2012, Most Popular. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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