Sound designer

A sound designer


Sound designers develop a sound design concept for a performance and supervise the execution of it. Their work is based on research and artistic vision. Their design is influenced by and influences other designs and must be conform with these designs and the overall artistic vision. Therefore, the designers work closely with artistic directors, operators and the artistic team. Sound designers prepare audio fragments to be used in a performance, which can involve recording, composing, manipulating and editing. During rehearsals and performance they coach the operators to obtain optimal timing and manipulation.

Sound  designers develop plans, cue lists and other documentation to support the operators and production crew. They sometimes also work as autonomous artists, creating sound art outside a performance context.

Sound designers typically do the following duties:

  • In all sectors:
    • create, update, maintain and add to sample and sound libraries
    • develop the sound concept for a project and a sound map or storyboard from a script or project description
    • use digital sound processing (DSP) to manipulate and synthesise sound and music
    • enhance or distort sounds using samplers, synthesisers and audio plug-ins
    • mix sounds using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
    • work alongside other professionals including sound technicians and engineers, directors, composers, musicians, actors and producers.
  • In theatre:
    • create abstract sounds that evoke feelings or emotions as well as sounds that suggest place, time, mood and atmosphere
    • decide when, at what volume level, for how long and from where the sounds are heard
    • source and edit music, including using microphones (either in the form of headsets or mics positioned around the stage) to amplify performers’ voices
    • design a sound system that encompasses a three-dimensional space, which involves the audience as well as the performers
    • reinforce and amplify individual vocals, to ensure they can be heard but still belong to the performer, rather than coming from a loudspeaker elsewhere
    • liaise with the director and performers, as well as the other technicians involved in the show.
  • In games, film and television:
    • use various different sound implementation systems such as Wwise, FMOD, Unity and Unreal
    • use in-game implementation systems
    • use systems that could include UE4 Blueprints, Max MSP or other visual logic systems
    • compose and engineer music
    • assist in post-production by improving sound quality or adding sound over video
    • record, layer and produce sounds and sound effects for a desired impact
    • spot, arrange and edit audio into video or other delivery mechanisms.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to sound designer:

sound designer and music composer
music composer & sound designer
audio engineer and sound artist
audio designer
audio engineer and sound designer
music and sound artist
sound designer & audio engineer
sound artist and audio engineer
sound designer and composer
composer and sound designer
sound designer & music composer
sound designer and engineer
audio engineer & sound artist
composer & sound designer
sound designer & engineer
sound designer and audio engineer
sound designer & composer
music composer and sound designer
sound engineer and designer
sound engineer & designer

Minimum qualifications

Although having formal educational qualifications to enter this career is unnecessary, a strong background in audio engineering, music mixing, music technology, and sound design is beneficial.

As competition to become a sound designer is getting higher, it’s becoming increasingly common for new entrants to have high school diplomas or degrees in subjects including:

  • music – including digital music, music production and music technology
  • sound/audio engineering
  • live sound technology
  • sound for film, TV and games
  • sound design
  • sound for the moving image.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Sound designer is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Sound designer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to sound designer.

lighting designer
pyrotechnic designer
sound operator
set designer
flying director

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of sound designer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of sound designer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

video designer
puppet designer
mask maker
furniture designer

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of sound designer.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of sound designer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Labour legislation: Legislation, on a national or international level, that governs labour conditions in various fields between labour parties such as the government, employees, employers, and trade unions.
  • Copyright legislation: Legislation describing the protection of the rights of original authors over their work, and how others can use it.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of sound designer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Draw up artistic production: File and document a production in all its phases right after the performance period so that it can be reproduced and all relevant information remains accessible.
  • Set up a multi-track recording: Make the necessary preparations to record music or other sounds on several tracks.
  • Lead a team: Lead, supervise and motivate a group of people, in order to meet the expected results within a given timeline and with the foreseen resources in mind.
  • Provide documentation: Prepare and distribute documentation to ensure all people involved in the production receive relevant and up-to-date information.
  • Monitor mixing in a live situation: Monitor mixing in a live audio situation, under own responsibility.
  • Ensure safety of mobile electrical systems: Take the necessary precautions while providing temporary power distribution independently. Measure and power up an installation.
  • Adapt artistic plan to location: Adjust plans to other locations with regards to the artistic concept.
  • Perform technical sound check: Prepare and run a technical sound check before rehearsals or live shows. Check instrument setup and ensure correct functioning of the audio equipment. Anticipate possible technical problems during a live show.
  • Update budget: Make sure that a given budget remains up to date using most recent and most accurate information. Anticipate possible variations and ensure that the set budgetary goals can be reached within the given context.
  • Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
  • Perform soundchecks: Test the sound equipment of a venue to ensure smooth operation during the performance. Cooperate with performers to make sure the venue equipment is adjusted for the requirements of the performance.
  • Technically design a sound system: Set up, test and operate a complex audio system, based on a given sound concept. This could be a permanent as well as a temporary installation.
  • Translate artistic concepts to technical designs: Cooperate with the artistic team in order to facilitate the transition from the creative vision and its artistic concepts to a technical design.
  • Analyse the need for technical resources: Define and make a list of the required resources and equipment based on the technical needs of the production.
  • Organise resources for artistic production: Coordinate human, material and capital resources within artistic productions, based on the given documentation e.g. scripts.
  • Keep personal administration: File and organise personal administration documents comprehensively.
  • Work with respect for own safety: Apply the safety rules according to training and instruction and based on a solid understanding of the prevention measures and risks to your own personal health and safety.
  • Record music: Record a sound or musical performance in a studio or live environment. Use the appropriate equipment and your professional judgment to capture the sounds with optimal fidelity.
  • Document your own practice: Documenting your own work practice for different purposes like assessment, time management, job application etc.
  • Read musical score: Read the musical score during rehearsal and live performance.
  • Set up sound reinforcement system: Set up an analogue sound reinforcement system in a live situation.
  • Set up basic recording: Set up a basic stereo audio recording system.
  • Follow safety procedures when working at heights: Take necessary precautions and follow a set of measures that assess, prevent and tackle risks when working at a high distance from the ground. Prevent endangering people working under these structures and avoid falls from ladders, mobile scaffolding, fixed working bridges, single person lifts etc. since they may cause fatalities or major injuries.
  • Tune up wireless audio systems: Tune up a wireless audio system in a live situation.

ISCO group and title

3521 – Broadcasting and audiovisual technicians

  1. Sound designer – ESCO
  2. Sound designer job profile |
  3. Featured image: Photo by Techivation on Unsplash
Last updated on February 22, 2023

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