Audio engineers are responsible for some of the great chart topping songs in the world at any moment. For the newbie figuring out whether this field is the right career path raises a lot of questions.
One question in particularly that I encounter a lot with aspiring audio engineers is;
“Does Audio Engineering Require Math?”
You don’t need Harvard level mathematics to engineer audio. You just need a good understanding of equipment as well as an understanding of the processes involved in engineering audio which rarely involve the active use of anything more than basic math. However, when looking to study sound engineering you may be required to have passed math.
Math is certainly applicable in audio engineering but most audio engineers develop a good ear for audio and are able to work without calling up mathematical concepts to assist them in their process.
This topic has raised a lot of misconception and continues to do so but you need to understand that math is certainly applicable but you can do without it.
If the question where rephrased to become:
“What math do I need in order to engineer audio?”
…the answer would be “the basics”.
Duties of the Audio Engineer
One of the roles that Audio engineers play is knowing how to handle equipment. This means having some background with equipment, and knowing how it all interacts together when it used collectively.
This really doesn’t call on any math, because there will be little to no calculations and more practice and getting used to how equipment works.
I personally got started as a music producer by training and knowing all the bits and pieces that come together to create music.
I picked up Audio engineering by working as an assistant for a popular recording studio, whilst running my little home studio.
Never really used math, but I just learnt and picked up a lot of knowledge about equipment and how to use it together without causing any interference or back feedback while I did.
This is one role that proves that you don’t really need to be a math person to be able to work as an audio engineer. Furthermore, most people drop out of school to avoid subjects like math so they end up getting into audio production because it’s more an art than a calculative endeavor.
As an audio engineer, one thing that we’ll be required of you will be to have isknowledge of Digital Audio Workstations or simply one Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
Learning how to use a DAW doesn’t require you to have knowledge of mathematics or anything like that. All it takes is enough practice and a good understanding of music.
Furthermore, the more you practice on a DAW the better you essentially become. Some of the best producers and audio engineers in the world right now don’t rely on math but simply use their innate ability to know the difference between what works and what doesn’t.
Recording is the art of capturing the audio being performed into a microphone or microphones and delivering them into a DAW so they can be edited, mixed and mastered.
This part of audio engineering relies on the audio engineers ability to record into a DAW the right way and ensure that the performer delivers a good performance.
Recording doesn’t really require math, but it certainly requires recording knowledge such as levels, mono recording, stereo recording etc. This knowledge is knowledge that is/can be learned on the job and not necessarily in a math class.
The theoretical part can be helpful, but practicality is what makes engineering become an art and not some by the book set of instructions that have to be carried out.
Mixing is the part where we blend all our recorded audio into a DAW. Apply the necessary effects such as noise reduction, delay, reverb, compression etc. to make them sound better and well correlated.
Mixing is highly technical, and basics of math can help but you can do without them. I’ve always preferred to understand what a plugin is doing rather than getting too technical whilst missing the whole point.
Mastering involves taking the final mix of the record and adding a few adjustments to make it radio ready. This is an extension of the overall process of mixing but is meant to fine tune what you end up with as a final mix.
Knowledge of levels and overall understanding of music will be required from the engineer. Less math is required because it is not too much of a calculative endeavor.
Music as Expression
Music is an expressive art and relies on how good of an ear one develops over time. while math may help to some extent, what will matter more will be the audio engineers ability to perceive audio clearly and be able to carry out the necessary steps to make it better.
Therefore, the math stuff will really pretty much fall by the way side because what will matter will be how good of an audio result you end up with.
To do this you need to be a good listener and have some Ear Training experience.
Music does use a lot of mathematics, but you don’t need a lot of it for audio engineering. You need knowledge of audio equipment, how to use it and how to apply various technical methods of audio engineering to achieve your desired result.
Therefore, focus on developing the actual skills you need as a sound or audio engineer.