As always, a word of caution here: Although all these salaries look reasonable on paper, it’s worth stating that an “average” is neither a minimum nor a guarantee. It is always worth remembering that these averages won’t factor in the wages of aspiring professionals, who may often earn $0, or “too-little-to-report.”
Where are the jobs, by region?
So far, the numbers we’ve been looking at have been based on national averages. But local markets can vary significantly.
Once again, New York and California alone are home to nearly 47% of all of the audio jobs on the books at the BLS, making that a natural place to start looking.
There were some big changes in this front between our last two reports. From 2011 to 2014, the ratio of sound technician jobs in California vs New York went from about 1:1 to nearly 2:1, in just three years alone! In the latest data, the ratio has remained fairly steady, at just over 1.9:1.
This suggests that a lot of engineers moved from New York to California in recent years. But the tide may turn again in the future, based on salary trends. More on that in a minute.
After these two behemoths comes Tennessee, which was home to almost 4% of all the salaried audio jobs.
Following on its heels is Florida, which also claimed just under 4% of total jobs, but which is down from 5% in 2015 and 15% in 2012. This could help explain some of the salary decreases we saw in the “amusement park” category earlier on.
Georgia, Connecticut, Washington, Nevada and Colorado came next, ranging from 3.2% of the total market for Georgia down to to 1.7% of the total job market for Colorado.
Texas, which made the chart last year at around 4%, was suspiciously absent this year, presumably falling below Colorado’s 1.7%.
We can get even more granular than this and look not just at states, but at individual cities. By this measure, Atlanta, Nashville, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Hartford and Boston all make it into the top 10 for the number of audio jobs—although at a much smaller scale than New York or LA.
Some cities didn’t do quite as well as they have in the past: Denver and Washington D.C. fell out of the top 10 number of jobs this past year, while Chicago and Las Vegas fell out in our last report. Whether this is from a decrease in the total jobs, or from a switch to freelancing over salaried positions is not clear from the survey data.
Some very small and unexpected markets have an unusually high concentration of audio jobs compared to the total number of workers. By this metric, New Orleans, LA; Hartford, CT:, Salt Lake City, UT; Bridgeport, CT: Davenport, IA: and Richmond, VA are nipping at the heels of L.A., New York City, Atlanta and Nashville. They may not have as many total audio jobs, but they do have a surprisingly high number of audio jobs per capita.
How much do they pay, by region?
The first time we evaluated these numbers, back in 2012, sound engineers in LA reported the highest average salaries in the nation. But this was no longer the case by 2015.
Between our 2012 and 2015 reports, the average salaries for L.A. sound engineers decreased from $83,000 down to $67,000, for a loss of -7% in 3 years, taking them from the #1 slot down to #3 today. As of 2016, L.A. audio engineers have made back some of their losses with average salaries now just shy of $76,000.
Meanwhile, here in New York, the average income for audio engineers actually went up between 2012 and 2015 from $66,000 to $73,000 for an 11% increase, edging out L.A. for the #2 slot once again. As of this 2016 report, New York engineer salaries increased once again, to just shy of $77,000.
It seems reasonable to assume that the salary drop in L.A.—and the corresponding salary increase in NYC—may have been due in great part to the migration of thousands of audio engineers leaving New York for L.A. in recent years, following the trail of moneycrumbs out west.
This interpretation makes good sense, as one would assume that the lowest-paid NYC engineers would be the most likely to leave and seek their fortunes elsewhere, helping to increase the average of those who remained. Meanwhile, the huge influx of green engineers into L.A. would likely lower the market price of audio engineers there toward a new equilibrium.
With that said, it’s also worth noting that the cost of living is about 20% lower in L.A. than in NYC, meaning that direct comparisons of income may not be entirely relevant. An engineer earning $76,000 in L.A. may very well have a higher standard of living than an engineer making $77,000 in New York—depending of course, on their own values and preferences.
Also high on the list for average salaries were the relatively small number of engineers in Las Vegas (#1 at over $80,000), Seattle (#6 at $74,000) and Denver (#10 at over $68,000). Included in the top ten were several other California cities as well, notably Anaheim, San Diego and San Francisco.
Although salaries are lower across the largest southern markets like Nashville ($58,000) and Atlanta ($46,000), the costs of living are also far lower in these areas, so conditions may be comparable to, or even better than, the big cities from a quality-of-life standpoint. It wouldn’t be surprising if engineers in the bottom 50% of earners in Southern markets had more room to stretch out in their homes than the top 50% of earners in New York!
How much training do I need?
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a joint project from the US Department of Labor and the Employment & Training Administration (USDOL/ETA) offers some estimates about education levels required for audio work:
According to their data, 31% of these jobs required at least a high school diploma, 25% required a post-secondary certificate from a vocational school, and 22% required at least an associates degree.
Presumably, the remaining 22% either required a bachelor’s or higher degree, or required no training at all. Unfortunately, that distinction was not made, which would have been useful.
Fortunately (because I am a nerd) I did my own original research when I ran a large audio school in New York in 2014 and 2015. When I surveyed employers there for my own edification, 22% of them expressed no minimum education preference at all.
43% of the employers who responded preferred at least a post-secondary certificate from a vocational school, 21% preferred at least an associate’s degree, and just 14% preferred a bachelor’s degree as a minimum credential.
While 64% percent of employers in the field said that an associate’s degree credential offered applicants “an advantage” in hiring, only 14% considered any kind of degree “a necessity”.
None of the employers who responded to my survey expressed any preference or requirement for candidates to have a master’s degree or higher.
In looking at the results from my own school, I found that 50-70% of graduates with vocational certificates from audio schools were able to find paid employment in the field with in a year, compared to 70%-80% of graduates with associates degrees.
Choose wisely, because a degree is not a guarantee. I should mention that I did not look at similar numbers for schools that were going out of business or had recently gone out of business. I would be unsurprised if their job placement numbers were significantly lower than this.