An article written by Paul Johansen of Stage Sound Ltd.
Both these terms are bandied around the audio industry with so much dubious veracity that their meaning has become clouded and confused. There are numerous other derivatives as well that are equally meaningless such as sound engineer and soundman. Unless you know what the person who chooses to wear these titles actually does for an occupation you will have very little idea of his skills and abilities from the label he uses to describe himself alone.
This is hardly surprising as the various disciplines have become so interwoven over time that even the most highly specialised of us can not lay claim to a clearly defining title.
However, it would be fair to describe an individual with a science or engineering degree from a reputable university or technical institute who has completed papers in acoustics, sound propagation or electronic design as an audio engineer, but many far less qualified people tend to lay claim to this auspicious title as well.
If one described oneself as a recording engineer that would seem to be fair enough if one worked full time in a recording studio making good quality recordings and then doing mix-downs, post production and possibly mastering but it gives no indication of how many years experience one has and this could 4 months or 40 years! Based on the end results no one would know but would it matter if the quality of his or her work output was pristine and flawless?
The same goes for live sound engineering. I have seen numerous self taught sound engineers who may even be capable of a half decent mix but have never done a tech course or worked full time for a sound company. They just have a good ear for balance and have gained the trust of the acts or performers who employ them.
One of the biggest sound engineering training organisations in the world was started by a guy who is now reputed to be a self made billionaire. He began with no experience or formal training whatsoever and his course text was copied from technical magazines! He lied blind continuously to journalists about his imaginary and fictitious achievements and even when he got caught out he never faced prosecution or any form of retaliatory justice! A good friend of mine was his original partner who went on to abandon the project because he learned that the first 8 track reel to reel tape recorder the school supposedly owned had been stolen! Would you want to spend your hard earned money with that school?
How could any of their certificates be recognized or taken seriously?
In truth our beloved industry has become a total shambles as far as qualifications and truly indicative titles are concerned.
You may think you would be safe doing a tech course with a government institution and that you would come out with a qualification that you could base your working life on. Well my owe son spent around $25,000 on one of these courses and went on to learn it was not recognized in any of the other countries he eventually worked in.
But other than our governments who do we look to for regulation and control when it comes to evaluating the permanent staff and contractors who make up our profession? From what I have seen no-one is about to step up to the mark and take responsibility for this.
I recently heard from a highly respected tutor in a government sponsored audio institute here in Auckland that they were in fact on the verge of folding.