When crediting for a film you’ve worked on, or giving the correct credit title to those who worked on your film, it’s usually a fairly straightforward thing.
Editors get credited for editing, special effects for special effects, directors for directing, cinematographers (or Director of Photography) for creating the look of the film, and so on.
But what about sound?
Turns out, there’s a HUGE problem when crediting for audio.
The Industry Has Some Blame
Before I begin I’d like to start by saying that the industry as a whole, at least in the United States, is willfully ignorant to the roles and responsibilities of the sound team on a film.
Just ask any recently graduated film student the difference between a sound designer and sound mixer (re-recording engineer, but they probably don’t know that term either) and you’ll see just what I mean.
And it’s not their fault. I blame the industry.
George Lucas himself is famously quoted as saying,
And this philosophy of his is seen in giving Star Wars a year in post for sound alone.
That said, how many times have you, as a beginning director, been asked to credit sound and you had no idea what the heck your sound team even did?
Probably a lot.
For something that’s 50% of your final product (even more in my opinion, but I’m biased) there’s not a lot of transparency in the industry as to what audio engineers actually do.
It’s more of a jumbled ball of confusion than a clear cut separation that you’re used to with the visual side of things.
So to help with that I’m going to list out all common roles an audio engineer could work on any film project with a short description of each. For a longer definition feel free to check out my post on roles in audio production for film!
Audio Engineering Positions for Film
You may be wondering why I said, “for film” at the end of that header.
You see, audio engineering itself is a blanket term. A very, very large generalization that encompasses probably close to 50 different jobs, perhaps more.
It’d be the same as calling every visual position (camera operator, focus puller, picture editor, colorist, special effects, etc) as “visual technician.”
You can see the problem with this.
Not only does it not credit appropriately to their contribution but it also all but removes the creative touch they bring to the table.
In the sound world, “audio engineer” could mean sound designer, could mean Front of House engineer, monitor engineer, systems engineer, podcast engineer, music mastering engineer, broadcast engineer, Foley engineer or Walker, dialogue editor, audio forensics experts…I could go on.
In the student film/indie film world especially, this is a huge problem. Oftentimes I’m not even asked how I want to be credited, I just usually see my name roll up with “Sound” next to it.
And on projects where I wear all the hats, that is I’m involved from pre-production, production, and post-production, “Sound” doesn’t do it for me.
What even is a “Sound” credit?
Better question, how DO I want to be credited in those situations? Let me be clear here, this problem isn’t just with how the video side credits audio. Us audio nerds have problems with how to ask to be credited just as much and for the exact same reason. There simply hasn’t been enough public transparency about the roles.
So below are a list of common audio engineering roles you can expect to see on a film project.
"Management" audio roles
These roles, what I like to call “management” roles, are more of the administrative type positions involved with audio for films. While these are usually seasoned professionals who have edited and mixed for decades, when working in these positions they tend to be more hands-off creatively and help oversee communications and planning between departments.
- Sound Supervisor, or Supervising Sound Editor
- Think of this as the “Producer” role for the audio department. They communicate with the director, producer, picture editor, and any other senior level position to help make sure everything audio gets planned, completed, has a budget, and runs smoothly.
- Voice Director
- The voice director usually works on animated films. They work with the director to help cast the appropriate talent with the voice that best fits the character.
- This is a bit of a fringe role and not usually used in the indie world. A musicologist is a sort of historian that helps production plan for accurate audio and music relevant to the period the story is told in.
- Music Supervisor
- If you’ve ever seen Thor: Ragnarok you may have been surprised to hear Immigrant Song being played…a LOT! This is the work of a Music Supervisor, or at least one of their biggest roles. To license “needle drops,” or previously recorded music, for use in a film. Bit of a fun tidbit, but it’s estimated that Marvel paid 4.9 million to use that song!
Production audio roles
Production audio roles are any job directly related to the…well, production of the film! If you haven’t read my post on the difference between pre-production, production, and post-production audio yet, the simple definition of production audio is when you’re physically on set.
- Production/Location Sound Mixer
- This is the senior level audio position on set. They’re the ones in charge of mixing the audio captured by the boom operator(s), making sure it’s recording, managing IFB communications, making notes of good/bad takes, and making sure audio is captured cleanly among many other tasks.
- Boom Operator
- Boom operators handle the boom mic, ensuring dialogue and the actor’s/actress’ performance is captured cleanly while not being in frame.
- Sound Assistant
- Similar to how production assistants do whatever the directors/producers need on set, sound assistants do the same for the sound department. This could include running messages to the director, clipping mics on talent, setting up extra mics, swapping batteries, etc.
- Production/Location Sound Recordist
- This is another fringe type role and it’s debated in the sound world whether it’s a “true” role or not. Either way, these people on set are usually in indie films where they act as BOTH production sound mixer, boom operator, and sound assistant.
Production audio roles
This last list of roles are jobs specific to the post-production process. While I’ve worked production audio, or location audio, for many years and still do on occasion, post-production is where my heart is.
- Dialogue Editor and ADR Mixer
- These two roles can be separate but are often glued together. Dialogue editors are in charge of cleaning up dialogue from production (on set) and, if needed, add effects to the voice. ADR mixers are in charge of editing and mixing ADR, or automated dialogue recording, takes together with production dialogue to make it sound like it was all recorded in the same location.
- Sound Designer and Sound Effects Editor
- Again, these two can be separate but are oftentimes combined. Sound design is a fun one. Think of sounds like dragon roars or a UFO flying overhead. These sounds don’t exist naturally and need to be crafted. That’s sound design. Sound effects, on the other hand, are sounds that are natural. Like ambiance and background sounds such as birds, cityscape sounds, wind, etc.
- Walkers, or Foley performers, are the ones who work with the Foley engineer to choose how to recreate a sound on screen. Walkers then perform the movements to recreate the sound.
- Foley Engineer
- The Foley engineer is in charge of setting up the mics, DAW, and prepping the studio to record the Walker while the scene is playing back.
- The composer is the one who writes original music for the film.
- Music Editor
- The music editor works closely with the director, music supervisor, picture editor, and composer. This person lets the composer know of any changes in picture that would affect the score, any new needle drops that they want the score to reflect, help prep the orchestra to record by making sure scores are printed, click tracks are created, oversee the recording of the score in a studio, etc.
- Re-recording Engineer
- This is my personal bread-and-butter. The job I’m working towards the most. The re-recording engineer is a senior level post position and is in charge of taking all audio assets for a film and mixing them together to appropriate loudness and quality, usually in a “dubbing stage.” They then make sure all stems are bounced according to final delivery specs, i.e. Atmos, 7.1, 5.1, Stereo, etc. It’s the job of the Re-recording engineer to shape the story using all audio elements collected and created.
While the list above is extensive it actually isn’t even complete. Which adds to the problem of how to credit sound. In between all these roles are studio technicians, recording engineers, mixing and mastering engineers for the music, interns, and so on.
And if you’re a solo audio engineer working on a film…what credit do you choose?
As technology continues to advance and give more people the chance to work in film as an audio engineer this problem will keep being a problem.
Personally, when working on indie films, I ask to be credited with roles I want to work in, and never more than 3 credits.
As an example, if I were the sole audio guy on a film I would ask to be credited as “Supervising Sound Editor, Production Sound Mixer, and Re-recording Engineer.”
While I don’t necessarily aim to work as a supervising sound editor or production sound mixer, these three titles let people know,
And since I DO want to end up working primarily as a re-recording engineer, having titles credited as such is a great way to pad the reel.
However you choose to be credited, just be sure to pick anything other than “sound.”
And for our filmmakers reading this I hope this post was able to help you learn more about how to credit your audio guy, gal, or crew member! At least you’ll have an idea of options to ask for.
And if they aren’t sure you can always send them this post! 😉