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Market Analysis for Theatrical Sound Designers

What is Sound Design?

Essentially, the sound designer in theatre is responsible for everything the audience hears.

They work closely with the director and other members of the production team to create the aural

world of the show. The sound designer may create or find sound effects, atmospheres, sonic

textures, ambiences, etc. and may choose to mix and edit them to fit the context of the show. In

order for a sound designer to be successful they must have a wide array of creative and technical

skills, including the ability to understand music, along with the knowledge of both the software

and hardware for sound engineering.

Sound design in theatre goes back historically as far as records can go, but the term

sound designer has only been around for about 50 years with the development of technology.

Originally, it started out as sounds created backstage by mechanical machines, mimicry, and live

sounds and has since developed along with sound and recording technology. Now, many sounds

are recorded ahead of time or sampled from online sound libraries.

The Place to Be

Since my focus is theatrical sound design, I looked into the largest theatre cities in the

U.S. The cities that I found were New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston,

and Minneapolis. Now, while all of these cities have their own unique appeal, everyone knows

the place to be for theatre is Broadway. On top of having 40 Broadway theatres, New York City
is full of off Broadway and off-off Broadway theatres located in and around Times Square

offering a good amount of sound design positions.

Demographics for Midtown Manhattan

Manhattan, as a whole, has 1,626,000 people. 56.4% of which

are White, 17.4% are Black, 9.4% are Asian, and 16.9% are listed as

Other. Of these people 17.39% are Hispanic or Latino of any race. This

is shown by the graph to the right.

In Midtown, specifically, there are 391,371 people living there. This can be broken down

into several demographics including population, occupational employment, type of household,

education, marital status, and median income. Population

Population is broken down into male and female, 188,006 (48%)

male and 203,365 (52%) female.

Male Female
Occupational Employment
Occupational employment is broken down into blue collar

and white collar, 35,404 (29%) blue collar workers and

86,871 (71%) white collar workers.

Blue Collar White Collar

Type of Household
Type of household is broken down into family and non-

family households, 63,473 (27%) are family households

and 168,527 (73%) are non-family households.

Family Households Non-Family Households

Education is broken down into no high school,
some high school, some college, associate

degree, bachelor degree, and graduate degree.

13,443 (5%) people have no high school

No High School Some High School education, 11,344 (4%) people have some high
Some College Associate Degree
Bachelors Degree Graduate Degree school education, 31,068 (11%) people have

some college education, 10,095 (4%) people have an associate degree, 118,096 (42%) people

have a bachelor degree, and 95,400 (34%) people have a graduate degree.

Marital status is broken down into people who never

Marital Status
married, are married, are separated, are widows, or are

divorced. 171,413 (59%) people have never been

married, 79,888 (27%) people are married, 13,730 (5%)

people are separated, 4,771 (2%) people are widows, Never Married Married Separated
Widowed Divorced
and 22,280 (8%) people are divorced.

Median income is broken down into the median

Median Income
$120,000 income for certain age groups. People under 25
$100,000 make a median wage of $60,222 yearly, people
between 25 and 44 make a media wage of

$40,000 $95,744 yearly, people between 45 and 64 make

$20,000 a median wage of $89,846 yearly, and people

25- 25-44 45-64 65+ over 65 make a median wage of $56,087 yearly.
A Market for Sound Designers

Sound design exists in a variety of branches of the entertainment industry. It can be found

in TV/film, video games, and of course, theatre. While sound design is flourishing in the first

two, particularly in the video game industry, theatrical sound design has very few job

opportunities. This could be attributed to the limited locations and need for sound designers in

theatres. On average, nationally, sound designers make about $49,000 yearly, but sound

designers specifically located in New York City make an average of $46,211 yearly. Also,

included in the graph are the minimum and maximum wages for sound designers ($33,000 and

$85,000 respectively).

Salary (Yearly)
Minimum Wage New York City Average National Average Maximum Wage

The infographic below gives a good overview of the rest of the sound design industry,

listing more wage estimates, tools needed to be a sound designer, what industries specifically

hire the most/least designers, and awards given to designers. Something specifically important

about this infographic is the breakdown of the different types of sound designers and their hourly

mean wage and annual mean wage. Theatrical sound design falls under the performing arts

company industry where sound designers make a mean of $24.47 an hour and a mean of

$50,900 annually.
Challenges and Solutions

As mentioned above, one of the biggest struggles with theatrical sound design is the lack

of jobs. This is mostly due to how competitive this particular industry is. In order to overcome a

challenge like this there are many different things you could do. You can start networking early

on in your career to possibly find out about opportunities before other, you can improve your

skill set and make a great impression on the people interviewing you, or you could simply just be

in the right place at the right time.

Another challenge faced in the sound design and audio field in general is sexism toward

women. Women are usually seen as more incapable of working in this industry for some reason,

but having experience this first hand it is a clear challenge faced. The series of images below

shows the lack of women, not only in sound design for theatre, but in technical theatre overall.
As you can tell, only 8.8% of people involved in theatrical sound design are women. A

way to overcome a challenge like this would simply be for more women to succeed in and show

a passion for this particular industry.


In conclusion, even though this industry is a tough one to get a grasp in and become a

part of, perseverance is key. The sound design industry is one that changes so frequently due to

the ever-changing technology of todays day and age. Even though jobs may be limited in the

theatrical branch of the industry, Broadway, and the surrounding area, is a great place to begin

looking for jobs in sound design.

Works Cited

Berger, Laura. "Sexism in Theatre Infographic: Women Fill 9% of Sound Jobs,

Underrepresented in Most Design Fields." Indie Wire. VIP, 16 June 2015. Web.

6 Feb. 2017. <


"How to Become a Sound Designer." The Art Career Project. TheArtCareerProject, n.d. Web. 6

Feb. 2017. <>.

"Midtown Manhattan Demographics." Point 2 Homes. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.



Selke, Lori A. "Top Theatre Cities in the US." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information

Network, Inc., n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2017. <


"Sound Designer Salaries in New York City, NY." Glass Door. Glass Door Inc., n.d. Web. 6

Feb. 2017. <


"What is a Sound Designer for Theatre?" Association of Sound Designers. Wild Apricot

Membership Software, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.