Meet Justin Cembal: Audio Engineer

canada2067 | Educators |

How does your job affect people’s lives?

My favourite part of this career is the emotional soundscapes I create. When I’ve done a good job, people feel something. There’s a craftsmanship and art in ensuring the soundscapes I create are not necessarily noticeable. The audience should be consumed by the experience; they aren’t just watching or listening to something, they are living it.

Describe what you do at work.

As an audio engineer, (also known as a sound designer or re-recording mixer) I build soundscapes to capture an emotion for scenes portrayed in video content. This varies day to day as no picture is the same.

A typical day starts with producers or directors giving me a script and video that we are going to work on. I import the files and video into the software. I then use the software to prepare for the voice over (VO) session. I’ll set up the studio for the actor (VO talent). After I set up the studio, I’ll meet the talent in my studio with the producer. We will go over the script and the emotions that need to be portrayed in the voice over. The VO talent gets set in front of the mic in the recording booth and I record them acting and speaking as the video plays. All the while the producer and I direct the talent to get the best take possible.

After we have the best takes, I’m left alone to create and design sound effects, background sounds and cut music to the scene. I then mix this all together, present it to the director and deliver the files. During this process, I’m using a ton of software tools, meters, hardware and sometime instruments to get the desired sounds. It’s simple enough to say the only tools I really use are my ears. But the truth is there is a bridge made of technology and physics that I need to constantly be learning to get what’s in my imagination coming out of your speakers.

Describe your career path to this career.

In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be or do other than play drums every night. I didn’t hear about or see anything that inspired me, or could see myself doing. I didn’t know there were so many options and I certainly didn’t know at the time that anything was possible.

It wasn’t until relatively recently, after going through an arbitrary path, I found Audio Post Production. When I did find out this was “a job” I used all my saving to get from Sales Executive to Sound Designer.

I set up a mini studio in my house and tried to re-create sound for video. Every hurdle I hit, I learned how to overcome it until I had a finished product. I then went to OCAD for a short evening course called “Introduction to Sound Design”. Once I finished this, I was still lacking the knowledge I believed would make me proficient in this field. So I found a few of the top universities, and colleges for audio engineering and post production and looked at their course descriptions. I then crossed referenced them to make sure I had a complete listing of the skills and knowledge I needed. I systematically went through what was being taught at these schools and taught myself the content using a various online tools and platforms. This took about a year. I then got a mentor to ensure this knowledge was applicable to real world situations. He sprang my career ahead a few years with practical knowledge.

What motivates you in your career?

I wake up everyday before my alarm. I’m excited to design and craft a new feeling through sound, or continue carving a longer project. One of the things I find most interesting about being a sound designer is the tools I use are much like any other instrument. In practice and understanding of how the tech works, understanding the physics involved, and feeling, the tool becomes an extension of you. There is no conquering in this field because you can always learn more and always get better. It’s an endless art towards mastery.

The people I get to work with and the projects I’m lucky enough to be chosen for are full of passion and heart. There is interest around every corner.

Being a musician first, and for almost 2 decades, my ears are tuned to hearing in separation and finding intricacies. Often listening to music or a movie, I find myself appreciating the choices made by musicians and engineers. Sometimes I find myself imagining or wishing for others that I feel are missing. Being in the driver seat of these creations and hearing back (or feeling back) the finished project is a rush. The most rewarding part of any day is when someone tells me they felt something when listening to my work.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work, if I can say so, I spend time with the love of my life. I read, and I play and write music. I try to get lost in my adventures and stay focused in my personal goals.
I find myself lucky enough to be in a career I hardly consider a career. I think about work, happily, when I’m not working. I can say I love my job. I can say there is no outside of work, because I’ve set myself up as such.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Advice to anyone: find what you love and look for its monetised counterpart. Whenever you say “I can’t do something” add the word “yet” to the end of your sentence.

I was born/grew up in: Toronto, ON
I now live in: Toronto, ON

This article originally appeared on and can be found here.