I'm just a student trying to figure out what to do with my life. While sound design is fascinating, I'm also interested in designing the equipment that makes sound design possible. Does anybody know how one gets into that sort of thing? Are any sound designers building software on the side? Thanks ^_^
[such a deep topic! thanks for starting it, but apologies for the wordiness below]
There are a lot of different aspects to how musical and audio equipment gets made. The people creating the guts of most pieces of hardware are electrical engineers by training. But the more things get virtualized and modeled in software, that's only half the battle. Then enters the audio programmers, of which there are many different stripes: The DSP algorithm writers, the analog modeling specialists, the FM synthesis addicts, and if you're really focused on this, sometimes one person can do some part of all of that. Then there's the actual user interface and control systems. Of course, every one of these roles needs to be musically inclined, or interested, to some degree, to ensure success. The most brilliant engineer won't sell anything if his devices don't solve some need for his/her users.
It's way easier to get into writing software that makes sound if you start with existing toolkits that are a bit more visually oriented: Reaktor, Max/MSP, Pd, etc. If you're more comfy coding, you can start playing with Supercollider or cSound. If you're REALLY a developer type, you can write your own sound engines in pretty much whatever you want. There are some sound artists out there, like Richard Devine, who may not make a lot of software himself, but he's commissioned to make patches that show off the capabilities of new hardware and software synths from other manufacturers, which is a neat middle ground.
I'd recommend looking for interviews with those who were involved with the creation of apps like Reason, some of the virtual instruments in Logic, and Ableton Live...those are just examples of apps released by (current or once) independent groups who would be more open to interviews with gory details, as opposed to the coders who might work at the larger firms out there. I'd also recommend looking into the biographies of such luminaries as Bob Moog, and look for interviews with the likes of David Smith and Roger Linn.
If it were me, I'd learn about physics, acoustics, and music theory, learn how to program in C++ (or at least ObjectiveC to do work on iOS), become a master in Max/MSP, perform music myself, make and master recordings, understand a bit about user experience, and peek into the basics of marketing oneself and one's products. Sound like a lot? We have our whole lives to dedicate to such things. Do your research and you'll surely find something that'll grab your attention and passion...and I'd start there.
It's a crowded field, but the barrier to entry (available schooling, starting a website for promotion, learning on your own with the internet) is lower than ever. It's a deep road, but I'm a firm believer in having a supremely broad educational base, and this realm is a great example: Knowing a little about all the disciplines that go into making a musical instrument or piece of audio gear, physical or virtual, will give you insights others may lack, and lead you towards making that One Thing No One Has Done Yet which takes the audio world by storm.
It really depends on what you're talking about.
Software design - this can really vary but you do need a strong programming background. Know your C languages, visual coding, etc. Really a computer science degree would be the best thing for a full time career. In addition, I would get some circuits and DSP classes in to augment your knowledge. This should be enough, then you just need to go courting the companies you really wish to work for.
Hardware design - this, in my opinion, is a much more difficult route. It generally requires an electrical engineering degree, with the possibility of some graduate work. You need to understand electronics, circuit design, DSP, etc. It is very math-heavy. In addition, it would help to have a graduate degree in acoustics. This can vary - check this link on what Georgia Tech requires for an acoustic engineering degree.
I would also recommend going to Monster.com, searching for "audio", and seeing the job requirements of a job you might like.
I guess you own to be one with an excellent musical ears, the hearing of nuances knowbody hears. Go to musical school, at first, and choose any instrument you like. At second, you own to be on keen with technology - choose any - digital audio or wooden or metal.. And, at third, create something unusual, say audio plugin, paper violin - you should to be the designer. Good luck!