Sound Technician jobs(Also known as Sound Engineer, Sound Supervisor)
Sound technicians take responsibility for the full range of activities relating to the production, enhancement or amplification of sounds. This may involve both acoustic elements e.g. mixing sounds to a particular venue, or creating a mix for sound recording in a studio and/ or maintaining and repairing equipment to produce, record and amplify sounds. Sound is such an important sense to us that its production, amplification and recording is now both an art and a science. The Sound Technician in his/ her various guises plays a crucial role in everyday society. Everything from your favourite song on the radio, the sounds of a thunderstorm in a horror movie, the level of music in a shop to your favourite aria in an opera will have been crafted by an army of individuals working in the field of sound. Sound is also big business with each element considered from a commercial perspective. The term "sound technician" commonly refers to an individual who works in the production and recording of sound. This will involve both pre and post production elements, for example, using the correct microphones, assessing the acoustics of a room/ venue and mixing sounds so the eventual audience has the desired experience.
SalaryThis can be a highly competitive area to get into and starting salaries may be low or even non-existent as a sound engineer starts their career. Places in top studios are awarded for enthusiasm, with salaries often a pleasant accompaniment. A starting salary for an established studio or in television and radio would be around £16,000. Many jobs will be on a freelance basis with live work often done by an in-house engineer working for a particular event or club night. Wages will vary from £50- £80 for a club night (5 hour session) to £120 - £160 per day for freelancers on day jobs with a professional studio. Once sound engineers are trained and experienced, salaries are likely to increase to around £30,000 - £35,000. Some roles, due to the nature of the work, factor in an allowance for changes in hours, and these can be around 20% of base salary. Freelance rates are likely to increase to around £160 to £220 per day. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU) has guidelines on rates of pay for freelancers.
- knowledge of both PA and other technical equipment. This is imperative as you will be responsible for the setting up and placement of equipment and knowing the most appropriate equipment to use
- selecting the correct equipment for a particular job and making sure it is all in working order e.g. microphone selection for a guitar amp and drum kit are very different, due to the acoustic nature of these instruments, similarly sound projection for outdoor events is very different to that in an established auditorium or venue
- performing risk assessments for a particular venue e.g. will electrics be close to water, is there any danger to the public etc?
- using your knowledge to create the right artistic effect
- recording sound, speech and music in both a formal recording environment and live environments
- being in charge of the recording and/or mixing desk to make sure that sound-quality is maintained
- working closely with the artists and other members of the sound team for monitoring and recording work
- servicing, maintaining and repairing sound equipment
- if freelance, looking for work, paying taxes and maintaining equipment
QualificationsThe only true pre-requisites to being a sound technician are passion, a good ear and an understanding of how sound works. While this may involve study of the physical properties of sound e.g. pitch and frequency, many technicians develop their ears through experience rather than study. There is now a wide range of qualifications available with HND and degrees offered in four broad areas: production, post-production, recording/dubbing/ mixing and general sound. Qualifications to look for are:
- sound technology
- sound design
- audio engineering
- music recording and/or technology
- media production
- music (Bmus)
SkillsTalent, passion and a good ear... ...are theoretically the only pre-requisite to a successful career in sound. Technical aptitude Knowing what equipment will provide the best result, a good understanding of acoustics, including the physical properties of sounds, pitch and frequency. Transport In your early career freelance work can involve local gigs and bars and it is good to have a form of transport for both yourself and any equipment you may need. People skills You should expect to work with a wide range of individuals with different viewpoints and skills. Artists have a reputation for being ‘passionate’ and you may witness the occasional temper tantrum! Creativity Being able to add something to a recording process will help you build your reputation and find work. Artists want people who can help them to perform their best or record their best work. Communication skills You may be expected to convey technical concepts to non-technical individuals. Attention to detail Sound technicians will often have to prevent or resolve problems. When a microphone breaks down mid-performance you will need to be alert and creative to ensure that the show can go on. When in a recording studio you are expected to be the expert and subtle changes of pitch or frequency can make the difference between a good and great record.
Working ConditionsWorking conditions will depend upon employment type. Gigs, Pubs and Clubs (house engineers) Working in these venues is likely to involve late nights and exposure to alcoholic and other substances. You need to ensure that you are comfortable with this if you have moral or religious views. You will normally be expected to be at the venue 1-2 hours before the event starts to resolve any problems and set up equipment, and an hour afterwards to ensure that all the equipment is ready for the next night’s performance. You should also wear ear protection as prolonged exposure can lead to tinnitus and other hearing conditions and will put an early end to your career. Freelance By nature, freelance technicians will have greater flexibility. However, hours can be unpredictable and work infrequent. You should expect long and unsocial hours and/or long periods away from home if working on location. Due to the nature of the industry, television, film and music work will often involve tight production deadlines. You may encounter divas and tantrums and will need both emotional and physical stamina.
ExperienceCompetition for jobs is often fierce and it is not unusual for people to volunteer at both gigs and recording studios in order to bolster their CV and gain the necessary experience. The normal route is to start as a ‘shadow’ or a ‘runner’ where you learn from experienced technicians. There is a wide variety of recording tools available from PROtools and Logic to Cubase and Audacity. It is recommended that you have a detailed knowledge of some of these programmes as they will help you in building a solid knowledge of how to construct soundscapes. These programmes have increased the knowledge base and competition for places within the industry, with individuals often having good technical knowledge before starting their career. A music background is normal, with sound technicians often playing one if not more instruments. It may be possible to obtain work experience either independently or through your school or college at a local radio or television station and this is highly recommended.
EmployersRecording studios Your local yellow pages will have a list of both large and independent studios. It is worth ringing round to see if anyone is looking to take on a trainee. Clubs, Pubs and other music venues Building up a solid network of contacts with local musicians and promoters can result in having a regular freelance income and is good for building a reputation in the industry. Being professional is key; failing to create a good and bespoke sound or turning up late and delaying everyone will not win you any favours. Major television, radio and film studios For many sound technicians this represents the most desirable job, with high salaries, benefits and regular interesting work. You will most likely need a qualification and relevant work experience.
Career ProgressionAs an industry it is possible to move between a variety of the related jobs cited above and the most talented technicians, engineers and producers are in great demand. Successful technicians may move into studio management or take a more active role in the creative side of the industry; others will look to establish their own studio although the costs of doing so can be prohibitive for many.
Peter Heatherall, is a Sound Technician with English National Opera.