So there’s sound technicians, and there’s live sound technicians. Where the media version of this role works on films, in the studio and on TV sets, the live music sibling has a different job, which is amongst the most challenging in the profession. It’s possible to combine the roles, but it’s also common to find sound technicians who relish the challenge of making live music work – no retakes, no second chances – just delivering first time, every time.
So what do they do? A sound technician at a live gig is in charge of multiple things at once – they balance the levels of all the instruments on stage to find the correct blend and make sure that the sound is not only well balanced, but also matches the desires of the band and their respective audience. They’re also in charge of making sure the monitors work correctly, which is key because it’s the monitors that allow the band to hear themselves, and therefore stay in time and in key with one another. There’s the small matter that all of this is done live, during the performance and the pressure that if the technician messes up, the concert can be ruined.
Just a little bit of responsibility, then…
Salary & benefits
This is the really variable bit. Unless you’re working full-time for a gig venue (think the Brixton Academy), then most of sound technicianing comes under the freelance banner. However, more and more bands these days take technicians to the heart of their crew and bring them on tour with them. Even if tours are sporadic, this provides some stability in an otherwise constantly changing world, and to top it off, we imagine tours with bands would be really fun!
Technicians can therefore earn as much or as little as they get work for, although we’d imagine that a starting salary would be just over £12,000 and this could rise to the upper ends of the £20,000 scale once more stable work was secured - and astronomical figures when you bag yourself the technician spot for a U2 world tour!
Considering most gigs take place at night, and all across the country, it would be safe to say there are jobs with more sociable hours, but sound technicianing is a calling and the people you get to socialise with are probably those you want to be with anyway! There are long hours, long journeys and often extremely hectic schedules, but that’s nothing to worry about if you’re making your favourite band tick, right?
This is an extremely technical profession and one which requires an in-depth knowledge of electronics and acoustics, so you’ll be expected to have done some sort of formal training (or an apprenticeship), before you take the reins. Degrees in sound engineering or music technology are common, as are Foundation Degrees in related subjects. There are courses directed solely at theatre technicians as well. You’ll also be expected to have practical experience though, and this is where University actually comes in extremely handy – throughout your time there will be bands and venues crying out for backstage help at gigs, theatre productions and more live events, and this experience in the field is invaluable.
Training & progression
Your skills are honed on the job, learning from those around you, but there are also a variety of qualifications that can help keep your skills sharp and develop your CV further. The Professional Lighting and Sound Association are a good place to start, and further training on setting up sound rigs can be gained with their National Rigging Certificate, which shows you have the correct skills and functionality to create effective setups.
Experienced sound engineers are in high demand, and sound designers (who help create acoustics) are an obvious next step with higher pay rates and benefits.