The sound technicians who work in the broadcasting industry are the skilled professionals who make films, TV shows and music videos sound amazing. Essentially, these guys use technical equipment to record sound, amplify voices and edit recordings. Without these technical professionals, The X Factor voiceover guy’s booming exclamations would be nothing more than a whisper.
The dialogue, music and various other different sounds which are used in TV shows and films need to be clear, crisp and emphatic. Consequently, the practical and technical skills of sound technicians are absolutely essential for providing the audience with a satisfying multi-sensory experience.
Sound technicians work in a variety of different areas, from television advertisements and television panel shows to feature films and sporting events that are covered on live TV.
Generally, sound technicians who work on the production side of things are responsible for checking and preparing all the sound equipment for shoots, carrying out additional practical tasks to minimise unwanted sounds on set, evaluating the acoustics of a particular studio or location, and positioning recording equipment in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, they will tweak sound levels and monitor audio signals during filming.
Some sound technicians specialise in one particular area, such as boom operators. These guys operate the boom microphone, positioning it in the optimal place (where it won’t go into shot!). If the boom is hand-held, this can often be a physically strenuous job. These guy’s precise movements are planned meticulously, and they might also position other microphones around the set to optimise sound recording.
Other sound technicians specialise as sound mixers. These clever people have the overall responsibility of capturing the intricacies and subtle inflections of actors or television presenters’ voices. They also manage the rest of the sound crew and plan all the technical recording work.
Some sound technicians don’t work on-set – instead, they may work in the studio and focus their efforts on post-production responsibilities, such as mixing, editing and manipulating the sounds which have been recorded during the production process. They might also add in special sound effects and re-record parts to make them as effective as possible.
Salary & benefits
Annual starting salaries for sound technicians range between £15,000 and £19,000, while senior sound technicians can earn up to £36,000 and beyond.
Many sound technicians eventually become freelancers, where they can expect to earn a fair bit more for the contracts they complete. However, freelance work understandably lacks the job security of a full-time salaried position.
If you become a sound technician, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself working long, irregular and unsociable hours. The nature of film or television production means that your expertise could be required at any time of the day. You may even be required to work at the weekend from time to time.
You will also usually find yourself working in a variety of different places, i.e. in studios and on-set in remote locations.
Understandably, sound technicians need a certain amount of technical ability and a detailed knowledge of the science of sound. Consequently, a degree, HND (higher national diploma) or vocational qualification in a subject such as sound technology, sound engineering, physics, electrical engineering or media production, will be particularly valuable.
The next best thing to have as a sound technician is a portfolio of work that demonstrates your talent. Work experience is everything. It can be a great way to get your foot in the door and a fantastic opportunity for building up a network of industry contacts.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of a senior sound technician. However, sound technicians can also develop specialist skills through professional courses, which are offered by organisations such as the Institute of Professional Sound and the Institute of Sound and Communication Engineers (ISCE).
From starting out as a trainee or assistant sound technician, you will gradually progress up the ranks into a senior sound technician position. Eventually, sound technicians tend to specialise in one particular area. For instance, you might become a sound supervisor during the production process, or you might become a sound and music editor during post-production.
As discussed, many sound technicians eventually go freelance, working on a variety of different projects with a range of different film and television companies.