SOUND TECHNICIANAlternate Career Titles:
Resident Sound Technician, Audio Technician, Sound Engineer, Live Sound Engineer, Sound Person, FOH Engineer
Career Overview: Sets up and uses soundboard and other sound equipment during concerts or performances, ensuring that levels are correct and the sound mix is right.
Career Salary Range: $60,000 to $120,000+
Become a Sound Technician
The Sound Technician’s main responsibility is ensuring good sound quality during a show for both the Artists onstage and the audience listening. The Sound Technician does this by using the soundboard and other sound equipment to ensure that sound levels are correct and the sound is mixed well. This position can refer to either a resident Sound Technician who works at the venue or a traveling Sound Technician who tours along with the band. Sound Technicians work in clubs, theaters, concert halls, arenas, schools, or any similar performance venue location.
Resident Sound Technicians should be aware of any acoustical problems in the room and take steps to remedy these issues when the band sound checks. During sound check, he or she will talk to the act’s Road Manager or other act members to determine exactly what type of sound they are looking for. The Technician will also go over any special effects the act requires during the show, and may advise the band’s Sound Person of any of the venue’s sound issues or requirements.
A touring Sound Technician unloads, sets up, and positions any outside (i.e. non-venue owned) sound equipment and instruments with help from the Road Crew. (Some union situations require union employees to unload equipment – in such a situation, the Sound Technician will supervise the placement). Equipment cannot be placed haphazardly; it must be placed on stage in such a way that vocals and instruments blend perfectly. Everything must be set up so that everyone on stage can hear and see what is going on during the show.
Once the performers arrive, the person running the sound board prepares for the sound check, during which each performer will play his or her instrument or sing, with the Sound Technician listening to make sure the sound quality is proper. This can be difficult because acoustics in every concert venue work differently, as do the sound dynamics among different bands. As a result, minor adjustments will continue to be made to the sound all the way to the start of the show.
Once the show begins the Sound Technician works the sound board (usually set back in front of the stage where sound is best), adjusting the volume of vocals while working with the volume of instruments, bringing out more bass, treble, etc. After the show, the equipment must be taken down and the touring Sound Technician may be responsible for supervising the loading and packing of the sound equipment. The Sound Technician might also be responsible for checking out the equipment after a show to see which instruments need repair or even replacement. If an instrument or piece of equipment needs repair, many Sound Technicians know how to fix much of the equipment they work with.
Touring Sound Technicians report to the head Tour Manager or Tour Director. The Sound Technician’s schedule might require working a six week tour with one act with maybe a month off before the next tour starts with another group. In order to ensure the Sound Technician is available for a particular group, the Sound Technician might remain on reduced salary during off time. The Sound Technician must be open to traveling for extended periods and living on the road. Resident Sound Technicians report to the Nightclub Manager or Concert Hall Manager, depending on where they’re employed.
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Salaries vary, depending on whether or not the Sound Technician is working full or part-time or whether they’re employed by a venue or by a band. If part-time at a venue, the Sound Technician will be paid by the hour or by the show. (Rates can vary from minimum wage to approximately $100 per hour.) Resident Sound Technicians working in unionized facilities have minimum earnings set by the union. While on the road, Sound Technicians will most likely receive a per diem for all living expenses and food.
Other factors impacting earnings include the experience and responsibilities of the individual. Those who work full time at a big venue or on the road with a major act might earn $60,000 to $120,000 or more per year.
Work as a Sound Technician requires a certain technical skill set, and opportunities are available for those who are qualified. However, once a venue or a band finds someone they enjoy working with, turnover is often low. More opportunities are available with smaller, regional venues and bands.
Advancement usually means obtaining a more prestigious and higher paid position with a well-known venue or band. Touring Sound Technicians can also switch gears and become Tour Managers or Tour Directors, whereas resident Sound Technicians could use their experience to transition into a role as a Manager or Director at a venue.
Education and Training
Resident Sound Technicians are not required to have a college degree, although training in electronics or sound gained while attending a recording, broadcasting or music school is helpful. A working knowledge of sound equipment and recording technique is essential; this can be gained either from a trade school program or through learning from a professional in the workplace.
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Experience, Skills, and Personality
The Resident Sound Technician may have to advise or consult with the Sound Person who is traveling with an act, so it is important for anyone in this position to have good communication and collaborative skills. Since this position requires late hours and (for a traveling Sound Technician) travel, the Sound Technician must keep a flexible schedule and be ok with living on the road. Most importantly, he or she must also be responsible, showing up to sound checks on time, with a good knowledge of electronics, the sound board, and other sound equipment.
Unions and Associations
Resident Sound Technicians can be members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) if they work in a theatre setting. Touring Sound Technicians do not usually belong to any union.
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Spend time around clubs and bars that provide live entertainment. Most of the Sound Technicians working can answer any questions you have, as long as they are not busy.
- Try to start as an apprentice to a Resident Sound Technician to gain knowledge and skills. You might even offer to work for nothing but the experience.
- Talk to Managers of the clubs and theatres in your area that hire Resident Sound Technicians. Tell them about your qualifications, leave a resume, and followup with a thank you note.
- Consider working as a Roadie for a short time where the experience will not only help train you but also get you a job when the Sound Technician leaves or needs time off.
- Place an advertisement (classified or display) in a trade magazine or newspaper. Also check newspaper classifieds and online job boards for available positions.