Sound Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Sound technicians prepare, operate and maintain technical equipment to amplify, enhance, mix or reproduce sound for audio recordings, films, radio and television programme's, and live performances, including theatre.

Their tasks include:

  • Setting up, testing and operating equipment to suit the acoustics of a location.
  • Selecting, placing and adjusting microphones.
  • Monitoring audio signals to make sure sound quality is maintained.
  • Servicing, maintaining and repairing sound equipment.

In film, television and radio, working with live and recorded sound, the work can include:

  • Recording and balancing speech for radio plays or discussions.
  • Monitoring the sound quality, levels and tone for live broadcasts, such as concerts.
  • Recording film soundtracks.
  • Playing music or sound effects for live programme's.

In a theatre, major productions such as musicals usually involve a complicated sound plot and a number of microphones, including some in the orchestra pit and on stage, as well as radio microphones for principal performers. Loudspeakers have to be placed so that sound reaches every part of the auditorium. During performances, a sound operator sits at a mixing console, switching between microphones and adjusting levels to get the required balance between songs, speech and musical instruments.

During recording sessions, technicians monitor the sound through headphones. They may work on consoles with faders, switches and other controls that allow them to balance, boost and mix sound.

Many new sound technicians start at sound assistant level. They do basic maintenance and make sure all leads and plugs are working. They also help in positioning microphones and making sure cables do not get in the way of moving equipment.

Sound technicians rarely work regular hours. They may start very early and finish late, and evening and weekend work is common. Technicians working in recording studios have to work hours that suit the artists they are recording.

In television, sound technicians work in large, enclosed, soundproofed studios. Radio studios may be smaller.

An outside broadcast could involve working anywhere - from a large arena or stadium to a community hall. Technicians need to be prepared to work in all weather conditions and to be on their feet for extended amounts of time.

They often travel to work on location, and may be required to stay away from home for short or long periods. A driving licence may be useful for many jobs.

Many technicians work freelance. Annual income will vary and there may be spells between contracts when they are not earning any money. Minimum freelance rates for an experienced sound technician may be £638 (before tax) for a 40-hour week, depending on the exact role. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) can give advice about rates.

Sound technicians just starting out may earn around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Sound technicians work for television broadcasters, cable and satellite companies, radio stations, and independent production companies. They also work for theatres, music venues and sound services companies that supply technicians for events and concerts. Some are employed, but many work freelance or on fixed-term contracts.

Sound technicians might also work on short films, music videos, drama series, and commercials. These may be one-off jobs lasting days, or longer productions lasting weeks or months. Many jobs are advertised by word of mouth, so networking is essential.

The industry is extremely competitive and the standards required are very high. Vacancies may be advertised in specialist trade magazines or on websites. There are also websites that allow sound technicians to post their details and CV's. These include www.film-tv.co.uk and www.productionbase.co.uk. Some technicians also use diary services and advertise in crew directories.

Education and Training

There are no specific qualifications for sound technicians, but most have completed a technical course or degree. Relevant courses include:

City & Guilds qualifications, such as the Certificate and Diploma in sound and music technology (7503).

BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in media production (sound recording).

HNC/HND's, Foundation degrees, first degrees and postgraduate qualifications in film and TV production, performing arts, audio and recording technology, sound engineering, and music technology.

Technical theatre courses offered by some drama schools.

The minimum requirements for a degree course are usually two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. For HND's, the minimum requirements are typically one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. There may be specific subject requirements, with relevant subjects including maths, physics and music. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

Some sound technicians start off in junior roles, such as runner or assistant, and work their way up, or they might find a sound mixer or engineer willing to take them on as a trainee. There may also be opportunities with equipment manufacturers or hire companies.

Practical experience is essential. Working on college productions, community media, and hospital radio or in a home studio may be useful. Candidates need to build up a portfolio of experience, together with a CD demo or DVD showreel of their work. Practical experience of wiring and soldering is also useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is on the job, working with experienced sound technicians and engineers. However, continuing professional development (CPD) is essential, to keep up with changes in technology. Short courses are available at a number of institutions, including the National Film and Television School, BBC Training and Development, and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.

Freelances have to fund their own training, but may be eligible for support from Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for creative media, to cover part of the fees.

FT2 Film and Television Freelance Training runs a new entrant technical training scheme that offers the opportunity to train as a sound assistant.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A sound technician needs:

  • Sharp and balanced hearing, with the ability to differentiate between sounds.
  • Musical knowledge (in certain roles).
  • An understanding of electronics and acoustics.
  • Stamina and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
  • To understand fast-changing technologies.
  • To work well in a team, as well as independently.
  • Fitness, agility and a head for heights.

Your Long Term Prospects

In film and television production, the usual progression route is from sound assistant to sound mixer. In post-production and recording studios, technicians may progress to mixing/sound engineer, sound supervisor or sound designer.

In theatre, progression may be to chief sound engineer or sound designer. Some sound technicians set up their own sound services companies.

Get Further Information

The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS),
28 Knox Street, London W1H 1FS
Tel: 020 7723 6727
Website: www.amps.net

Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS),
PO Box 22, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7YZ
Tel: 01803 868600
Website: www.aprs.co.uk

BECTU (Broadcasting Entertainment
Cinematograph and Theatre Union),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, 4th Floor,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London, SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.ccskills.org.uk

FT2 Film and Television Freelance Training,
3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street,
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7407 0344
Website: www.ft2.org.uk

Get Into Theatre
Website: www.getintotheatre.org

Institute of Professional Sound (IPS),
IPS Secretariat, PO Box 208, Havant, Hampshire PO9 9BQ
Tel: 0300 400 8427
Website: www.ibs.org.uk

Joint Audio Media Education Services (JAMES),
1 Printing House Yard, London E2 7PR
Website: www.jamesonline.org.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 0808 030 0900
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

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