While many sound technicians have degrees, it's more important to have acute hearing, technical knowledge and evidence of work experience

As a sound technician, it's your responsibility to assemble, operate and maintain the technical equipment used to record, amplify, enhance, mix or reproduce sound.

You'll identify the sound requirements for a given task or situation and perform the appropriate actions to produce this sound.

Sound technicians are required in a range of industries including:

  • advertising
  • audio recordings
  • broadcasting (radio or television)
  • film
  • live performance (theatre, music, dance).

Job titles vary according to the industry and can include sound assistant, sound recordist and sound supervisor.

Within film, specialist roles are available such as dialogue editor, dubbing mixer, production mixer and Foley artist.

Responsibilities

Your responsibilities will vary depending on whether you work in:

  • production - the recording of all sound on set or on location
  • post-production - the balancing, mixing, editing and enhancing of pre-recorded audio.

Working in production, you'll need to:

  • assess the acoustics of the performance area and assemble and operate the necessary equipment
  • consult with producers and performers to determine the sound requirements
  • select, position, adjust and operate the equipment used for amplification and recording
  • apply technical knowledge of sound recording equipment to achieve the determined artistic objectives
  • record sound onto digital audio tape or hard disk recorders
  • monitor audio signals to detect sound-quality deviations or malfunctions
  • anticipate and correct any problems
  • maintain and repair sound equipment.

Working in post-production, you'll need to:

  • integrate (synchronise) pre-recorded audio (dialogue, sound effects and music) with visual content
  • re-record and synchronise audio (post-synching)
  • mix and balance speech, effects and music
  • create and alter sound effects for use in films, television, etc.

For large scale operations, such as film productions, you're usually required to work within sound teams. There are often separate sound teams for production and post-production. The job of a sound team is essentially to follow or interpret the instructions of the director, sound designer or sound supervisor.

Salary

  • Salaries vary depending upon the actual role and type of production. In an established studio or in television and radio, starting salaries may be in the region of £17,000 to £19,000.
  • With experience this can rise to salaries upward of £30,000. Supplements for unsocial hours may be available.

Freelance work is common and in these instances you must be prepared to negotiate rates according to your experience and the type of production.

The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) recommends day rates for sound assistants working on feature films in the UK and these range from £256 to £451, depending on the budget of the film and length of the working day. Further information is available from BECTU.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

As a sound technician, you'll frequently have to work long days and unsocial hours (the average working day is ten hours) including evenings, nights and weekends. You'll often need to adopt flexible working patterns in order to work on breaking stories, to tight deadlines or to ensure that the creative process is not interrupted.

What to expect

  • You'll work in multiple locations, such as recording studios, film or television sets or on location.
  • If you work as a freelance sound technician, you'll face uncertainty around job security, as you'll mostly work on fixed-term contracts for broadcasting or production companies.
  • The broadcasting industry offers a higher percentage of salaried posts. However, large employers, such as the BBC often take on freelancers to cover peak periods of work.
  • Steps to improve the diversity of the industry's workforce are being made by the Creative Diversity Network.
  • You will need stamina, self-motivation and patience for this job as you may be working in highly stressful situations and to tight deadlines.
  • The job can involve extensive travel and long periods away from home, especially in the field of motion picture production.

Qualifications

While you do not need a degree to become a sound technician, it is important to show a good understanding of the physics of sound, technical aptitude (including an awareness of current sound technology and equipment), good aural skills, excellent communication skills and acute attention to detail.

A good general education will be useful. GCSEs or A-levels in maths and physics and qualifications in electronics will be particularly beneficial.

Having a degree or HND in one of the following subjects may increase your chances of success:

  • acoustics and music
  • audio engineering or production
  • media production
  • music and sound recording or technology
  • sound engineering
  • technical theatre.

Find details of accredited courses at Joint Audio Media Education Support (JAMES). Search for postgraduate courses in sound.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent aural skills
  • scrupulous attention to detail
  • general technical ability, dexterity and agility
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • problem-solving ability
  • good sense of timing and swift reactions.

Work experience

You'll need practical experience to secure work as a sound technician. You can find part-time work or placements in recording and editing studios, or community and hospital radio stations.

Experience of working for equipment manufacturers can also be helpful as it will build up your technical knowledge.

You can get involved in projects such as doing the rigging and sound for amateur theatre or local musicians. Anything that helps to create contacts in the industry will be useful.

Employers

Sound technicians are employed in many different industries including broadcasting (radio or television), live performance (theatre, music and dance), advertising, music production and film.

The range of potential employers is huge and includes:

  • the BBC
  • independent television companies ('indies') such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as the vast range of digital television channels
  • commercial and corporate production companies
  • specialist programme makers
  • music industry producers and studios
  • facilities houses - businesses that offer the broadcasting and entertainment industries facilities such as post-production services and audio correction
  • independent radio.

Look for job vacancies at:

You'll find many sound technicians are freelancers, working across different sectors of the sound industry. To do the same, you'll need to build a professional reputation and make your own contacts through networking and speculative applications.

Go to media events and conventions to network with people in the industry and maintain and develop useful contacts.

You can also use specialist directories that provide useful contacts for making speculative applications for freelance work. They include:

If you are interested in freelancing, find out more about self-employment.

Professional development

You'll learn practical sound technician skills on the job by working in sound teams or alongside more experienced technicians.

However, with the combination of rising competition and fast-changing sound technologies it is becoming increasingly important to take responsibility for your own training and level of knowledge.

You may choose to specialise in a certain area, in which case you'll need to provide proof of your expertise. There are a range of short professional and technical courses that enable you to specialise and update your knowledge.

These include programmes for both junior sound technicians and experienced technicians wanting to gain expertise in a certain area. Find details of relevant courses at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.

Professional associations, guilds and organisations are also useful sources for training and networking opportunities. Relevant associations include:

Career prospects

You're most likely to start off as a trainee, sound assistant, runner or administrator and progress to more specialist or senior positions. You will need to develop specialist knowledge and technical skills in order to progress.

There are many different roles within both production and post-production including:

  • production - sound assistant, sound technician, sound recordist, boom operator and sound supervisor
  • post-production - sound editor, dialogue editor, music editor, re-recording mixer/dubbing mixer, Foley artist (sound effects) and Foley editor (post-synchronised sound effects).

Some large employers have developed structured career paths for their sound technicians and may grade them as junior, middle and senior.

Promotion beyond the senior grade would involve moving into management or moving from small or regional stations to large, national stations. These organisations will often support employees through training schemes, in-house development schemes and various other career development opportunities.

For freelancers there is no set career path. To further your career, you will need to develop strong networking skills and attend media events, as well as make and maintain useful industry contacts.

It is possible to move on to the role of radio studio manager. Radio studio managers maintain the technical standard of broadcasts by controlling sound in studios and on location. They typically oversee the running of the studios, handle all live output and are involved in the final stages of mixing the overall sound of pre-recorded programmes.