Sound technicians use technical knowledge and expertise to produce and manipulate the sound for a range of performances and recordings

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

As a sound technician, 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-syncing)
  • 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'll usually 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

  • In an established studio, or in television and radio, starting salaries may be in the region of £17,000 to £19,000.
  • With experience, salaries can rise upwards of £30,000. Supplements for unsocial hours may be available.
  • For sound assistants working on feature films in the UK, rates can vary depending on the budget of the film and length of the working day. Day rates for this type of work are approximately within the £250 to £420 bracket. Salaries vary depending upon the actual role and type of production.

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

Further information about rates is available from the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU).

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll frequently have to work long days and unsocial hours including evenings, nights and weekends. The average working day is ten hours.

Plus, in order to work on breaking stories, meet tight deadlines and ensure the creative process is not interrupted, you'll often be required to adopt a flexible working pattern.

What to expect

  • You'll work in multiple locations, such as recording studios, film or television sets or on location, and the job can involve extensive travel and long periods away from home - especially in the field of motion picture production.
  • 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'll need stamina, self-motivation and patience for this job as you may be working in highly stressful situations and to tight deadlines.

Qualifications

While you don't need a degree to become a sound technician, it's 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), and search postgraduate courses in sound.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • good aural skills
  • excellent 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 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're 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's 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. You can do this by completing some additional training, in the form of short professional or technical courses. Find details of industry-relevant courses at ScreenSkills - Education & training.

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'll 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 involves moving into management or moving from small or regional stations to large, national stations. There is often support for this in the form of training schemes, in-house development schemes and various other career development opportunities.

There's no set career path for freelancers. To further your career, you'll need to develop strong networking skills and attend media events, as well as make and maintain useful industry contacts.

It's possible to move on to the position of a radio studio manager. In this role, you would maintain the technical standard of broadcasts by controlling sound in studios and on location, and would typically oversee the running of the studios, handle all live output, and work on the final stages of mixing the overall sound of pre-recorded programmes.

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