Sound technicians use technical knowledge and expertise to produce and manipulate the sound for 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:
- audio recordings
- broadcasting (radio or television)
- 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, sound effects editor, production sound mixer and Foley artist.
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 as directed by the sound supervisor
- select, position, adjust and operate sound equipment, such as booms, fishing rods and microphones, used for amplification and recording
- communicate with production staff and performers to determine the sound requirements
- 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 faults
- maintain and repair sound equipment
- comply with all relevant health and safety legislation.
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, edit 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.
You'll also need to liaise with other departments on set, such as art, camera, costume, lighting and locations.
- 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.
- Freelance work is common and in these instances you must be prepared to negotiate rates according to your experience and the type of production. Recommended rates of pay are set by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). Daily rates for third sound assistants are around £160 to £176, depending on the number of hours worked.
- Second sound assistants can typically earn between £230 and £352, depending on hours worked and the type of production (e.g. low or high budget TV or film, or commercials), rising to between £310 and £434.50 for first sound assistants.
Rates vary depending on the actual role and type of production, the budget, your skills and experience, and length of the working day.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll frequently have to work long days and unsocial hours including evenings, nights and weekends. The working day can last between 10 and 12 hours.
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 travel and long periods away from home - especially in the field of motion picture production. You may have to work outside in all weathers.
- If you work as a freelance sound technician, you may face uncertainty around job security, as you'll mostly work on fixed-term contracts for broadcasting or production companies.
- The broadcasting industry typically 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 challenging situations and to tight deadlines.
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 attention to detail.
A good general education is useful. GCSEs or A-levels in maths and physics, and qualifications in electronics are 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/technology
- music and sound production/music production
- music/audio technology
- sound/music engineering
- technical theatre.
If you don't have a degree you could take a relevant course to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. Level 2 and 3 vocational courses are available in areas such as music technology, music/sound production, sound engineering and creative digital media production.
You could also get into the role via an apprenticeship, combining paid work with part-time study. Relevant apprenticeships include broadcast production assistant and creative venue technician. Search Find an apprenticeship.
You'll need to build up a sound portfolio that you can show to employers. This could be in the form of a showreel or website. Try to include clips of your best audio work that cover both production and post-production sound. For tips on how to build a sound portfolio, see ScreenSkills.
You'll need to have:
- interest in, and knowledge of, broadcast and recorded sound
- technical ability in operating sound equipment
- dexterity and agility in handling sound equipment
- physical fitness as work in the sound department, for example operating a boom, can be physically demanding
- good aural and critical listening skills in order to assess audio quality
- good interpersonal and communication skills to build strong working relationships within the sound team and with members of the broader production team
- the ability to work well as part of a team and a collaborative approach to programme making
- the ability to use your initiative
- problem-solving ability
- excellent attention to detail
- a good sense of timing and swift reactions
- a flexible approach to work and a positive attitude to the changing nature of production
- the ability to accept criticism and constructive feedback
- the ability to work well under pressure and to deadlines
- persistence and determination.
Competition for trainee roles is fierce, so you'll need practical experience to get a foot in the door. You could look for part-time work or placements in recording and editing studios, or with community and hospital radio stations. It may also be possible to get a work placement with the larger broadcasting, media and production companies.
Get involved in projects such as the rigging and sound for amateur theatre productions, community projects or local musicians. You could also work on student film or radio projects.
You could also get experience by working as a roadie, loading, unloading and setting up sound equipment. This could help you develop contacts with sound technicians. Work experience with a rental company can also bring you into contact with sound mixers who are looking to hire kit for jobs.
Experience of working for equipment manufacturers can also be helpful as it will build up your technical knowledge.
Any experience that helps to create contacts in the industry, for example attending workshops and talks by people in the industry, will be useful. Make sure you also practise recording and editing sound at every opportunity.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Sound technicians are employed in many 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:
- public service broadcasters - BBC, ITV, Channel 4, STV, S4C and Channel 5
- streaming services that produce their own content, such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney+
- media and entertainment companies such as Sky
- major film studios such as The Walt Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment
- commercial and corporate film and TV 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:
Many sound technicians are freelancers, working across different sectors of the sound industry. To be successful, you'll need to build a professional reputation and make your own contacts through networking and speculative applications.
Attending media events and conventions can help you network with people in the industry 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.
You'll learn practical sound technician skills on the job by working in sound teams or alongside more experienced technicians.
However, many sound technicians work on a freelance basis and you'll need to take responsibility for your own training and professional development throughout your career. This includes keeping up to date with new and developing sound technologies.
You can develop your skills and widen your areas of expertise by taking short professional or technical training courses. For a list of industry-relevant courses, search ScreenSkills - Training and opportunities. They also have resources to help develop your career.
Professional associations, guilds and organisations are also useful sources for training courses, events, seminars and networking opportunities. Relevant associations include:
- Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
- Institute of Professional Sound (IPS)
- Institute of Sound, Communications and Visual Engineers (ISCVE)
- Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA)
You're most likely to start off as a trainee, sound assistant, runner or administrator, and progress to more specialist or senior positions. You can expect to spend two years in a trainee/assistant role, developing your specialist knowledge and technical skills, before you progress.
There are many roles within both production and post-production, including:
- production - sound assistant, sound technician, sound recordist, boom operator, supervisor and sound mixer
- 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 companies to large, national or international ones. There may be support for this in the form of training schemes, in-house development schemes and various other career development opportunities.
Many sound technicians work on a freelance basis. To further your career, you'll need to develop a reputation for excellent work, as well as a range of industry contacts. Strong networking skills are important and the ability to promote yourself and your work.