Sound technicians are required to assemble, operate and maintain the technical equipment used to record, amplify, enhance, mix or reproduce sound.
They identify the sound requirements for a given task or situation and perform the appropriate actions to produce this sound.
Sound technicians of different types are required in a range of industries including:
- broadcasting (radio or television);
- live performance (theatre, music, dance);
- audio recordings.
Job titles may vary according 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.
The specific tasks carried out by a sound technician vary according to the actual role in which they work.
Sound technician roles can be split into two categories:
- production - the recording of all sound on set or on location;
- post-production - the balancing, mixing, editing and enhancing of pre-recorded audio.
Production activities include:
- assessing the acoustics of the performance area and assembling and operating the necessary equipment;
- consulting with producers and performers to determine the sound requirements;
- selecting, positioning, adjusting and operating the equipment used for amplification and recording;
- applying technical knowledge of sound recording equipment to achieve the determined artistic objectives;
- recording sound onto digital audio tape or hard disk recorders;
- monitoring audio signals to detect sound-quality deviations or malfunctions;
- anticipating and correcting any problems;
- maintaining and repairing sound equipment.
Post-production duties include:
- integrating (synchronisation) of pre-recorded audio (dialogue, sound effects and music) with visual content;
- re-recording and synchronising audio (post-synching);
- mixing and balancing speech, effects and music;
- creating and altering sound effects for use in films, television, etc.
For larger scale operations, such as film productions, sound technicians are 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.
- 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 £16,000 to £18,000.
- 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) recommended day rates for sound assistants working on feature films in the UK range from £275 to £385, depending on the budget of the film. Further information is available from BECTU.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Sound technicians frequently have to work long days and unsocial hours (the average working day is ten hours) including evenings, nights and weekends. They 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
- Working in multiple locations is often required. This can include recording studios, film or television sets or on location.
- Freelance sound technicians often work on fixed-term contracts for broadcasting or production companies and like other freelancers, often face uncertainty around job security.
- 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.
- Work to improve the diversity of the industry's workforce is carried out by the Creative Diversity Network.
- Sound technicians of all types are often required to work in highly stressful situations and to tight deadlines. Stamina, self-motivation and patience are therefore essential attributes for this job.
- The job can involve extensive travel and long periods away from home, especially in the field of motion picture production.
A degree is not essential to become a sound technician. Instead 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 recording;
- media technology and/or production;
- music/sound technology;
- sound engineering;
- technical theatre.
Details of accredited courses that may be relevant to the work of a sound technician are available at Joint Audio Media Education Support (JAMES).
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.
Practical experience is usually a pre-requisite to securing work as a sound technician. Part-time work or placements can be found 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.
Sound technicians are required 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 large and includes:
- the BBC;
- independent television companies 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:
Many sound technicians are freelancers and work across different sectors of the sound industry. When searching for employment, freelancers do not rely solely on advertised vacancies but make their own contacts through career networking and speculative applications.
They attend media events and conventions to network with people in the industry and maintain and develop useful contacts.
Specialist directories are available that provide useful contacts when making speculative applications for freelance work. They include:
Sound technicians often learn practical 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.
Many choose to specialise in a certain area and if you do so you will need to be able to provide proof of your expertise. There are a range of courses that enable you to specialise and update your knowledge. Such training is available at degree and HND level, as well as in the form of short professional and technical courses.
These include programmes for both junior sound technicians and experienced technicians wanting to gain expertise in a certain area. Details of relevant courses may be found at Creative Skillset Courses Directory.
Professional associations, guilds and organisations are also useful sources for training and networking opportunities. Relevant associations include:
- Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
- Institute of Professional Sound (IPS)
- Institute of Sound and Communications Engineers (ISCE)
- PLASA (Professional Lighting and Sound Association)
The majority of sound technicians begin their career 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 their 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.