Instrument Technician

 12 July 2012

Instrument technicians, also known as backline technicians, look after the instruments and other backline equipment such as amplifiers for players before and during live shows.

Jobs are rarely advertised – people find work through contacts and agencies.
Jobs are rarely advertised – people find work through contacts and agencies.

What is the job like?

More successful and bigger bands make use of several technicians, who may specialise in one area, such as guitars (electric and acoustic), keyboards, or drums/percussion.

You will work as part of a team and will keep in close contact with musicians and other technicians during the show. Following health and safety guidelines and regulations is a vital aspect of the work.

The work includes:

  • Overseeing the careful loading and unloading of equipment to and from the lorry/van
  • Setting up equipment on stage, to include speakers, amplifiers, effects pedals, stands, lap-tops, keyboards, and drums
  • Cleaning equipment and polishing instruments
  • Tuning instruments using an electronic tuner
  • Testing the equipment before the sound-check
  • Changing strings/drum-heads, either before or during a show
  • Repairing instruments and equipment as necessary, making leads and repairing cables working from a designated area off-stage
  • Handing players different guitars or other instruments on cue at exactly the right time during a performance.

The job involves working long hours which include evenings and weekends. If you are touring you may spend long periods of time away from home.

Within orchestras and the classical music world, players generally look after their own instruments, conducting basic repairs themselves during a performance if necessary. The only exception is when a piano is used, when a piano tuner will normally be available.

Instrument technicians usually work for the artist or artist management/tour/production company on a freelance basis.

How do I become a backline technician?

Instrument technicians need strong practical skills and an understanding of electronic music systems and software. Good communication skills and the ability to get on with people are important in order to work with the other team-members and musicians. Instruments technicians need to be calm and focussed in all situations use their initiative and have lots of common sense.

Jobs are rarely advertised – people find work through contacts and agencies.

The ability to play an instrument, such as guitar, keyboards or drums is a great advantage and is normally essential. You will also need a good musical ear, in order to tune instruments accurately.

You can start to gain experience whilst still at school – take every opportunity to work with bands or performers. In this way, people will get to know you, which is the way to get on in the music industry. Jobs are rarely advertised – people find work through contacts and agencies.

Working with a music hire company can be a good starting point in this industry as you will gain related experience and make lots of contacts.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Relevant school subjects include science, maths, IT/Computer Studies, Design and Technology, electronics and music/music technology.

Qualifications in electronic/electrical engineering and or music technology can help. Entry requirements vary, so look at individual colleges and universities for the qualifications they ask for.

Some relevant qualifications include:

  • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Engineering or Music Technology
    Entry with two GCSEs (A-D)
  • BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Engineering (Electrical/Electronic) or Music Technology
    Entry with four GCSE (A-C) passes
  • HND in Music Technology
    Entry with minimum of A level or BTEC Level 3 or equivalent
  • Degree in Music Technology
    Entry with minimum of 2 A levels or equivalent and normally 5 GCSE (A-C) passes – popular courses may ask for 3 A levels at high grades. Music technology A level may be required.

In addition, specialist courses in guitar making and repair are also available, which could also be useful for guitar technicians, in combination with other skills/qualifications.

What can I earn?

Instrument technicians are employed on a freelance basis for a tour, festival or concert/gig. This usually means that they are not employed for every single week of the year.

A basic starting wage for an instrument technician would be around £140 a week including transport. For someone with much more experience earnings would be around £1200 per week, with around £20 a day for expenses and travel (known as 'per diems').

At the very top earnings could reach £2100 per week with an additional £25 for expenses. The intermediate and high-level technicians would also receive transport costs on top, and have all their hotel accommodation and food provided.

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