Live Audio Technician

 12 July 2012

Audio technicians work to ensure that the sound for live music events is of the best quality possible.

Live events can be highly pressurised and the show’s success is dependent on high quality sound.
Live events can be highly pressurised and the show’s success is dependent on high quality sound.

What is the job like?

Audio technicians, who are sometimes known as systems engineers, work as part of a team to ensure that the sound for live music events is of the best quality possible. There is often overlap between this job and Sound Engineer.

Your work may include:

  • Checking, maintaining and repairing equipment, and arranging for this to be sent away for more complex repairs when needed
  • Wiring connectors and taking care of equipment and extensive cabling
  • Setting up equipment with the sound engineer according to the acoustic demands of the venue, the requirements of the artists and the requisite sound design
  • Employing a detailed knowledge of health and safety
  • Maintaining spares of essential components that can be swapped into place during a performance if equipment fails
  • Monitoring sound quality during the performance, which usually involves working side-stage and monitoring the amplifiers for red lights and using computerised systems to locate faults.  

Audio technicians working in live sound travel around the UK or overseas whilst on tour. The working hours are irregular with frequent evening and weekend work. You will normally work long days of up to 14 hours.

How do I become an audio technician?

Audio technicians working in live music need a good understanding of electronics and physics. A good musical ear is also an advantage.

The show’s success is dependent on high quality sound.

Live events can be highly pressurised and the show’s success is dependent on high quality sound. It is therefore important that you have an unflappable personality, with good concentration and attention to detail.

Aim to demonstrate your practical experience in audio electronics by learning how to build or modify equipment such as speakers or amplifiers. Ability with computers is also important.

Entry to this career is very competitive so try to get as much experience as you can – offer to be an audio assistant at school or community productions. You could also help friends’ bands with their PA and sound systems.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Relevant school subjects include physics/science, maths, IT/computer studies, design and technology, electronics and music/music technology.

A possible way into this work is via a creative apprenticeship, where you train on the job and gain relevant qualifications at the same time. You could also contact equipment hire companies in your area to see if they have any opportunities, as these companies are often involved in event production.

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

Some relevant qualifications include:

  • City and Guilds Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in Sound and Music Technology
    Courses are offered at different levels and with varying entry requirements.
  • 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 or Engineering
    Entry with minimum of A level or BTEC Level 3 or equivalent

You might decide that you want to go to university, and although a degree-level qualification may not be essential, some of the courses on offer will provide you with very useful skills and relevant experience.

Possible courses include Theatre Sound, Live Music Production, Audio and Music Technology Music Technology, Sound Engineering and Electronic Engineering. Entry with minimum of 2 A levels or equivalent – popular courses may ask for 3 A levels at high grades.

Music technology/physics/maths/music A levels may be required, and for some music-related courses, graded musical instrument qualifications to a high level.

Private courses are also available, but always check these out very carefully before committing yourself.

What can I earn?

Apprentices earn a minimum of £2.60 per hour and the rates can be higher in large towns such as London. The rates may increase during the apprenticeship – average apprenticeship wages are actually around £170 a week.

The BECTU (trade union) basic rates for an audio technician working in live events are £162 for a 10-hour day and £196 for a 12 hour day. These rates do not include holiday pay. Not all employers pay the BECTU rates, and when starting out your pay might be lower, and equally with more experience you might earn more. Rates in London are generally higher than the rest of the country.

Audio technicians are normally freelance, which may mean that you may not be working the whole year. The summer months are usually the busiest.

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