12 July 2012

Pyrotechnicians are involved in firework or pyrotechnic displays during a live music event.

A display might cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are no rehearsals, and mistakes can be serious.
A display might cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are no rehearsals, and mistakes can be serious.

What is the job like?

There are two types of pyrotechnicians working in live music who provide:

  1. Fireworks for outdoor displays at festivals and concerts. These are usually large displays situated about 25 metres from the audience.
  2. Indoor pyrotechnics often performed on stage very close to high profile artists. The effects include flame systems, confetti and streamer effects, smoke and bubbles. 

The work varies but can involve:

  • Wiring the fireworks very accurately, usually to tight time constraints so that they fit with the music properly
  • Co-ordinating with a conductor if working with an orchestra
  • Following health and safety instructions really carefully – displays can be very close to both performers and members of the public
  • Following instructions to the last detail – there is no room for error
  • Working as part of a team, which could include lighting technicians, designers, stage managers and directors
  • Loading and unloading the van with fireworks and other equipment
  • Following the design as prepared by the pyro-designer and working to a cue sheet
  • Preparing the fireworks at the live venue, which involves making sure the fireworks are very stable and won’t topple over
  • Activating the firing system, which may be done manually, or using a lap-top computer
  • Clearing away the fireworks after the event

Smaller stage displays are sometimes performed by a lighting technician.

How do I get into pyrotechnics?

This is a very competitive area of work with very few people employed and so competition for jobs is fierce.

A display might cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are no rehearsals, and mistakes can be serious.

Personal qualities are most important for this work. You need to be very level-headed, calm, responsible, and reliable in order to work as part of a team.

Common sense is vital, as people need to know they can rely on you. Since a display might cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, there are no rehearsals! And mistakes can be serious.

To gain experience, you could approach a professional outdoor fireworks company to take you on as a trainee.

What training and qualifications should I take?

School subjects of benefit are practical subjects like design and technology, science, IT and electronics. You might also have an interest in music and drama.

You have to be at least 18 to be a pyrotechnician.

Degree courses in Technical Theatre may include courses in stage pyrotechnics. Entry to degree courses is normally with a minimum of two A levels or equivalent and a proven interest in the subject.

Much more important than academic qualifications like the ones listed above, are practical experience and the right personality for this work. You need to be a team-player who relates well to other people and can be relied upon to get involved during gigs.

The Association of Stage Pyrotechnicians offers various private training courses, which are aimed at people already working in this field.

What can I earn?

Pyrotechnicians are normally freelance, although some may work on a regular basis for a particular events company.

Within outdoor fireworks, a starting rate for someone without much experience might be around £60-£70 a day, rising to £125 -£150 a day for a more complex role which could include design. The work in this sector can be seasonal, with most outdoor events taking place in the summer months.

The rates for stage pyrotechnics are higher, with new team members starting on around £100-£150 a day. On tour a pyrotechnician could earn £250 a day, and at the very top those working with high profile artists or in corporate work could earn up to £1,000 a day.

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