Tom Marshall, sound engineer
Tom Marshall started working in the sound department of a West End show after his A levels and is now a successful sound engineer.
I’m from the Home Counties, and am currently residing in Kingston upon Thames.
What job do you do?
I'm a freelance sound engineer.
What previous jobs have you done?
I got started working in the sound department on the original London West End production of Fame.
I’ve also worked as either associate or assistant sound designer on a number of musical shows. These include nationwide tours of the Take That musical Never Forget, The Full Monty and The King and I, Daddy Cool in London and Berlin and Cabaret at Teatro Della Luna, Milan.
I've been 'No. 1' sound engineer on productions at London's Savoy Theatre, Theatre Royal Haymarket and Theatre Royal Drury Lane. In those venues, I've worked on operas like Porgy and Bess and musicals like Anything Goes.
I’ve also been FOH (front-of-house) engineer for bands including PJ Harvey, The Coral, Martina Topley-Bird and Cord.
What qualifications do you have?
Just school qualifications – GCSEs and A-levels.
What do you do at work?
There’s never a typical day. As I’m freelance, one day I could be mixing a band or concert, and the next I could be rigging speakers in the rain, or sitting at the back of a dark theatre making sound effects.
"Use your tools to become part of the orchestra."
If I’m working as a theatre 'No.1' sound engineer, I’m likely to arrive at the venue at about 5pm.
I'll start with a cup of tea and a chat, switch on the sound system, and spend about an hour checking that every single piece of equipment works correctly (desks, speakers, pit microphones, and radio microphones).
I'll have a bite to eat at about 6pm until the half hour call, at which point the backstage team (the 'No.2' and 'No.3' sound engineers) will go around affixing radio mics to the cast. After the show we collect the mics, power down as quickly as possible and go for a drink!
What’s the best thing about your job?
The adrenaline and excitement of live performance, and the satisfaction of making something sound nice. I love the audience’s reaction at a good show.
And the worst thing about the job?
There can be lots of sitting around, waiting for things to happen. You won't see the sun much during technical periods. The hours can be unsociable.
How do I get into music?
Sound, especially live sound, is something that cannot really be taught in a classroom. The only way to learn and be good at it is to get out there and start at the bottom.
Learn from others by watching, listening, and having a go yourself. Always be prepared to learn something new every day, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know how that works” – I still do!
To be good at mixing music and songs, it’s important to have an understanding of how music works. You don't necessarily need to be able to read or play an instrument. However, you need to have the ability inside you to use the tools around you to become part of the orchestra, band or performer, and flow with the situation to create something exciting.
Of course, having the right attitude is of great importance. Performing arts is generally a very happy and exciting environment to work in, so if all goes to plan you should consider yourself fortunate to be in such an industry.