Sound work

 18 October 2012

Sound technicians and engineers are responsible for everything about what a production physically sounds like. They often also work closely with designers.

Theatre sound technicia's look after a productions sound, from music to speech and effects
Theatre sound technicia's look after a productions sound, from music to speech and effects

What is the job like?

As a theatre sound technician, you're responsible for all aspects of sound during a show.

This could include:

  • controlling sound levels – can the audience hear everything well, from every part of the theatre? 
  • looking after sound effects and their cues, and working out the best ways to produce effects
  • researching and getting hold of effects and music, and transferring these onto a format for playback (usually digital, but the tracks are still referred to as sound ‘tapes’)
  • ensuring music sounds right
  • mapping out all the cues for different sounds so that they match the action taking place on stage, and preparing the show's 'sound plans' which outline everything the show needs from a sound point of view
  • making sure the sound carries properly in every venue in which the production is staged
  • making sure music and effects mesh properly with dialogue
  • overseeing the technical sound requirements of a show, such as different types of microphone, loudspeakers and other equipment, and adding these to the sound plans 

You would work closely with other members of the production team, like the director and stage manager. In some cases, you might also design the sound for productions. The line between the roles of sound designer and technician can often be blurred.

Strong computer and IT skills are useful, as is an understanding of how acoustics work.

What the job is like can vary enormously, depending on the requirements of each production, company, and venue.

You might work for yourself, and take on shows as they come up, or you might work for a particular venue or touring theatre company. 

You may be supported by a sound operator, who is responsible only for operating the sound desk during the show. You might start out in a role like this, and then progress to sound management. 

How do I get into working with sound?

Strong computer and IT skills will be useful.  You should develop some understanding of how sound travels and how acoustics work. On a basic level, school science subjects will help with some of this. 

You will also find it useful to find out how PA systems, mixing desks, and other large pieces of sound equipment work. Look for opportunities to handle these, and is possible shadow sound staff at a venue. Starting out in backstage crewing may help you to build some experience.

Work placements are also a great way to learn on the job. Looking for theatres and companies with apprenticeships or work experience schemes is a good idea.

A college course can help you get a feel for the industry, and there are now many available in subjects such as:

  • audio engineering
  • sound design
  • sound technology

A BTEC national diploma in Production Arts may also be useful. 

There is also the option of supplementing your volunteering with short courses. Crewclass offer one-day masterclasses in backstage crewing which includes some sound work. 

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