While the stars of popular media may get a lot of the recognition, their appearances are made possible —and optimized— by the work of broadcast and sound engineering technicians. They operate the electrical equipment for radio programs, television broadcasts, concerts, sound recordings, and movies. Audio and video equipment technicians handle equipment such as video screens, video monitors, microphones, and mixing boards. They record meetings, sports events, concerts, and conferences. Broadcast technicians set up and operate equipment that regulates the clarity, signal strength, sound, and color of the broadcasts. They use software to edit audio and video recordings. Sound engineering technicians run equipment that records and mixes music, voices, and sound effects. They work in recording studios, performance venues, and film and stage productions. Audio and video technicians typically work in studios, although some work on location for events or to broadcast news. They also set up systems in schools, hospitals, homes… or other locations. Technicians generally work full time, but schedules may include additional hours for live events or to keep up with production schedules. Radio and TV stations are typically on the air 24/7, so technicians’ hours may run around the clock. Broadcast technicians generally need an associate’s degree, while audio and video equipment technicians, and sound engineering technicians typically need a certificate or related training.
Performance venue sound engineers manage the audio of live performances.
Theaters, concert halls, arenas, and stadiums are huge spaces that can amplify or absorb sound in unique and unpredictable ways, depending on their shape, size, and structure. When performers or speakers produce amplified sounds in these spaces, it's important to ensure that they can be heard clearly at an appropriate volume level, and with any effects that may be in place. Sometimes there is more than one source of sound, and someone has to ensure that the channels mesh and don't interfere with one another. That someone is a live venue sound engineer, an audio professional with an array of technical skills geared specifically towards making amplified sound work in real time.
Live sound engineers tend to fall into three categories: front of house engineers, who manage what an audience hears; monitor engineers, who ensure that musicians can hear themselves and each other, and systems or reinforcement engineers, who install and configure live sound equipment. Sometimes these roles overlap significantly, and venues with a single sound engineer are common; however, in large performance spaces, monitor mixing can be the deciding factor between a good show and a bad one, and having a systems expert on board can relieve a number of electrical safety concerns.
Work as a live performance sound engineer may include...
- Running sound checks prior to performances
- Continually adjusting levels to maintain a balanced soundscape
- Using live mixing consoles and software
- Planning, installing, and optimizing sound equipment for a specific space
- Solving electrical, acoustical, and technical problems
A sound engineer's most valuable tool (and occasional worst enemy) is the soundboard, a complex device that controls the levels and specifics of each sound source in a performance space. Any venue with a sound system needs someone to operate it - theaters, concert halls, arenas, stadiums, and event spaces hire sound engineers for specific events or regular work. Other employers include schools and universities, who may have someone on hand to direct and manage amplified sound for recitals, concerts, lectures, or screenings; professional musicians, who occasionally bring along their own sound crew to ensure a specific effect; or festival and event companies, who need experts that can work to direct sound in huge outdoor spaces.
Training to become a live sound engineer can look a few different ways. Many engineers start as assistants, apprentices, or interns, where they can learn from seasoned professionals and pick up essential technical skills. Some pursue formal education in sound engineering or music production, which can be a great, structured way to practice mixing and give graduates a credential boost. It's not unheard of for venue workers, theater crew, or musicians without any specialized training in sound engineering to gravitate toward the soundboard and find they enjoy the work there, and those with a positive relationship to a venue's leadership may be able to turn it into a steady gig. The most important things an aspiring live sound engineer can bring to the table are experience, a strong network, and a good attitude. Most venues understand the value of sound professionals who demonstrate knowledge and enthusiasm, and those who find a good position may be there for a long time.
If you've got a good ear and think quickly, a career in live sound engineering might be in your arena!
The Acoustical Society of America works to generate, disseminate, and promote the knowledge and practical applications of acoustics.
The Audio Engineering Society is the only professional society dedicated exclusively to audio technology.