The sound technician is a specialist who takes charge of the sound system during live shows. By live shows we mean shows that are produced in front of a crowd (concert, dance show, theatre production, television or radio show, etc). It is a generic term used in entertainment lingo. This term groups a certain number of trades whose individual purpose constitute the important links for the production of a live show. In order to work in this field, professional training as well as specific technical competencies and aptitudes are crucial to get started.
The sound technician: a key player
The sound technician is the professional in charge of managing equipment but also of the sound quality for the public as well as for the artists on stage. The sound technician is in charge of the quality of the recording (as the case may be), as well as the adjustments and synchronisation necessary to obtain a result that is true to the director’s expectations.
The sound technician can be in charge of microphone placement for a recording. The sound technician can act as ‘bandgear’ installing and plugging the equipment. The sound technician can also act under the responsibility of the main sound director, or chief sound operator, or stage director. The sound technician will intervene all along the production line of the show. The live sound technician will likely have to work closely with the technical director of the venue as this person knows a lot about the particularities of the room.
Firstly, the sound technician will take care of preparing and setting up the audio equipment. As such, he/she also takes care of renting any necessary equipment and bringing it (if necessary) to the venue then takes care of installing it all. He/she must also make certain adjustments with regard to the acoustics of the place (a small concert hall doesn’t have the same acoustic qualities as an outdoor stage in a park for example). To compensate for the flaws in a venue and to ensure the acoustic quality, the sound technician will conduct a calibration of the site with the help of a pink noise generator, a real-time spectral analyzer and an equalizer. This calibration ensures that the sounds produced on stage (voice, instruments, special effects) will be perceived by the public the way the artists intended. Just like the artists, the sound technician is a key player who must, among other things, participate actively in rehearsals. The sound technician is better equipped to make good decisions when he knows the show well or the artists’ technical needs. For example, the choice of microphone and its placement won’t be the same if the trumpet player needs to move around the stage or not. Another example: the sound technician must ensure that the monitors will not physically be in the way if the artists choose to move around and that the artists will be able to hear the monitors wherever they move to.
The live sound technician’s mission
In addition to taking care of the sound for the show itself (which implies providing a clear, powerful and intelligible sound), the sound technicians mission consists also in watching for and correcting any last minute malfunctions that could hinder the smooth progress of the show. A microphone, a stage monitor, or even an amplifier could fail and the sound technician needs to be able to intervene quickly. The technician must drive the sound for the show according to the artist’s instructions while also observing the rules and regulations relative to noise levels. Moreover, in the case of a touring show, the sound technician will also be in charge of taking down the sound equipment as well as its storage and transport to the next venue. Also, storing the equipment must be done in a logical and practical way in order to facilitate the next installation.
Other tasks may also be added such as maintenance of defective material for example and when necessary, the sound technician must be able to make assessments and suggestions regarding that equipment (repairing, replacing or acquiring new material), always going in the direction of improving the quality of the existing sound system. Other than this permanent watching over the equipment, a sound technician in theater for example can also be in charge of programming sound effects, which can imply proceeding to record them as well as triggering those sounds during the show.
A highly solicited professional
Sound technicians usually operate in live shows, corporate events (conferences, launch parties…), the audio visual field or in tourism. Their skills can be put to good use by employers such as audio-visual production companies, artistic companies, agencies specialising in corporate events and theme parks.
The sound technician’s job is very demanding and often requires working with a team. When it comes to managing a team, the sound technician must show good leadership, have a strong sense of priorities, and be diplomatic while also being firm. The work is subject to the seasonal rhythm of cultural programming: festivals are fewer in the winter than in the summer and are often one after the other, which can mean some very slow periods during the year followed by very intense periods of work. The live sound technician is often required to travel and the schedules of live shows are generally very irregular. Also, the sound technician is usually working when the rest of the public goes out to have fun: evenings and weekends. A good adaptability and aptitude to work under pressure as well as being in good physical and psychological shape are useful for this exciting line of work. The work requires organisation and rigour because you must know how to manage your priorities and not forget anything. When you work in sound for live shows you must be very concentrated: always attentive to the artists needs on stage and always listening to the sound system. The sound technician must be versatile, handy, resourceful and inventive in order to find solutions to problems that can occur during production.
How does one become a sound technician for live shows?
You can find work as a live sound engineer with a DEC or AEC diploma in the sound or audio-visual fields. Some public or private schools offer training specific to this line of work. Upon completion, the sound technician can, after a few years of experience and some additional qualifications, hold a position of technical director of a concert venue or chief sound operator of live shows.
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