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Live sound engineer

Live sound engineers control the sound at events like theatre performances, music concerts and festivals.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £25,000 to £40,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll need a good knowledge of music and sound technology, and you may find it useful to have an understanding of physics and electronics.

You could do:

  • a course in technical theatre, music technology or sound engineering
  • a degree or diploma in technical theatre accredited by Drama UK

It might be useful if you have paid or unpaid work experience, like:

  • helping backstage in a theatre
  • being a roadie for a band
  • rigging sound in amateur or student theatre, or for local bands
  • recording or mixing music, for example as a DJ
  • working for a sound equipment manufacturer or hire company
You could also get into this job through a sound recording, engineering and studio facilities apprenticeship.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • good hearing, for judging sound quality
  • a good sense of pitch, timing and rhythm
  • patience, stamina and good concentration
  • the ability to cope with long hours and tight deadlines

3. What you'll do

You’ll mix the inputs from microphones and amplifiers, using a control desk to balance the sound levels.

You might also provide background music and sound effects.

Your duties might also include:

  • discussing the production’s sound needs with the director or sound designer
  • identifying places in the script where any sound effects, music and changes in sound level are needed
  • pre-recording any sound effects and music
  • positioning and rigging up microphones
  • completing sound checks before a performance
  • operating the sound desk during shows
  • following a sound plan (known as a 'plot') and cues from the deputy stage manager
  • looking after and repairing equipment
  • unloading, setting up, dismantling and loading equipment at each venue when on tour
You may also set up and operate lighting equipment as part of a sound and lighting crew.

4. Salary

Starter: £25,000

Experienced: £30,000

Highly Experienced: £40,000 (sound designer)

Freelance rates vary. You could negotiate fees based on the type of production and your own track record. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) list suggested rates.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Hours can be long and irregular.

Evening and weekend work is common. 

You may also work during the day for rehearsals, sound checks and maintenance.

You’ll work in theatres, concert halls, arenas, and outdoors at concerts and festivals. 

You’ll spend a lot of time sitting at a control desk.

You’ll travel throughout the UK and possibly overseas.

6. Career path and progression

With experience, you could progress to chief sound engineer in a theatre, become a sound designer, or set up your own sound services company.

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Last updated: 08 December 2016