Each month we take a deeper look at one career pathway in particular. For in-depth profiles of over 600 job profiles, take a look at the Indigo Careers module. This month we take a look at the role of a Sound Engineer*.
Qualifications and courses:
Sound engineers can work within several different industries, such as music, film, TV, computer games, apps and theatre. It is possible to become a sound engineer without gaining any relevant qualifications, as many companies take on trainees as runners or assistants, and you can build your knowledge whilst you work.
However, job competition is intense and larger studios and companies prefer candidates to hold relevant qualifications. These could include: GCSEs/National 5s or A levels/H grades in Music, Maths and Physics, NVQs Levels 2–3 in Technical Theatre Support Sound, Light and Stage, the BTEC Level 3 Certificate in Music Technology, the City & Guilds Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Sound Recording, Engineering and Studio Facilities, Foundation degrees and degrees in music production or audio technology.
Pre-entry experience is essential and can be accumulated by volunteering with recording studios, working with local bands and working on school plays or with amateur dramatic companies.
Postgraduate qualifications are also offered by a limited number of providers. The University of Westminster and the University of Salford offer master's degree courses in audio production, Leeds Beckett University runs a master's degree in Audio Engineering, and the National Film and Television School offers a Master of Arts degree in Sound Design for Film and Television.
For theatre sound engineers, many drama schools offer courses in theatre lighting and sound which may be useful. The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama offers a degree in Theatre Sound.
What the work involves:
Sound engineers set up, operate and maintain a range of technical equipment that is designed to capture, magnify and manipulate words and music.
Theatrical sound engineers create ‘sound plots’, choose equipment and insert sound effects according to the instructions of the director of the production.
Sound engineers working in the recording industry capture speech, music and other sound effects and modify them using sophisticated electronic equipment for a number of purposes including creating pop songs, adverts or computer game soundtracks to name but 3 possible outlets for your work.
Type of person suited to this work:
You will need a good musical ear and excellent sense of timing in order to put together pleasing and appropriate soundtracks/background audio to a range of productions.
You should also have knowledge of both electronics and IT systems.
Recording industry sound engineers must also have a good knowledge of both recording and post-production processes.
Sound engineers working in both theatre and the recording industry should expect to work varied hours that will encompass day, evening and weekend commitments.
Theatre sound engineers will spend the majority of their working day confined to a small control box which may be cramped and often is plunged into semi-darkness.
Recording sound engineers work in studios, some of which are large and air-conditioned, whilst others can be small and cramped. You will usually be working in artificial light and the atmosphere can be stressful when working against deadlines.
Competition for jobs is intense, and you may spend a long time proving your credentials as a runner or gofer.
You could work for a variety of employers, including theatres, opera and ballet houses, commercial recording studios, app developers or media post-production departments.
Theatre sound engineers may go on to become sound designers with greater creative input in productions, whereas many recording sound engineers move into roles as producers.
You will work with a variety of people on diverse projects, so each day will bring new challenges and rewards.
Theatre and media are exciting industries to work in as there is constant cultural and technical development.
You will have to work long hours that will often fall over evenings and weekends.
Starting salaries for sound engineers, whether they work in theatre or the recording industry, range from £15,000 to £18,000 per year. With experience, this could rise to £40,000.
Sound engineers working on large productions, with big companies or well-known artists, can earn in excess of £40,000.
The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) recommends rates for sound engineers involved in feature films. Daily rates based on a 10-hour continuous working day vary according to the production but start at £121 for a sound trainee to £440 for a production sound mixer.
*Information in this profile taken from Careers, from Trotman Publishing - part of the Indigo family.