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What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Live Sound Technician?

Microphones in front of a choir

There are few things as satisfying in the entertainment industry than pulling of an amazing show for a huge crowd. This dream is a reality for those working as live sound technicians and it’s a part of their daily life. When it’s your job to make sure everybody has a good time and that every performer gets their moment to shine, it might feel less like work and more like hosting a great party. While there is still plenty of work involved and technical skills that are necessary, working as a live sound tech is a highly rewarding career that leads to many professional opportunities.

What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Live Sound Technician?

Some sound technicians can fall into gigs out of pure happenstance and manage to get their foot in the door. However, one of the main things a sound tech needs is a good level of experience, which can cause something of a Catch-22. How do you find jobs to build up your experience level and get more paying gigs if you’re not considered experienced enough to land those first jobs? After all, not everybody can simply luck into a job because of a relative who runs a concert hall.

This debacle is often avoided by going to school or taking a sound technician program at a creative arts college. Once you’ve obtained a degree or certification in running live sound systems and the technical aspects that are involved, you can instantly show to potential employers your level of knowledge and expertise in this field. It’s a reliable way of setting yourself apart from other candidates to get your first few jobs.

What Do You Learn During a Live Sound Technician Program?

When studying in an audio production or sound tech class, you will become prepared to make the right decisions and face the pressure that every live sound technician must face every day on the job. The skills that you gain in the classroom and other educational settings will directly benefit your career, making the transition from student to sound technician as smooth as possible.

These programs put the professional-grade tools that sound technicians work with right into your hands, giving you a firsthand experience of what it feels like to be a live sound technician. You are taught by fully trained and highly experienced educators, saving you from going through the trial and error that comes with solo learning. Additionally, you’ll be surrounded by peers who are interested in the same things you are, pushing you to work harder to achieve your goals.

You are taught the fundamentals of acoustics, learning how sound itself works. Also you learn every phase of the production process from recording, editing, mixing, and mastering all within the same type of studio environment that professional sound technicians and audio producers do their work in. You will learn the appropriate etiquette for this type of studio setting, ensuring you are ready for a job in the real world.

Where Do Live Sound Technicians Work?

The venues where sound techs do their work are as varied as the types of events that they run. Some sound technicians specialize in certain types of events, while others stay active in a dynamic range of entertainment. It is often highly beneficial to take this jack-of-all-trades approach to keep a steady stream of gigs, particularly in areas where there are fewer regular shows to work with.

It takes a skilled and flexible sound technician to move seamlessly from one type of gig to the next, so those who are just starting out often focus on specializing in one or two. Once they’ve mastered the ins and outs of running sound for a small battle of the bands, for instance, it can give them the much-needed confidence necessary to manage the audio helm of a big rock show.

Theatrical Performances

Live sound technicians are crucial for theatrical performances. Even the most basic shows will involve a myriad of sound effects, all of which must be cued with impeccable timing and played at the right volume. Whether it’s a simple phone ringing or an extended narrator voiceover, the entire illusion of a play can be shattered by a sound tech errantly skipping to the wrong cue. One might think that it’s all just pushing buttons, but the substantial amount of power that’s quite literally in the sound tech’s hands calls for careful attention to detail.

Concert Halls & Stadiums

Concert halls and stadiums are places where you’ll find sound technicians working. It would be impossible to ensure that the audio from a band or stand-up comedian is reaching every audience member without someone skilled and knowledgeable running the sound system. Particularly in larger venues, it becomes an increasingly complex process of making sure the people in back can hear everything while those in the front rows aren’t permanently deafened.

Festivals & Outdoor Concerts

Other times, a sound tech works in festival-type situations where they’ll often be outdoors or in other settings that are more difficult to control. Live sound technicians who work these shows must stay flexible and respond to situations as they come; there are likely to be unexpected problems, and the sound tech must think on their feet to control the damage as quickly as possible. As unpredictable as they may be, though, music festivals can be the most rewarding jobs to work for because you never know what’s going to happen.

What Skills are Needed to be a Successful Live Sound Technician?

There are many important skills that a live sound technician needs to be successful. They include:

Communication

Live sound technicians must be able to communicate seamlessly with the other people working at a venue. It’s impossible for one person to put on a show by themselves, so everyone involved must function as a cooperative team. This means openly expressing what your needs are as a sound technician while hearing the needs and requests of others without taking it personally. When people are getting frustrated with each other behind the scenes, the show can very easily fall apart, in which case it’s the performers and audience who pay the price.

Attention to Detail

Sound techs also need a good eye and ear for detail. There is no “good enough” in live sound design. Those who are accustomed to professional live shows expect that their high standards are met if they’re paying good money. The smallest lapse in attention, the most minor instance of carelessness, can cause a huge mistake that everybody in the crowd is going to notice. The best sound techs have their brains on all the time, constantly listening carefully to the audio mix and anticipating every cue to be as prepared as possible.

Organizational Skills

Organization is key to keep track of all these details for a big performance. Having all your notes, cues, tools, and equipment carefully put into place makes it easy for you to know you’re prepared for every beat and aren’t about to be caught unawares by a sudden scene change or dramatic effect. Being organized also communicates to the others on your team that you truly know what you’re doing and have fully prepared for the job, which allows them to put their minds at ease and makes for a more relaxed experience.

Time Management

With all the different duties that fall into the sound technician’s role, it takes a considerable amount of time management to ensure that you’re getting everything done by the deadline. When the sound design for a performance has been rushed and thrown together at the last minute, the audience can always tell. Above all, the performers and other people on the production team will certainly be able to tell. It’s impossible to do your job well when it’s rushed, and it’s impossible to get everything done in a timely fashion without good time management skills.

Delegation

Sometimes, however, there are simply not enough hours in the day for one person to get everything done by themselves. Some amateur sound technicians might try to carry the weight of the whole show on their shoulders, and this is a beginner’s mistake. The only way to make a show succeed when it’s beyond your personal abilities is to delegate certain tasks off to others.

Delegation can be a difficult skill to master because it’s all too tempting to believe that everything will be better if you just do it yourself. For those who can’t be in more than one place at once, no matter how good you’re able to do something, it becomes necessary to find someone who you can trust to help.

Leadership

Once you’ve gotten the hang of all these skills and are working well as a member of a team, there comes a time for every sound technician when they must step up to the plate. There always must be someone who makes the final decision on things, whether it’s something as minor as volume levels or as major as the type of sound system you’re going to invest in.

Being a good leader is as much about hearing what your team has to say and enacting it appropriately as it is about charisma and confidence. Those who are skilled enough as sound technicians eventually must step up the plate and guide their audio team in the right direction to create the best possible sound design for every show that they’re a part of.

Final Thoughts

Ready to start managing live show productions? The first step to being successful as a live sound technician is getting a formal education from a creative arts college. At the Institute of Production and Recording, we have built a complete curriculum, taught by industry experienced educators, which will prepare you to work as a live sound technician, with all the hands-on experience you will need to build confidence to produce great live shows. Take the first step and learn more about IPR today.

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Live Sound program offers a degree designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and techniques. In our school’s advanced classes, you hone your creative and technical skills while working with advanced recording, editing technology, mixing, and mastering techniques, song arrangement, and the operation and planning of events and corporate productions. 

Throughout the audio production and live sound degree program, you are involved in hands-on exercises, real-world studio projects, and live shows and events that enable you to apply your knowledge and refine your audio production and live sound skills. After mastering the core concepts, you learn artistic and technical skills: microphone technique, mixing, critical listening, session management, studio etiquette, people skills, and basic song composition and programming. You are also introduced to many facets of the industry — from traditional studio work to live sound, post production, sound design, composition, A&R, marketing, and distribution.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and live sound programs and starting a rewarding career.