Live sound production combines the science of perfecting signal amplification and equalization with the art of blending each voice and instrument to produce the desired feel or emotional response. The audio technicians who contribute to stage plays and concerts work to ensure that the audience doesn’t just hear the music and dialogue, but enjoys each audible nuance of a joyful laugh or melancholy ballad.
The specific responsibilities of an audio technician can vary greatly from one production to the next, but this person will typically work under the direction of the front of house (FOH) engineer and monitor engineer. As a member of the audio crew on a touring show, this technician may first be tasked with loading in gear from the truck and organizing the audio department’s work area. Next this person will assist in building speaker arrays, laying XLR, running the audio snake, and setting up console positions. He or she will also participate in installing the backline gear, musician’s on-stage amps, and microphones. During sound check, the audio technician will assist as directed in testing mics, walking the room to confirm levels of front-fills and subs, and attending to any necessary maintenance or repairs.
On permanent theatrical productions, the crew of audio technicians will have show-specific responsibilities that may include fitting cast members with wireless microphones, acting as backstage assistant to the FOH engineer, seeing to malfunctions during the performance, or serving as an instrument technician. Though load-ins and installations are not part of the daily duties on a permanent show, regular repairs are necessary. Audio technicians may be required to replace speaker heads, solder new cables, and clean gear.
Skills & Education
Extensive training in sound technology is required for this position. A college degree in technical theater or live production is a recommended means of gaining your practical education. A degree is not required, but without formal training it is getting more difficult to simply learn the ropes on the job. Audio technicians are expected to have a firm knowledge of sound amplification theory, frequency modulation, and electricity. (For example, do you know which end of an audio cable seeks the power? It’s the opposite of most other electrical equipment.) Courses in recording arts are also useful, as is experience with digital consoles, Pro Tools, and wireless systems.
What to Expect
A position as an audio technician with no particular specialty is generally considered an entry-level position in the sound department—but you must have training. These positions are highly skilled and will require at least two years of professional experience or equivalent formal education. Be prepared for grunt work; as the bottom of the totem pole on any production crew, you’ll be tasked with lugging gear, pushing cases, and all of the other dirty, back-breaking work that no one else wants to do. You must be passionate and persevere through the hazing ritual that is cleaning cable. If you can prove that you are skilled and you have a strong work ethic and a sincere desire to progress your career, eventually the offer of a better gig will come along. Take every job as an opportunity to ask questions of the experienced technicians around you and learn as much as possible about your craft. Those who move up the ladder are the go-getters who network and foster positive relationships. After several successful shows as an audio technician, you can seek out opportunities as a drum or guitar tech, monitor engineer, or lead sound technician. Opportunities for audio professionals also exist in the theme park industry, on cruise ships, and with event production companies.
Have some feedback for our editors? Contact Us