Career as a Sound technician

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Andrew Roberts works as part of a team which records stories for BBC TV news. He travels throughout the North-East covering stories.

Can you describe your role?

I record the sound on television news stories. I work with a camera operator and a reporter and travel all over the region to cover stories. Stories can vary from interviews with political figures, to reports on health issues or features on leisure activities.

What do you do on a story?

It's my job to make sure that the sound on the story is recording properly – at the right level and without being distorted. I use a boom microphone which is a fluffy cylinder on the end of a long boom pole, or radio microphones which are fixed to people's clothes.

Throughout the recording, I listen to the sound through headphones and look at the readings on the mixer all the time. If the sound isn't right, I adjust the levels on the mixer.

How do you deal with all the 'dirty' noise?

Dirty noise is all the surrounding noise you don't want to record because it can drown out the sound you are recording. Different sound levels are required depending on whether you are recording inside or outside, with one person or a group. If we are recording an interview by the side of a road, for example, it's up to me to make sure that the voices are not drowned out by the noise of the traffic. I could do this by decreasing the bass and increasing the treble.

If the background noise is really bad I could suggest that we stop recording and move somewhere else, but this isn't always possible.

What has been the most pressurised job you have been on?

I recently covered an important press conference which was very challenging, because there were lots of news crews there, all wanting to cover the same story. We were given just three minutes to do an interview, so I had to be well prepared and have all my sound gear ready in advance. There was a lot of pressure but there was a huge sense of achievement when I had finished.

What skills do you need for a career as a sound technician?

Communication skills are really important. You should be comfortable working with new technology. I spend a lot of time travelling – 200 miles or more in a day – and have to go to some remote locations, so it's important to be able to drive.

What hours do you work?

This isn't a nine-to-five job. I could work six hours one day and 12 the next. The average is about seven hours, but I could work at any time of day. People often think that working in TV is glamorous. I find it really enjoyable but you have to be prepared to spend long hours working outside in rain, wind, cold and mud!

Why do you like the job so much?

I meet lots of new people and make contacts who could help me in my career. I really enjoy the travelling too. Les, my camera operator is a great teacher and I'm learning lots of new skills.

What about your ambitions

In ten years' time I'd like to be travelling all over the world, researching, recording and editing my own hard-hitting news stories.

Andrew's route to his career as a sound technician

  • 5 GCSEs.
  • AVCE Media course.
  • Work experience on a local newspaper, a local commercial radio station and at the BBC.
  • Present job.

Andrew's sound technician career tips

  • If you have access to a video camera and an editing system make some films with sound and edit them to show potential employers what you can do.
  • Talk to media people and keep their contact details on file. They may be able to help you in the future.

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Salary of a sound technician

  • Sound assistants earn approximately £14,000.
  • A sound operator/technician's salary can be over £20,000.
  • Some sound supervisors can earn £30,000 or more.

Getting in

  • There are no formal entry requirements, but you need to demonstrate a good grounding in maths and physics – particularly an understanding of the physical properties of sound.
  • Courses, from HND to degree level, in sound technology, audio engineering, acoustics and music recording are available throughout the UK.
  • FT2, Cyfle (Wales), and Scottish Screen offer new entrant training schemes but competition for places is intense.
  • Skillset professional qualifications are available in sound at Levels 2, 3 and 4.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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