Sound engineer

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Jane Booth is currently an assistant engineer at a recording studio based in south-west England. The studio has four recording suites and produces tapes covering a variety of music types.

What is your role?

My job is to assist the sound engineer during recording sessions in the studio, working alongside the musicians and technical staff to ensure that everything runs smoothly. I am first in at the beginning of a session and last out at the end.

What does your job involve?

I look after all the tapes that are used to record the music. This involves ensuring that the right information is written on each tape, and that they are properly stored in the tape library. At the beginning of a recording session I find out how the engineer wants the studio to be set up, plug up all the microphones and set them up in the right positions, making sure the multitrack tape machines are ready. The musicians usually bring their own instruments, but, sometimes, I set up additional equipment in the studio, such as effects (FX) units.

Do you operate the sound console?

Not often, but I set it up according to the needs of the engineer. Sometimes, I work alongside and get the opportunity to record the music. This is done using a multi-track recorder and specialist digital audio recording software.

What other duties do you have?

Looking after everyone during a session is my job, from getting snacks for the musicians, to making sure the engineer and producer have everything they need. At the end of a session I clear up, which involves unplugging equipment, tidying the cables and vacuuming the console.

What skills do you need to be a good sound engineer?

You need to work quickly, always thinking ahead to work out what may be needed during a session. A polite, friendly and calm approach is essential, along with good organisational skills.

What are your working hours?

I can often work for several days without a day off to complete a job. Session days involve long hours. But for every session day, I get two days off.

What sort of personal qualities are needed?

You need to be a good organiser with the ability to plan ahead. The right personality is very important, as you have to be able to get on with everyone, and keep calm under stress. Stamina is vital, to cope with the long hours. An interest in a wide variety of music is also necessary, along with a good musical ear. The ability to play an instrument has a small advantage, although this is not essential.

What do you like about your job as a sound engineer?

I love the variety and the irregular hours – I could never work nine to five! Meeting so many different people and recording such a range of music is really enjoyable. I love seeing and hearing a song being built up. Seeing a record you have worked on in a music shop is very satisfying.

Where do you see your future?

Very few assistants stay at this level forever. They are usually working towards an engineering or producing position. I hope to become a sound engineer, build up my reputation and become freelance.

Jane's route to becoming a sound engineer

  • GCSEs.
  • National Diploma in Audio Engineering.
  • Assistant engineer in a large recording studio.

Jane's tips

  • Working in a recording studio involves unsocial hours.
  • Audio engineering diplomas provide a useful background and technical knowledge.
  • Be prepared to write lots of letters to recording studios asking about possible junior vacancies.

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Salary of a sound engineer

  • Studio juniors could expect to earn a starting salary of between £10,000 and £12,000.
  • This could rise to around £20,000 for an assistant engineer with four years' experience.
  • At this stage it is quite common to work on a freelance basis, with a daily starting rate of around £100.
  • Experienced engineers could earn between £200 – £500 a day.

Getting in

  • Competition for jobs is extremely fierce. Experience gained in a community studio can be an advantage.
  • Some people start by helping out at studios on a voluntary basis getting to know people in the business who help find them employment.
  • The Association of Professional Recording Studios (APRS) accredits various relevant courses.
  • Other courses include the BTEC National Diploma in Music Technology, City & Guilds and private courses.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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