Sound engineers are the unsung heroes of musical theatre. Without them, there’s no show. If you’re interested in sound engineering but don’t know where to start, this article will help you get your foot in the door and become a sound engineer in musical theatre.
Musical Theatre Sound engineers are responsible for making sure that all the sounds onstage come together into a cohesive whole. They control everything from microphones to playback systems and speakers-and they have to do it without disrupting the actors on stage or distracting the audience in any way. It’s not easy work, but if you love live theatre and want to be involved with every aspect of putting on a production, then being a sound engineer might be your calling!
What is a Musical Theatre Sound Engineer?
A sound engineer is someone who works closely with the sound designer and handles the mixing aspects of sound for a show. They are the people at the back of the theatre who make sure that vocalists can hear their instruments and they balance vocals, instruments, and sound effects in an optimal way to ensure the audience can hear a beautifully balanced show.
Responsibilities of a Musical Theatre Sound Engineer
The sound engineer is responsible for the overall mix of the musical theatre production, which includes all aspects of effects, vocals, dialogue and music. He or she must know how to use various types of equipment including mixing consoles, electronic effects units, and microphones.
The sound engineer is also responsible for the set-up of speakers and monitors, and he or she must be able to communicate with members of the production team including stage managers and lighting engineers, in order to coordinate performances.
Skills Required for this Profession
A successful sound engineer needs a thorough knowledge of sound engineering principles and techniques. This includes being knowledgeable in acoustics, working on large-scale amplification systems, using noise control measures, and being aware of international standards. Skilled technicians can also compose and record music, so it is helpful to be able to play at least one musical instrument. Note that many people in this profession start off as musicians or experienced sound engineers before working their way into theatre stage crew or working independently.
Setting up the technical equipment for a live performance requires putting together complex systems consisting of various speakers, amplifiers, microphones, consoles and other components. Unsurprisingly, it is therefore essential that the engineer have a very good understanding of how all these devices work in order to get them to function together properly. Since making changes can be extremely expensive during performances, technicians are advised to have excellent problem-solving skills.
How to get started as a Musical Theatre sound engineer
Once you have educated yourself on the basics of sound engineering, you are ready to go out into the world and start looking for jobs. This can be harder than it sounds, especially if you are trying to break into the musical theatre world.
A lot of people would suggest that you drop off your CV at the stage door of every theatre. I personally think that’s a waste of time. There’s a lot of people trying to become sound engineers, and most theatres aren’t going to be interested in hiring someone with little experience. Some shows get hundreds of CV’s a month so sticking out is hard to do.
I would start small and look for work at your local smaller venue first. Once there, get to know the sound team of every show that comes in. Get to know them well enough to add them on social media. That way you can work your way up to bigger venues, eventually getting to the point where you can work at West End theatres.
If you don’t have a local theatre or you local is the West End, then I would do this.
First, find a show you would like to work on. Buy a ticket for said show and a programme as well. Find out the names of all the sound team. In the interval go to the sound desk and introduce yourself. Use their names. Remember you only have a few minutes so don’t waste them. Tell them you are looking for depping work and could you leave them your CV.
The convo could go something like this:
YOU: “Hi, Are you Rob?
YOU: “great, nice to meet you Rob, I’m Mike, (shake hands) listen I won’t keep you, I spoke to John Smith at Les Mis last week, and he said you are maybe looking for Deps. Can I leave you my CV?
ROB: “We are not looking right now but I’ll keep you in mind”
YOU: “Thanks, the show sounds great by the way.
Now, this may not work every time, but I bet the person will remember you.
Things you should NOT say:
YOU: “Who’s the sound engineer?”
YOU: “How do I become a musical theatre sound engineer?”
YOU: “Hi, what do you do here?” (It’s an obvious question but there are loads of people that ask it. You don’t want to be remembered as the person who asked daft/common questions)
I hope this has been helpful in your quest to become a sound engineer. If you have any questions about the process, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can also learn more by reading my blog post on What is a West End Sound Designer and how important they are for live shows.