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Can I make a living doing live sound?

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Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby MattH115 » Sat Oct 26, 2019 9:44 pm

I recently graduated college and want to get into the live sound industry. I have a part time job doing it at a bar, and I want some insight on whether it is sustainable as a career choice right now. I'm in the NYC area if that helps. Basically what I want to know is if I can make a decent living doing live sound, and if anyone has tips on getting into it full time. Any info is appreciated. Thanks!
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Re: Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Oct 26, 2019 10:28 pm

Yes, it is certainly possible although these days touring engineers working for all but the largest acts tend to double up as tour managers too. Most of the professional live engineers that I know started off working for local PA companies as general assistants and then worked their way up.
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Re: Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Oct 26, 2019 11:00 pm

Yup, wot he sez :thumbup: I came to professional live sound late and am now retired but it's quite possible to make a modest living at the grass roots end of the business where I operated and, if you are young, that can be the first step to a career. Be aware though that the hours are lousy and the pay is no more than you'd earn stacking shelves when you start out. It's much more fun though (even for a 60+ semi-pro guitar player humping 100kg subs in and out of a Merc Sprinter) :D .
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Re: Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby Dave Rowles » Sat Oct 26, 2019 11:25 pm

Yes, and there are quite a few out there who do it. I stepped back from long tours and only do small runs or one offs for my remaining clients, due to starting a family and not wanting to be away for so long.

I'll echo the sentiment that most of those who do make a living out of it started local and worked their way up. These are the paths normally to getting a load of work

The Hard Slog. You'll volunteer to start with, or work for low pay. Or work as Local Crew, lugging gear around and generally being told what to do. If you apply yourself and show lots of interest, then the crew bosses or engineers you work with may give you hints and tips, or take you out on other shows. You'll work through putting speakers where you're told, to microphones, to patch monkey, to system engineer, wireless tech, and then if you're good and apply yourself you'll be sent out to mix low budget shows. This will give you experience on being in charge and running small systems. If you work hard at it you'll eventually get clients that either request you, or you'll get your own tours.

Attach yourself to a band. This is more the "lucky git" kind of way. I you manage to find a young band that you think is good, you can offer to be their engineer. It'll be for beer money to start with, but if they break into proper touring you can be right there at the beginning and they can take you with them. As long as you don't fall out!

Settle into a House Engineer role. If you can find a local venue with an ageing tech, or quite a few techs, you can, again, volunteer, and get in with the venue. Once you've learned all the gear they've got you can move up to running the gigs. If a paid position comes up you'll be in line for it, and then you can hopefully get a permanent position.

Of course, if you can get some money together, you can buy a small system for yourself and see if you can tout your services for local gigs. However, in the NYC area, I'd suggest that might be a harder sell, plus having gear means you've got to look after it, and maintenance/upgrading can cost a LOT.

The Hard Slog way is the one that gets you the most respect in the industry. Over the years I've encountered no end of graduates or young-uns who are sure they know everything and believe they can do the job just as well, or better. Most of them can't, and quit, but there are the select few who have the right attitude and abilities to carry on. If you pester the local PA hire companies enough they'll give you work just to shut you up sometimes (A friend of mine did exactly that and now works as a system tech on large shows)

I would also seek out and attend as many training seminars you can find by desk/pa/gear manufacturers. As a touring engineer I rarely get the desk I actually want, so being able to use any desk/gear is a real need.

The last advice I'll give you is that a live touring sound job is not exactly what you may imagine it to be. In order to make it you'll have to be prepared to so whatever it takes to make sure the gig goes ahead and sounds the best it can sound. Getting a long with people and being awesome at your job is a must. It's a fairly small number of people who get on tours, so you have to be better than everyone to get there.

But it's quite fun once you do....and it can even be fun getting there!
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Re: Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby shufflebeat » Sun Oct 27, 2019 2:20 am

Dave Rowles wrote:I stepped back from long tours and only do small runs or one offs for my remaining clients, due to starting a family and not wanting to be away for so long.

Funny, my experience is pretty much the polar opposite, so if anyone has a medium to long tour in far away places I could do with getting away from my loving family for a few weeks.

Only kidding.

Sort of.

Anyway, limited experience there are musicians/bands who are serious about what they do (while having fun) and those who have no plan and are at the mercy of events and flakey personnel. If you look like a reliable and considerate person with a plan you will attract the former.
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Re: Can I make a living doing live sound?

Postby Wonks » Sun Oct 27, 2019 8:07 am

Historically, working with live sound with big acts on long tours takes its toll over time. Long hours, constant travelling, lack of days off etc. means that over time, alcoholism and drugs are fairly rife and the suicide rate amongst sound/lighting crew is very high indeed.

It's not easy to settle down or have long-term relationships if you are always travelling, so that area of live sound tends to draw loners to it, at least those who are in it for more than a few years.

It's going to be different if you get a full-time job in a theatre or club and I know a couple of people who successfully transitioned from full-time touring to working in fixed locations and then started families.

It can be great fun but it can also have its downsides. So go in with your eyes wide open. This side of the music business is changing all the time, so you need to have a flexible mindset. I wish you all the best for the future.
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