Day in the life of
Live Sound Engineer – Stelios Mac
I’m Stelios Mac, I’m 21 years old and am a Live Sound Engineer based in Chania, Greece. I’ve been working as a sound engineer professionally for almost 4 years, but have been a hobbyist for almost another 6 before that. I have had the pleasure of running sound (FOH and/or monitors) for local one-off productions for multiple notable Greek artists, such as Lavrentis Macheritsas and Nikos Portokaloglou.
A live sound engineer can have multiple roles & responsibilities, depending on their specialty. For 90% of all events, those will all be handled by one person (maybe two), but for large festivals, there are multiple people working together, each responsible for a different task.
Here’s what it looks like for larger events:
A FOH (Front Of House) Engineer will be responsible for carrying out a soundcheck with the band and mixing the show. This includes setting volume levels for each individual source (instruments, vocals), using tools like compressors & EQ to shape their tone, and adding in effects like reverb and delay where appropriate.
A Monitor Engineer will be responsible for the sound on-stage. They do everything a FOH Engineer does, but instead of creating a single stereo mix for the audience, they tackle multiple individual mixes for each artist on-stage. Usually, for smaller events with less than, say 500 people, both monitors and FOH sound will be handled by a single engineer.
Most large artists usually have at least a FOH engineer that tours with them. Many times they also tour with a Monitor engineer as well.
A systems tech will be responsible for configuring and tuning all the individual sound systems used in the event. They use prediction software before the show to determine what sort of speakers need to be used to cover the entire audience area (main hangs, outfills, frontfills, etc) and how those need to be aimed for optimal results (speaker locations, height, splay angles). During load in, they must ensure all systems will be placed exactly as predicted, everything will be cabled correctly, and that there aren’t any obvious issues with any one system in use (such as blown speaker drivers). They can then begin tuning the system, using measurement microphones and measurement software, which includes making slight changes to speaker positioning, time-aligning all speakers with one another, adjusting crossovers, and using EQ to compensate for any issues with room acoustics.
Many times system tech duties are handled by the FOH engineer supplied by the PA rental company, especially for events with less than 2,000 attendants or so.
Then there are techs responsible for:
- Setting up the band’s backline according to the technical rider; Making sure guitar amps, drum sets and microphones are all in the right places, and in case of large festivals, “spike” those positions so they can easily be restored during changeovers.
- Keeping track of patching (which microphone goes to which input on the consoles and what needs to change once each band goes on-stage)
- Making sure all RF equipment (Wireless In-Ear monitor packs, wireless microphones) operates in “clean” frequency bands, staying clear of any interference. In the case of large festivals, those duties will be handled by lots of different techs, but for the vast majority of events, they’ll be tackled by the rental company’s monitor engineer and/or systems tech, along with a couple of stagehands.
Things are obviously a little bit different when talking about small pub/club gigs, with two speakers on stands, and 10 or 100 attendants. In such events there’s usually only one engineer and a helper/stagehand, doing most of the above by themselves.
Someone first setting foot in the industry will usually start by helping load & unload the trucks, push flight cases around, lift heavy speakers, wrap cables, pack equipment back in cases once the show’s over – And for those working in smaller shows, like most, those still are parts of a typical day at work.
What does your typical day look like?
That can depend greatly on the size of the event. For the local smaller shows, my day will start pretty early, helping unload all of the equipment and load it into the venue. On larger events I usually don’t deal with any loading or unloading, I instead start by calculating the appropriate configuration for the PA system. Once all the rigging structures are in place, I will assist in flying it with the correct configuration and connecting it to the amplifiers.
From there on things are pretty similar, we start dealing with everything going on on-stage. Setting up the backline, monitors, microphones, cabling and power. Once everything is ready, I can start with tuning the PA and Monitor systems and doing a line check. Once the band arrives, we do a quick soundcheck and then sit back and wait for the show to start.
The show’s the fun part. You get to sit behind the console and mix the show, messing around with FX and whatnot along the way. After the show, depending on the size of the gig again, I’ll usually have to help with packing everything back up and loading it in the truck(s).
Some pros and cons to being a live sound engineer:
- Most of the time, it’s fun. If you like music and pressing buttons, that is. Sometimes you may need to work with a difficult room, a band that’s too loud, or crappy equipment, but even then, it’s a challenge.
- Not only is mixing a show very enjoyable, but you get to see other people (both audience and artists) enjoy your work as well. Sometimes you even get compliments. 🙂
- It is one of the few jobs that are both technical as well as creative.
- With some talent & luck, you could even go on worldwide tours mixing for your favourite bands, which would be an amazing experience.
- It can be incredibly rewarding if you like doing it, but also incredibly tiring. Some days you’ll barely get any sleep.
- It doesn’t pay too well. Unless you build a name for yourself, it’s not one of the better-paying professions.
Stelios is a Live Sound Engineer based in Chania, Greece. He’s been working as a sound engineer professionally for almost 4 years. On the side, he runs Minecraft.buzz.
assemble and operate equipment to record, synchronize, mix, edit, or reproduce sound, including music, voices, or sound effects, for theater, video, film, television, podcasts, sporting events, and other productions.