Utility sound technician

Utility sound technician

A utility sound technician, or simply utility or cableperson is an assistant to both the production sound mixer and the boom operator on a film set. Although sometimes the utility pulls cable, he or she is more than just a cableperson. The utility is a jack of all trades and often acts as a second boom operator or second mixer when either of the two are busy or the specific shot calls for two instead of one.

Sound technicians assemble, operate and maintain technical equipment to amplify, enhance, record, mix or reproduce sound for films, television programmes and live performances, including theatre. Their tasks include:

setting up, testing and operating equipment to suit the acoustics selecting, placing and adjusting microphones servicing, maintaining and repairing sound equipment. In film, television and radio, working with live and recorded sound, their work can include recording and balancing speech for radio plays or discussions, and playing music or sound effects into a live programme.

During recording, technicians monitor the sound through headphones. They may work on consoles with faders, switches and a host of other controls which allow them to balance, boost and mix sound.

Sound technicians seldom work regular hours. Work can start very early and finish late. Night and weekend work is common. Technicians working in recording studios have to work hours that suit the artistes they are recording.

In television, sound technicians work alongside numerous other technicians and production staff in a big, enclosed, soundproofed studio. Radio studios are smaller. An outside broadcast could involve working anywhere from a racecourse to a pop concert in a big arena.

Sound technicians earn around £15,000 to £30,000 a year, or more.

Sound technicians need sharp hearing, creative flair and a natural ear for good quality sound. Musical ability and an interest in electronics can help. They work for the BBC and ITV, S4C ( Wales) and Scottish Television, as well as satellite and cable companies. Some work for theatres and touring companies.

No formal qualifications are specified, although employers look for basic numeracy and literacy, and a solid foundation in maths and physics. Many applicants have A levels/H grades or have taken courses to certificate, diploma or degree level, such as ft2 (Freelance Film and Television Training).

Apprenticeships may be available leading to NVQs/SVQs in Level 2 in Sound Assistance, Level 3 in Sound Operations, and Level 4 in Sound Direction. Many sound operators are highly qualified, and there are several relevant college courses which include technical operations.

The route for promotion in large organisations is from sound assistant to sound technician/operator, and then to sound supervisor. Many technicians now work on a freelance basis.

In Hollywood, a utility usually makes between $100 and $350 per day (plus overtime).

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