Career spotlight: Live Sound Engineer

The lifeblood of the show, Live Sound Engineers ensure that every element of the live music experience is perfectly tuned and neither the performers nor the audience ever misses a thing.
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What does a live sound engineer do?

Rather than describing a single role, the term ‘live sound engineer’ encompasses a great many roles that control the audio at a live event. Although we could have dedicated an entire feature to each of these roles, in the interest of keeping things concise, this spotlight provides a general overview of what life working in the live sound industry is like.

Some of the roles you can expect to find listed under live sound engineer are:

Front of house engineer (FOH) - The person(s) in charge of mixing the sound for the audience.  You’ll most likely have seen this person operating the desk in the middle of the crowd.

Monitor engineer - The person(s) in charge of mixing the sound for the performers on stage to ensure they can hear themselves (voice/instrument) and their accompaniment, be that a band or backing track.

Stage Patch - The person(s) in charge of organising and communicating which microphone/DI is capturing what onstage, e.g. kick, snare, vocals, backing vocals etc.

Systems technician - This person is responsible for the installation, optimisation and maintenance of a sound system, which will include design, power options, problem-solving and load-in/pack down.

Live sound engineers can find themselves involved in any number of places where sound needs to be amplified and monitored. The most obvious places are at a venue or music festival, but their work can extend to theatre, exhibitions and corporate events.


The day-to-day

The day-to-day of a live sound engineer will typically follow a set routine regardless of which area they specialise in. However, due to so many roles being nested under the ‘live sound engineer’ tag there’s a lot of detail that we won’t be going into here. To keep things succinct, we will give an overview of the day-to-day of a house engineer (someone based in a single venue), a touring engineer and an engineer working at a festival from start to finish.

It’s typical for a house engineer to begin their day in the early/mid-afternoon and get as much set up ahead of the band/artist’s arrival. This includes warming up the PA and setting up microphones and cables onstage. Once the artist arrives, it’s time for soundcheck to ensure both the monitor and front of house mix is sounding great. If everything goes smoothly, there’s some downtime after soundcheck before the doors open to the public.

For touring engineers, so much time is spent on the road travelling between venues/festivals, so work usually starts after breakfast in the tour van preparing for the next show. Once there, they will liaise with the house engineers, review the artist’s spec and make sure everything is OK and then get to work setting up everything onstage while the local engineer patches it in. It’s common for a touring engineer to come equipped with a mix of different tracks they play on a system to get a feel for it, as well as the space they’re in.

“I have a PA tuning playlist – every front of house engineer does. Each song targets a specific thing or problem or sound that I'm looking for. I’ll also throw in some genre-specific tracks that are relevant to who I’m touring with. I like to have a good amount of time to walk around… and learn all the nuances and the personality of the room.”

- Fiona Riches, FOH/Monitor Engineer

While an arena tour presents its own unique set of tasks, much of the day-to-day is similar to that of a touring engineer hopping between venues/festivals. The day starts fairly early with load-ins typically taking place at 8am, followed by setting up. Much like a regular venue show, sound checks take place in the afternoon and then doors open a few hours later.

Typically, most venues and arenas will have a curfew of 11pm, so once the show ends, it’s time to pack down, which depending on the size of the show can take anywhere from 1 - 3 hours. Then it’s either off home to bed, heading to a hotel or driving through the night to the next arena.

For engineers working at a festival, the first steps are designing and building the sound system, followed by sound propagation - where the system is played as loud as possible to get measurements on how the sound travels through the air. This data is then used to fine-tune and optimise the system. Once the prep is done, it’s time to get as much sleep as possible as festival engineers put in extremely long hours working stages and curfews are rarely in effect and performances run into the early hours of the morning.

Why become a live sound engineer?

What live sound engineers love about their work


Photo Credit: Jared Heveron

“There's a feeling that you get when the house lights go down. And it's just you with the front of house engineer in this little cage in the middle of a huge crowd and everybody is incredibly excited. And the first song happens, and it’s loud and it sounds good. And for the crowd, it's what they've been waiting for for months. You do the long hours and go the extra mile because if you make somebody’s year, you know about it because all the fans are going to go wild. I think that's the best bit.”

- Chris Drew, Systems Tech Engineer

Tom Kirton, Sound Engineer
“You pick up an album by someone and it completely blows your mind. That regularly happens to this day. Someone just does something completely unheard of and the beauty of being a sound engineer is quite often, you might get to work with that person at some point. So you get to see the inner workings of that and understand what that person's thought process is.” - Tom Kirton, Sound Engineer

Where a career as a live sound engineer can take you

The short answer to this question is anywhere. Live events are a cornerstone of culture and entertainment the world over, and as a result, the opportunities are almost endless.

It’s very common for live sound engineers to be self-employed/freelance when transitioning from education into the professional world. The nature of touring and seasonal festivals means that the work is intensive but only for a limited period. By becoming self-employed/ freelance you can hop between jobs so that you’re working the year round.

There’s also the opportunity to find a permanent place working in a fixed venue as the in-house engineer/part of the live sound team, which can offer some stability with regular hours and pay compared to freelance work. Events companies will often have permanent staff members who are responsible for live sound, but these are more likely aimed at the corporate sector rather than the creative.

Other considerations

The world of live sound can be incredibly lucrative, but any professional working in this area of the industry will tell you that it’s not for the faint of heart. As we mentioned in the day-to-day section of this feature, working hours can be very long, especially if you’re out on tour or working at a festival.

The role favours a person that is happy being a night owl, as most live performances take place in the evening and can see you working into the early hours of the morning.

It’s also worth being aware of the fact that you may not be able to go straight into a job that covers your living expenses and requires you to supplement your income with a second job.

“In the beginning, balancing a day job was really difficult. I was working in a cafe from 8am - 3pm,  then going home to get some sleep, then off to soundcheck and mixing a show and then getting home after midnight, going to sleep and doing it all over again. It was obviously worth it, but you really have to be prepared to work super hard, and that’s the same once you’re working as a live sound engineer full-time.”

Fiona Riches, FOH/Monitor Engineer

Who is this role suited to?

Live sound engineers tend to have distinct personalities, interests and skillsets. You may be cut out for this role if…

You are:

Detail-oriented – There are a lot of moving parts that go into producing a live show, and you need to have excellent attention to detail to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Personable - You’ll be working with other engineers, venue managers, artists and promoters, so being a nice and approachable person is key to your success.

Reliable – Proving that you’re a safe pair of hands and can be trusted will do so much more for your progression in the industry compared to possessing extensive knowledge. There is plenty of time to learn that as you work!

Energetic - Working in live sound requires a lot of stamina, both physically and mentally, so you need to be sure that your energy levels are up to the task.

You like:

Problem-solving – Regardless of the size of the show and complexity of the sound system things inevitably go wrong, so make sure you’re the type of person that can meet the challenge and tackle those problems head-on.

Working as part of a team – Even if you’re the house engineer who does it all, you’re still going to be working with other people, so being a good team player is crucial. The importance of this can’t be overstated when it comes to larger-scale events.

Live sound - This may seem like a no-brainer, but working in the live sound industry can be hard work and it’s that passion that will energise you on those particularly gruelling gigs.

You're good at:

Working under pressure - You’re responsible for delivering the best sound possible, so if something goes wrong whilst setting up or during the show, you need to be able to work calmly and effectively.

Listening We don’t just mean to what’s coming out from onstage, but listening to the rest of the people you’re working with. It takes the combined efforts of everyone involved to pull off a great show, and if you’re not listening you could be missing a vital piece of information and jeopardise the show.

Adapting No matter how much planning goes into an event, there are so many things you can’t anticipate until the show is happening, but if you can adapt and respond to issues quickly you’ll be able to limit the impact on the show.

Communicating - When working with so many different people, it’s paramount that you can communicate clearly and effectively with the rest of your team.

How do you become a live sound engineer?

Perhaps the best thing about the live sound industry is the willingness and enthusiasm of existing professionals to impart their knowledge. Many people find their way into this area of the industry by reaching out to engineers at their local pub/venue, favourite manufacturers etc.

Shadowing an engineer is one of the best ways to see the inner workings of the role and learn on the job. Attending trade shows and speaking to manufacturers in person can be a great way of displaying your passion and initiative and can lead to work experience.

Education is also an excellent way to progress into the live sound industry. Once grouped into traditional sound engineering courses, live sound’s popularity has led to the creation of dedicated diplomas and degrees that teach you everything you need to know and introduce you to a wide network of key professionals and companies.

Your next steps

Tips from the top

Tom Chitson, Live Sound Engineer and BSc (Hons) Live Sound Course Leader at dBs
“Don’t be afraid to take any warehouse work. Even if it's just stock-checking or sorting out cables, if you're there and then a show comes up, you're more likely to get offered the show than you are if you're still fishing for jobs out on your own.”

- Tom Chitson, Live Sound Engineer and BSc (Hons) Live Sound Course Leader at dBs

Tom Kirton, Sound Engineer
“One thing I always recommend is to try and do things and mix bands and get involved in stuff that you would not normally listen to because that's the best way to learn.”

- Tom Kirton, Sound Engineer

“Just be the person that has a reputation for getting the job done; the person who can pick up stuff quickly understands instructions and doesn't get above their station. If someone asks you to do something, don't do something else, because you think it might be a better idea, just do what you're told to do. Then when tours start, at some point, the question is asked, ‘who do we want to put on this tour?’, and your name will be at the top of the list.”

- Chris Drew, Systems Tech Engineer

Building your skills & portfolio

The best way to build up your skills is to get out there in every way you can. It can’t be overstated how crucial networking is to developing within this area of the industry. Become embedded in your local live scene because being in the right place and at the right time requires you to put yourself out there.

Find local engineers and speak to them. Demonstrate your passion and interest and ask if you can shadow them at a show if you can volunteer in any way. Skills can all be learned, so it’s that drive and initiative to seek out those opportunities that will win over the people you’re talking to.

“Starting out in the industry can be a challenge, but you need to be forthcoming and approach people that you can see working in these environments at gigs. Identify the right time to ask them the question, or when to approach with a beer held out and say ‘here's a beer, can I talk to you?”

- Tom Chitson, Live Sound Engineer and BSc (Hons) Live Sound Course Leader at dBs

Regardless of what the opportunity is, say yes. The breadth of roles that sit under the banner of live sound engineer means there’s a lot to learn, so don’t dismiss something because it doesn’t align with exactly what you want to do at that time. Possessing extensive and varied knowledge within live sound can open so many more doors than if you focus on building your skills in a single area.

Above all else, be humble.

“Don't think anything's beneath you. If you’re asked to do something really menial, there's usually a reason behind it. I've done my fair share of coiling up 50-metre XLR cables and things before you get to do the really cool stuff. Don't say ‘I don't want to do that’ because very quickly, you will limit what you will learn and do over time. I think people look fondly on people who will muck in and get involved.”

- Tom Kirton, Sound Engineer

How dBs can help

The world of live sound presents many techniques and approaches that you wouldn’t find in a music production course. While that doesn’t invalidate knowledge gained from a broader production course, we would highly recommend choosing a course dedicated to live sound if this is a career path you’re passionate to pursue.  

At undergraduate level, our BSc (Hons) Live Sound degree offers an in-depth understanding of all things live sound, equipping you with the knowledge and skills to design, build and operate professional sound systems. There’s a strong emphasis on industry connections and through partnerships and relationships with both venues and equipment manufactures, you will be given the opportunity to work and network with some of the most well-respected names in the industry.


At Level 3, there are two options for study through our educational partner Access Creative College; a two-year Music Production diploma for 16-18 year olds or the one-year Access to HE: Music Production diploma. Both courses will equip you with a fundamental understanding of sound, allowing you to then progress to undergraduate level.

Useful Resources


‘Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms’ by Floyd E. Toole

‘Sound Systems: Design and Optimization: Modern Techniques and Tools for Sound System Design and Alignment’ by Bob McCarthy

‘Sound System Engineering’ [4th edition] by Don Davis, Eugene Patronis, and Pat Brown

‘Live Sound Reinforcement: A Comprehensive Guide to P.A. and Music Reinforcement Systems and Technology’ by Scott Hunter Stark

‘Basic Live Sound’ by Paul White

‘The Art of Listening’ -
The Complete Guide to the Basics of Live Sound - Pro Audio Files

Live Sound 101: Sound System Design and Setup for a Live Band


The dBs Masterclass Series – Learn from a range of industry professionals
L-Acoustics YouTube Channel

Rational Acoustics YouTube Channel

Live Sound with Jon Lemon: From the Studio to the Stage

How We Record Audio At The Tiny Desk

“As system tech, you are the buffer between the creative and artistic desires of the front of house engineer and the actual physics of how sound works. So a lot of my time would be spent trying to understand what the artist wants, what the front of house engineer wants, and then actually trying to make the best compromise, the best choice with what we're limited to with audio.”
- Chris Drew, Systems Tech Engineer
“It's the combining of these two worlds that I operate in. One is the complete fascination with the theory and processing of audio that blows my mind - I completely love it. Then there’s this creative background that I come from where I completely love music; I love being creative; I love being in the moment of a live show. So front of house mixing enables me to combine those two things. I just love it. It's excellent.”
- Fiona Riches, FOH/Monitor Engineer‍