Getting Started in Concert Production

Feb 28, 2024

The concert production industry has changed dramatically over the past 30 years.

When I was first trying to get my start in live sound many, many years ago, it was a very different time.  First, women were rarely seen on tour unless they were girlfriends or wives of the band.  Roadies were still roadies.  Back then, you just had to be able to lift heavy gear and plug it in. Many people got their start because they were friends with a band, or because they owned some PA or lighting equipment, and most people learned through trial and error.  Those who were 'lucky' enough to sustain a career in live sound learned fast and often had someone more experienced to take them under their wing and show them the ropes.

In today's music industry, whether you're working with an up-and-coming act or a legendary superstar, touring is big business.  What was once a fringe, niche type of work has evolved into a billion dollar industry that is ruled by the same business practices as any other major industry.  Just as the music industry has become more sophisticated, so has the technology that keep artists sounding and looking their best every night on tour.

There is a lot of money riding on every show and with that, comes added responsibility for all of the technicians who need to be skilled and qualified.  Training and technical ability needed varies depending on your position on the crew.  FOH and Monitor engineers on the biggest tours have spent many years mixing and honing their skills in venues of all sizes and shapes.  On the other hand, the person patching and wiring the stage for an artist selling out arenas may be on their very first tour.

Another recent and significant change has been the increased demand for skilled individuals.  The pandemic has created an unprecedented need for technicians in all disciplines- lighting, video, bus and truck drivers, backline, and audio.

Never before in the history of concert touring has there been such a need for touring technical crew. Most of the major production companies are continuing to hire a significant number of people to staff tours well into next year and there are no signs of things slowing down.

Overall employment of sound technicians is expected to grow 10% in the next 7 years alone.

So if you have ever dreamt of going on tour with a band, you may never have a better opportunity than right now.  But if your goal is to make a living mixing live music, you'll need to start getting some experience.  Get as much time on the console as you can mixing as many styles of music that you can.  If your goal is to go on tour with a band as their sound engineer, you'll also need some good troubleshooting skills along with a solid background in the fundamentals of live sound.

While the coveted job of band engineer can be a difficult one to obtain because they are few and far between, there is a much higher demand for audio technicians in the role of system engineers, PA techs, stage techs, etc.  These jobs can often provide a foot in the door and with a little bit of initiative, lead to bigger opportunities including mixing. 

For aspiring sound engineers just getting started, it can be difficult to find a band to hire you and give you a shot at mixing.  However, at this moment it is significantly easier to get a job with a touring production company and start building the relationships that lead to mixing gigs. 

For both, a basic knowledge of live sound and understanding of how the industry works is pre-requisite.  Although the industry is currently experiencing a staffing shortage, those with a solid understanding of the fundamentals of audio and some good experience will be the first to be hired and given the best opportunities for advancement.

Many aspiring sound engineers ask:

  • What plug-ins should I have?
  • What certifications do I need?
  • What gear should I own?

These are not bad questions, but it's a bit like putting the cart before the horse.  All of that is irelevant until you've established yourself. Even then, they aren't the important questions.

When you are trying to build a career as a live sound engineer, asking the following questions would serve you better:

  • How did you start your career and what were the important prior jobs that lead to such a position?
  • What can I do that might lead me to a band mixing position?
  • How do I network effectively?
  • How do I stay relevant for a long career?
  • How did you overcome situations that didn’t go well?
  • How do I deal with Band members and Music Directors?

  •  How does a relationship with Artist Management develop?

If you truly wish to make a living working in live sound, focus more on building a career rather than getting into a specific role.  Learn the fundamentals that prepare you for mixing and you'll be more prepared to take opportunities when they come.  Careers take time to build and while there is nothing wrong with having a goal such as mixing, be careful of being so fixated on that goal that you miss out on other moments for growth and expanding your skill set.  You never know, you may find discover you are better suited and happier in another position that you hadn't even considered for example- system engineer, RF tech, etc.

Equally important as technical ability is for a successful career are people skills.  Technical skills can be taught, however bad people skills can be difficult to overcome.  People are far more often fired from a gig beause of bad personal skills rather than lack of technical expertise.

It's important to understand the heirarchy on tour, protocol, and how to be a valuable team member.  Problem solving skills, good communication, having a thick skin, working well with others, etc, these abilities are often innate but they can be learned when someone is open minded and attentive to more experienced colleagues and how they work.

Many people who were deficient in technical skills but had great personalities have gone much further than those with greater technical ability but terrible people skills.  You might be the best engineer on the planet but if no one likes working with you or you can't play well with others, you may find yourself sitting home while a less skilled engineer with a sparkling personality gets the gig.

When you have to live and work in close quarters with the other members of your touring crew, it helps to be someone other people want to live and work with.

So in conclusion, if you'd like to get started working in concert production and you think you'd like to build a career in live audio now is the perfect time.  Learn the fundamentals of live sound, get as much work experience as you can, learn how to be a team player, and embrace the positive qualities of those who have been successful in the business.



By: Michelle Sabolchick