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Q&A: Autograph MD Scott Arnold talks career highlights and the future of theatre sound design

Tara Lepore 6 September 2017
Q&A: Autograph MD Scott Arnold talks career highlights and the future of theatre sound design

Scott Arnold has worked at Autograph for 20 years, almost half that of the West End sound provider’s 45-year history, bringing top quality audio to some of the world’s most famous musical theatre soundtracks.

As former Autograph MD Terry Jardine assumes the role of group chairman, Arnold will manage operations at Autograph Sound Recording, while also taking on a directorship at the company’s sales and installations division.

Developments in technology have not bypassed the theatre world, with directors and producers constantly wanting to push the boundaries to maintain the UK’s – and London’s – world-class reputation in theatre. While evolving tech might be altering the game, some day-to-day things – such as budget restrictions – remain unchanged.

Hi Scott. You’ve been at Autograph for 20 years. How did you start working in the audio industry?

Sheer chance! My brother was a performer in Starlight Express and after visiting the show a number of times I got to know a few people there. One day the Sound Number Three technician broke her leg and they asked me to help out until she returned – she never came back, and here I am…

How will your day-to-day role at Autograph change now you’ve assumed the role of MD?

Very little in the short term, but slowly I will pass things on to Will McGonagle (our new and very capable hire manager), who will soak up the day-to-day stuff. Dealing with the key people in our industry – clients, sound designers, producers, suppliers, manufacturers and so on – is an essential part of my role and that will not change. We are also expanding our activities in various directions and those new opportunities will occupy me.

What’s been the highlight of your career thus far?

There have been many, not least because of the productions and creative geniuses behind them that Autograph has worked with over the last 40-odd years. However, the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert at the O2 in 2010 was a proud moment for me personally. It was a massive technical and logistical undertaking that was really enjoyable and a great success for all.

The ongoing issues with wireless spectrum availability are of great concern – it’s essential that a sympathetic, workable and financially viable solution can be found

Scott Arnold

And the biggest challenge?

Balancing budgets with expectations! Theatre sound designers have bigger ‘toolboxes’ than ever before, which is great of course, but even the biggest productions have budgets that we have to meet. Bridging that space between the imagination and ambition of the sound designer and the financial realities of the individual show is a vital part of our role.

What advice would you give to newcomers just starting out in the industry?

Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom, watch your peers carefully, never stop learning and be punctual! On-the-job experience is everything, you can tell so much about a person’s potential just by a week’s work experience.

What changes have you seen in the theatre world over the years that have altered the way you work?

Expectations and budgets! Aside from that issue but connected to it, is the change in equipment and technology – the evolution of digital consoles, wireless microphones, spatial imaging systems and compact line-arrays have changed things for everyone working in this field. The ongoing issues with wireless spectrum availability are also of great concern and it’s essential that a sympathetic, workable and financially viable solution can be found. 

What are your predictions for the future of theatre sound design?

Ours is still a relatively young industry and the art and science of sound design is still developing, as are the technical facilities required to turn those designs into reality. It’s very pleasing to me that there are so many young sound designers – both male and female, who are all looking to make their mark on our industry –that it can only be a great future ahead.

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