Putting aside the inevitable pressure to cut costs and increase margins, the 2014 edition of PSNLive – PSNEurope’s annual report on the state of the European live sound market – revealed a number of other concerns expressed by live sound engineers in an otherwise positive year for the industry. The quickening pace of technological change, an increasing push for diversification and the highly competitive nature of the market – “there are a lot of people out there who will do something for nothing,” said one respondent – are pushing both experienced engineers and those just starting out towards more making the most of the specialised training options on offer.
Gavin Canaan, education manager at Meyer Sound, says today’s live engineers, owing to the increasing complexity of modern live shows, are also expected to have a solid foundation in the science of sound – something not traditionally expected of the average sound tech. “The scale […] of live productions has grown to the point where pro-audio technicians who are only trained ‘on the fly’ or ‘in the trenches’ are seeing the need to advance their understanding of sound,” Canaan explains. “While hands-on field experience is very important, technicians are also required to have a solid foundation in the science of audio in order to optimise the sophisticated audio technology available today.”
“Today’s concertgoers have become much more demanding when it comes to audio quality in a live show,” Canaan (pictured right) continues. “To keep the fans coming back, promoters are expecting the audio crew to consistently deliver full sonic impact with even coverage, as well as the definition of an audio recording. To achieve this day after day with the variables of a live environment, it takes an audio practitioner who is grounded in audio science and can create solutions for any challenge thrown at them.”
However, Soundsound’s Darryl de la Soul is cautious of focussing too much on ‘science’ at the expense of on-the-job training. “I believe that training, as a concept in itself, is absolutely essential, but prospective sound engineers need to choose that training wisely,” she says. “During my time as leader of live sound education at a specialist audio college, I was astounded by the number of students we had that came to us after already completing a degree in sound, but were still not prepared for a career in pro audio. The practical side just wasn’t practical enough.”
Offering a freelancer’s perspective, Aston Fearon, a British FOH engineer, emphasises the importance of becoming an expert with one’s own choice of equipment. “I think training is crucial in the field of sound engineering [as] technology [moves] forward and tools become more and more advanced,” says Fearon. “As a freelancer, I see it as part and parcel of my role to manage my own continual professional development and to be learning all the time. I think training offered by manufacturers is a good thing as it gives them the opportunity to interact with us as the end-users and highlight good ways to approach working with their product.”