I went to school for Digital Cinema Production at DePaul University in Chicago. While in school, I gained a well-rounded understanding of the video production world, but I did not know I wanted to focus on audio. I moved to Minnesota and found RumJungle Media through a mutual friend. The owner of the company hired me to be an office gopher but also gave me some sound advice. He said, "Everyone wants to be a cameraman, and the old cameramen aren't retiring. If you want to start working right away, learn audio." I took his advice and spent the next month throwing myself into sound; then, Prince died. I wasn't ready, but I threw myself into the fire anyway and ended up working the audio for the ABC live national coverage of Prince's death. From that day on, I was a sound guy, in the four years since I have become immensely competent and confident in my abilities. I have learned about some fascinating subjects and covered some of the most critical stories in the country.
It's crucial to understand that in this industry, every day (week, month, year) can be completely different. You may have a week without any shoots and just fix gear in the office. You may also find yourself on a big story and suddenly work for three weeks straight, that's all you're doing. If you are looking for consistency in the schedule, this is not the job for you! In a given week, you may find yourself in three different office buildings, talking about completely different industries/subjects. When it comes to the news, you are "on-call" at all times, being on the frontline of some of the most critical events in the world or interviews with political leaders! If the story is big enough, be ready to cancel trips or special events.
Days can often be very long, sometimes 18 hours. Day rates determine your payment, which is roughly $400 a day for a corporate gig ($200 when first starting) or upwards of $550 for union news jobs. Depending on the situation, you get paid overtime at 10-12 hours and get paid a decent penalty rate if scheduled within 12 hours or a more substantial penalty for 6 hours. This setup can allow you to make a quarter of your yearly income in 2-3 weeks. While I rent gear through my employer, if you have access to $20,000, purchasing your own can be a great way to increase your income long-term.
Audio is such a unique career. You can watch history as it's being written and help record it. I don't know any profession where you get a free pass to listen to some of the smartest people in the world; I love that! Between all the craziness, you have downtime to address other passions, a lot more than most careers. Although there is a lack of consistency, you do have the power to create a balance- just an unconventional balance. Sound is sound, there are endless career possibilities, and the principals remain relatively the same. Outside of work, I have gotten into the world of Field Recording, where I gather natural sounds. If you also have a passion for sound design or music production, your knowledge as an audio technician will help that transition.
Being an Audio Technician is not a conventional 9-5; if you need consistency, I'd suggest an alternative career. The job is very technical; you will need to gain a strong understanding of lots of different technologies and how to problem-solve. It is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades master of none type of career. Very rarely can you talk your way out of an issue, and issues happen all the time. There is a lot of pressure, as well. You need to get everything right the first time; you typically have one shot. Find a way to make it work no matter the situation.
Fulfillment is sometimes lacking; you often don't get to see a project start to finish. I probably miss 97% of the process and am brought in for a small piece.
This job is a trade, so it helps to have a technical aptitude. To be successful, maintain a good understanding of your tech, your workflow, and embrace the idea of always being put in new situations. When you're working, you're often in a time crunch, so you must be able to keep a clear head under immense pressure. Being organized helps, it's amazing how much gear, small and large, an audio tech is responsible for keeping track of. You never know what you'll need until you need it, and you'll need to know where it is and how to use is NOW! The job can be physically demanding, your audio bag may weigh 40 lbs, and you will need to have it strapped to you for 12 hours.
In our industry, there are always going to be hot and cold streaks. Covid-19 has undoubtedly hurt the amount of corporate work we see, but we have stayed busy on the news front. I'm confident corporate work will normalize, but in the meantime, the state of our country and the upcoming presidential election should keep us busy.
If you love the world of video, being an audio technician is a great place to start. If your passion is in sound, you will be able to push your skills and find yourself on high profile and exciting shoots! If your ultimate goal is to be behind the camera or directing the production, I believe learning audio is the best first step.