Some sound advice… A glimpse into the life of a sound engineer
Kim Watson has been a sound engineer for the past 20 years, working with artists such as The Subways, Shane Filan, Blondie, and Emeli Sande. She’s travelled all over Europe, South Africa, Ukraine, Georgia and Russia and was recently the subject of a full-page interview in The Guardian.
Kim’s interest in the job started in school, when she played in a band and was chosen to make recordings of the group, using the school’s equipment. She went to a Careers Advice Day and noticed that one of the jobs advertised was a sound engineer. However, the consultant told her that this wasn’t a valid career choice, so she decided to be a music teacher and took A Levels in Music Technology, Maths and Physics and an AS in Computing.
One night, she went to see a band and approached the sound engineer. Kim says: “Because I had been studying Music Technology, I knew my way around the desk and when he asked some questions, I answered them as well as I could. To my surprise, he asked for my contact details and a week later I was helping him out on a show.”
Kim studied for an HND in Music Production and has since taken many training courses from different equipment manufacturers. For the first four years, she worked for free to gain the experience and contacts she needed, whilst doing a part-time job.
Wired for sound
Her work is very varied, including some long hours on tours. When at home, she’s mostly involved in venue work, typically at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. She also spends time on warehouse days, building and repairing sound systems.
“The job changes all the time,” she explains. “There are different venues, different people, different music and different tasks. It never gets boring.” She adds: “College courses have opened doors for more people to enter the industry without having to work as crew before trying out as an engineer. The biggest thing that helped me was my mentor, who pushed me in the right direction.”
When asked what advice she’d give anyone interested in being a sound engineer, she comments: “Be tenacious, push for what you want: if you want it badly enough, you can get there. Be keen for knowledge, ask questions, always ask why. Find out who’s the best and learn from them. Read everything by them, watch them on YouTube and podcasts. Set your goals high: don’t aim to work as a sound engineer in a local venue – think bigger!”
The sound of success
In terms of her business, Kim is a freelance, registered as a sole trader. Before going freelance, a business adviser helped her to write a business plan, to set up a business account and to organise her invoices and expenses in separate folder wallets, with one for each month. Separating her working capital from her personal expenses was a great help in enabling her to keep track of everything. She prepares her accounts so that the accountant can fill out and submit her tax return.
Kim remarks: “My business adviser once told me to look at success as being able to afford what you want, when you want or need it. Am I successful? Yes. I’m able to get the things I need. However, it’s never been about getting lots of money – its about the ability to turn down work and still have time to live: that’s the secret of a healthy work-life balance.”