If you’re just starting out in your career in pro audio, it’s hard to get your first real paid job. Maybe you’ve been learning your way around a mixer at school, in church, or at gigs for your friend’s band. You’ve probably figured out by now that recording studio jobs don’t exist like they used to in the heyday of the late 20th century, and short of the obvious big venues, it’s not clear where the work is. The pro audio industry is like an iceberg – most of it is hidden under the surface. But if you know where to look, and can be punctual, helpful, and reliable, there’s more than enough work to get you started.
Expectations vs Reality
If you’re looking for entry-level jobs in audio, you need to be realistic about what you’ll actually be doing; no-one is going to put you on FOH straight out of audio school or uni. You are most likely going to find yourself packing and unloading trucks, pushing roadcases, coiling leads, and doing maintenance. After that, your next step will likely be set-up and operation of small vocal PA systems for amplifying speech, or working as a radio or comms tech. Stick with it, learn as much as possible, and opportunities will come your way.
Make sure you have the basics totally covered before you start looking for work. You should be able to set-up a small PA system unsupervised (small analogue desk, two powered or passive FOH speakers, one or two powered or passive wedges on monitor sends) and select and set-up appropriate microphones for vocals, speech, and common instruments. You should also know how to over-and-under cables. Add some basic manual handling skills (lift with your legs, not your back), and you’re off.
Who to Talk To
The following is a list of companies who employ audio professionals across a range of disciplines in Australia. Put together your CV, spruce up your LinkedIn profile, and call them. Don’t bother to ‘pad out’ your CV if you’re starting out – no-one expects a long or impressive resume from you. They’re looking for keen, disciplined, intelligent workers that they can mold to fit with what they need in their business. Be persistent – just because they don’t need you this month doesn’t mean they won’t next month. Call back, and follow up.
This list is a small sample of companies, mainly included because they have multiple locations. Search for equivalent businesses in your area to widen you options.
Production and Rental Companies
Unless you’re already in the industry, it’s hard to know who these companies are, as their work is usually invisible to the public. These are the companies that own the PA and other audio equipment that is rented out to be used on tours, at concerts, and public events large and small. These companies range in size from huge to family-run operations. The good news is they need a large workforce with a lot of entry-level labour, and the live industry is extremely healthy.
JPJ Audio – www.jpjaudio.com.au
JPJ are one of Australia’s oldest and largest production companies, in business since 1970. They were there as PA systems developed, and are an integral piece of the history of Australian music. These days, you’ll find their crew and gear on most major rock tours, at festivals, and at stadium gigs. They also provide PA for the theatre and corporate markets. As a major employer, they have an excellent training regime, which includes an annual intake into their ‘Audio Trainee’ programme. With offices in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, they’re accessible to most who live on the East Coast.
NW Group- www.nwgroup.com.au
NW Group includes the production companies Norwest and Haycom in Australia, and Spyglass and Oceania in New Zealand. Norwest is known for its work in large scale PA for events and touring, while Haycom is known for corporate work. Norwest has handled sound for major events including The Olympics, The Commonwealth Games, and music festivals. Staff may also find themselves deployed internationally. With presences in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Adelaide, Norwest and Haycom are excellent companies with strong corporate ethics that train and treat their crew well.
Your Local Production Company
NW Group and JPJ are given as examples of large companies that have offices around Australia. The reality is that smaller events and productions are equipped and staffed by companies that are local to your area. This is especially true of community events like street parties, concerts in council parklands, sporting and community events, and seasonal events like New Year’s and Christmas gigs. If you don’t know who your local professional PA company is, simply go to one of these events, politely inquire of a technician who is operating or setting up equipment the name of the company they’re working for, and contact them after the gig.
Theatres and Arts Centres
The commercial theatres in major cities that host long-running, big-budget musicals will have their sound needs catered for by major companies like JPJ or Norwest, or theatre specialists like Melbourne’s System Sound (www.systemsound.com.au). Government-run arts centres in the capital cities, including the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne’s Arts Centre, the Adelaide Festival Centre, and Brisbane’s QPAC all employ their own staff, and most offer trainee programmes. Working in a multi-purpose arts centre provides an excellent training ground for a young technician, with exposure to many different technical disciplines and art forms.
Regional and suburban arts centres and theatres are usually council owned and run, and have a small but dedicated technical crew. There can be excellent opportunities to volunteer to work on community and school events to learn the ropes. Like their bigger city brethren, you will likely be required to learn more than just audio, which is an excellent basis for a technical career.
Encore Event Technologies – www.encore-anzpac.com
Encore (formerly Staging Connections) have probably trained more technicians than any other business in Australia. With 14 office locations around Australia, and with staff in-house at over 100 four and five star venues across the Asia Pacific region, Encore are a vast operation with a huge amount of technicians on the payroll. The term ‘Corporate AV’ doesn’t fully cover what they do; while the average work day might include an AGM or product presentation, an Encore technician might also find themselves working gigantic events for international companies that have employed major international acts as entertainment.
Uniquely in the industry, Encore Event Technologies is also a Registered Training Organisation and offers its full-time employees the CUA30415 Certificate III in Live Production and Services qualification, as well as other event related units of competency.
Microhire – www.microhire.com.au
Microhire has offices in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, and technicians in-house at multiple venues in those cities. Employing over 200 people, Microhire have long-stranding contracts to supply major venues, events, and exhibitions.
Scene Change – www.scenechange.com.au
‘Australia’s most awarded AV hire and production company’ has six locations across five states. They pride themselves on producing technically demanding events for discerning clients, and keep an audio inventory to match.
Installation and Intergration
The overall market size for installed and integrated audio is roughly ten times bigger than live production. That means there is a lot of work if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, bolt gear into racks, and pull cables through wall cavities. At the entry level, it’s a glorified labouring job, but persistence will see you learn valuable skills like programming, system design, budgeting, and how to write tender responses, leading to a host of well-paid careers.
Rutledge AV – www.rutledge.com.au
With over 300 staff and eight offices around Australia, Rutledge AV are one of the oldest and largest integrators in the country. They have installed audio systems into stadiums, courthouses, universities, airports, museums, and corporate spaces of every size and purpose. Working closely with engineering consultants, as well as designing and constructing their own solutions, Rutledge distinguish themselves in the market by understanding and caring deeply about electroacoustics and the performance of their audio systems.
Pro AV Solutions – www.proavsolutions.com.au
With seven locations across five states, Pro AV Solutions are similar in size and scope to Rutledge AV, but with less heritage in major audio systems. Audio is still a major part of their work, however, as they provide the business, government, and education sectors with technology solutions including IPTV, unified communications, control, and room booking technologies.