Unscripted TV

Sound supervisor

Sound supervisor

What does a sound supervisor do?

Sound supervisors are in charge of all the sound recording and mixing on a studio production or a big outside broadcast (OB). They are involved in a production right from the beginning. They meet with the producer and director to establish the requirements, such as how many people will be on screen and in what location, the crew and equipment needed. They go on any recces and are involved in setting up the studio or location.

During a production they delegate tasks to more junior sound team members. They also liaise with camera operators to plan the placement of mics so that they are never in shot. Sound supervisors constantly monitor the recordings for any issues that might cause problems in post-production or for viewers at home, such as phasing issues, audio interference or unintelligible dialogue, and make real-time adjustments to the sound levels and equalization (EQ) on a multi-channel audio mixing console.

On studio productions, several sound recordists work to one sound supervisor. Sound supervisors are likely to be on staff for a studio or broadcaster. Small-scale productions filmed on location are unlikely to have a sound supervisor.

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What’s a sound supervisor good at?

  • Technical knowledge and skills: be able to operate and stay up-to-date with the latest technology, manage multiple sound input from a variety of locations at one time
  • Problem-solving: be resourceful and find effective solutions to technical problems and recording challenges
  • Scientific knowledge: understand the physics of sound, the qualities it possesses, what can affect it and how to manipulate it
  • Communication: be able to collaborate effectively with other departments to ensure the sound fits with the visuals
  • Leadership: communicate and give instructions effectively, make good judgement calls, have a good understanding of all crew roles
  • Staying calm: be able to make good decisions under pressure

Who does a sound supervisor work with?

Sound supervisors communicate with all members of the production team from pre-production through to filming, as well as working closely with the following members of the sound team:

Sound recordist

Sound recordists are responsible for capturing the dialogue and background tracks on a production, delivering recordings that are ready to be mixed. See separate profile: sound recordist

Grams operator

Grams operators are responsible for playing in sound effects during studio or location recordings, or on live transmissions. See separate profile: grams operator

Sound mixer

Sound mixers do just that – they mix all the sounds and continuously adjust the audio levels to ensure the output is clear and clean whilst meeting exacting technical guidelines and standards.

Sound assistant

Sound assistants help to make sure sound is being recorded successfully, mics are in place and equipment is working throughout the production. See separate profile: sound assistant

How do I become a sound supervisor?

Sound supervisor is a senior position, so you’ll need lots of experience working in sound before you can progress to this role. You might first gain experience as a studio runner, before becoming a sound assistant.

At school or college:
If you want to go to university, you can take A-levels or Highers in maths, physics and music.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Technology
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • BTEC National Diploma in Music
  • BTEC National Diploma in Sound Production
  • BTEC National Extended Certificate in Sound Engineering
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • RSL Subsidiary Diploma for Music Practitioners (Technology)
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image & Audio Production)
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Performance and Production

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. Some of the major broadcasters offer apprenticeships. Check out the schemes with the BBCChannel 4Channel 5, Sky and ITV.

If you can’t get an apprenticeship with a broadcaster, it might be worth trying to find one outside the TV industry, where you can develop your skills and your craft. You can then move into TV at a later point.

In England, there’s a Level 3 apprenticeship as a Creative Venue Technician. You might be able to find a job through that standard with an employer in another sector, such as the theatre. Think about taking that job, learning the core skills of sound and transferring those skills into unscripted TV at a later point.

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will give you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly.

Build a portfolio:
Create work that you can show off to employers. This is essential. Go to build your sound portfolio to learn how.

Get a degree:
You don’t need a degree to do this job, but if you’d like one, consider studying sound design, music or film and television production. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBCChannel 4Channel 5, ITV and Sky.

Look outside the industry:
There are roles in sound recording and production available in other media industries, such as radio, music production and advertising. You can gain experience in a role in one of these industries that you can later transfer to a role in unscripted TV.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in sound recording by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in sound recording or sound design.

Network:
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites to see if they are advertising for sound supervisor roles.

You might also be interested in…

Being a supervising sound editor in the film and TV drama industry. Alternatively, you could consider being a sound designer in the animation industry or a sound designer in the games industry.

Further resources