Unscripted TV

Sound assistant

Also known as: Floor sound assistant, Sound floor operator

Entry level

Sound assistant

What does a sound assistant do?

Sound assistants generally assist the sound recordist to make sure the whole sound recording process runs smoothly and safely; they also provide general support to the sound crew. They unload and set up sound equipment and PA systems. They de-rig and reload at the end of the day. They attach mics and run cables in effective, safe positions and often lay carpet to stop unwanted noise being picked up from the floor. 

Sound assistant roles can vary in seniority depending on the production. On many productions, this is the entry level role. Sound assistants do jobs like replacing and changing batteries, securing and monitoring cabling and making teas and coffees. On some productions, sound assistants have a little more experience and are required to monitor sound and record background sound with a boom.

If there are any issues with unwanted noise, sound assistants need to deal with these as quickly as possible, communicating tactfully with whoever’s making the noise so the shoot is not disturbed. At the end of the day, they make sure all the sound media has been labelled and any sound paperwork delivered to the production office.

In studios and on OBs, sound assistants attach microphones, secure cables and charge and replace batteries. They are specialists in hiding radio mics in clothes or hair. They are sometimes called sound floor operators.

Sound assistants are usually employed as freelancers and are often requested by the same sound recordists after a good working relationship has been established.

What’s a sound assistant good at?

  • Technical knowledge: have a thorough understanding of sound equipment, how it works, what’s needed to maintain it
  • Attention to detail: be meticulous with the packing, unpacking and maintenance of equipment, and the handling and storage of recorded material
  • Resourcefulness: identify crew needs before being asked, find effective solutions to technical problems and recording challenges 
  • Learning by watching and asking: be able to observe what’s happening and ask questions at the appropriate moments
  • Health and safety knowledge: ensure you operate safely, manage cables and equipment in public and studio spaces
  • Communication: have good people skills with both crew and programme contributors, collaborate effectively and clearly with other sound team members and with crew across the whole production, be tactful and diplomatic when handling external noise issues

Who does a sound assistant work with?

Sound assistants report to either the sound supervisor or sound operator, depending on the type of shoot, and will communicate regularly during filming with all the technical crew and the production team.

How do I become a sound assistant?

The most important thing is to have a passion for sound. Whether from live music, radio or DJ-ing, listen to sounds and learn how to record them. This is what will shine though.

At school or college: 
You can take A-levels or Highers in music, physics, maths, media studies or film studies. 

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:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. See if you can find an apprenticeship in a role that relates to sound, such as being a creative venue technician. Even if the job is in theatre or architecture, if it involves sound, it could help you develop your skills and understanding and you could build on this knowledge and move into television at a later point.

Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television. Check out what’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one 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 4ITVSky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme. 

Work for an equipment hire company:
See if you can find a job or work experience with a company that hires out sound equipment. This will provide you with valuable experience of handling recording equipment. 

Look outside the industry: 
There are roles in sound 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 working with sound by taking a specialist course.  The National Film and Television School has a short course in location sound recording.  Go to the list of  training courses  recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in sound recording or sound design. 

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 Screen, Northern 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 and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to sound professionals with whom you would like to work. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

Being a grams operator in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a sound mixer in the film and TV drama industry. Alternatively, you could consider being a sound designer in the games industry or a sound designer in the animation industry.

Further resources