So, how much money do live sound engineers make?
As you can imagine, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Instead, I’d like to show you a few profiles that represent a cross-section of the industry. Keep in mind that the numbers included below are very specific to one location and person.
Before we get started, please take 30 seconds to fill out an anonymous salary survey and I’ll share all the results with you at the end.
PROFILE 1: San Francisco Bay Area
Nathan Lively – Sound Engineer/Designer (That’s me!)
Presently I split my time like this: 90% education through Sound Design Live (that’s this site!), 10% corporate events. I have lived in 8 different cities across 3 different countries over the last 20 years, though, so these numbers have evolved over time. For most jobs, I’m paid as follows:
- $550/day working on corporate events. These are mostly subcontracting situations where I receive a percentage of the total labor charges.
- $180/day working on concerts. I was usually hired directly by the venue.
- $80,000/year touring with the Ringling Bros. Circus. This is the most I ever made.
I have also worked as a theatrical sound designer and contracts ranged from $500 to $2,500. It was fun and could potentially have resulted in more money, but it was hard to put together a workable schedule. Rehearsals and meetings would conflict and I would have months of down time. On my first theatrical tour mixing FOH I earned $550/week ($2,200/month).
In Slovakia I made €75/day ($93) subcontracting. In Portugal I earned €150/day ($186) working for the band O’QueStrada. The first sound engineering job I ever had in Portugal paid €35/day ($44), and I was just happy to be able to stay in the country. After that first show I went to the bar down the street that was so small that you could only squeeze in, order your drink, and walk back into the street. I spent half my money on two caipirinhas and felt great.
Here’s an overview of my business income and expenses in 2015:
Here’s an overview of my business income and expenses in 2013:
PROFILE 2: Prague (Czech Republic)
Steve Smith – Sound Engineer & Musician
Prague rates look like this:
- 50€ to do live sound for one concert in a small club using their gear.
- 75€ to be soundman for one night at a club with two stages, two bands, and one DJ crew.
- 250€ to do sound for a show where you bring mics and an FX rack.
- 200-400€ for a wedding gig where you bring the sound system and DJ.
- 50€ per musician for a band.
For a more in-depth look at Steve’s work experience, check out Making A Living As A Sound Engineer, Part One: How To Get Paid and Make A Living As A Sound Engineer, Part Two: How To Get Played.
PROFILE 3: Bratislava (Slovakia)
Michal – Sound Engineer & Musician
- 60€ as a helper for local gigs, but €100 for a corporate party.
- 700€/month as a broadcast sound engineer (rate has held steady for the past 15 years).
- 100€ for composing and recording 72 different sounds for an iPad app.
- I also do technical support for the most famous band in our country. For one gig I get 180€, but it takes three days of my life: one day to pick up all of the equipment, one day for the gig, and one day to return it all.
PROFILE 4: Athens (Greece)
Dimitris Sotiropoulos – Sound Engineer/Designer
The live work I take offers anywhere from 100€ το 400€ depending on how large the “pie” is to cut. For the past three summers I have been doing monitors for a well known Greek duo, which pays 300€/event at the moment. Most live gigs during the winter take place in bars or small cafes, which involves more work setting up, running cables, and doing both FOH and Monitors for 3-4 people. Negotiated fees can range anywhere from 100-250€/event.
I try to take any audio related project at present, since we’ve been in free fall — the economy that is — these past years. Here are some examples of summer projects and their negotiated fees:
- 1,500€ for renting out some of my studio equipment to set up a remote recording location in a country house for an album’s pre-production sessions.
- 150€/day to rewire a studio, which reminded me how challenging it can be to get the normaling right on the patchbays, keeping cable lengths to a minimum, and satisfying my OCD with regard to having everything as neat as possible. It took me ten days to get it up and running to minimum prerequisites; then again, it was only me and a soldering iron. Need a week or so to wrap it up with no more downtime.
- 600€ for a sound design project for a cosmetics company’s social media video campaign.
- 350€/day (negotiated) as a backup recording engineer at a three-day festival in Athens (suntan lotion was not provided).
- 300€ plus expenses for the following: organizing and assembling a complex stage plot and rider for a concert on an island in the Ionian Sea, with limited resources other than those packed and shipped on time by the rental company; programming four shows for both Avid Venue Consoles (FOH-Monitors) for the two acts that night on the boat trip there and the night before into the early morning; and recording the first act via direct outs from the monitors console to my HD Rig (32ch). A nightmare of timing and organization.
- 1,500€ for booking a lockout recording session next month for a week.
Read more about Dimitris’ work experience at The State Of Sound Engineering In Greece.
PROFILE 5: Stockholm (Sweden)
Unne Liljeblad – Music Producer & Mix Engineer
My income comes from a lot of different activities.
- 3,200-10,000 SEK ($390-1,200)/song for mixing: That includes everything from start to finish: revisions, adjustments, instrumental/a-cappella/TV-Mix versions, and so on, as well as basic mastering. The client gets both the 16-bit “mastered” mix and the 24-bit mix without limiting on the stereo bus so that they have the option of mastering elsewhere.
- 4,000 SEK ($500) for vocal recording with a professional coach: I do this together with my business partner who is a song coach. We spend about four hours recording vocals (that’s how long a singer lasts when performing at the top of their capabilities) as well as the many hours it takes us to comp all the best pieces, use melodyne to manually tweak timing and pitch as well all the FX processing needed. Usually this takes another five or six hours. Since it’s split between two people it’s not very profitable, but we have had many great singers as clients and have been working to build up our vocalist casting service, so we’re hoping for some return on that investment in the future.
- 25,000-200,000 SEK ($3,000-25,000) for music production for commercials: The cost can vary quite a lot. We’re two people working on these projects and we often have to pay musicians and singers out of that same budget. Most of the songs are between half a minute and one minute ten seconds long. We write and produce everything from scratch. Since we license our work and don’t sell it outright, we have the potential to make more money from the same music in the future. We’re currently in the process of getting our music included in many licensing companies’ catalogs.
- 6,000-7,000 SEK per month ($900-1,000) for vocal classes: We run a small vocalist program out of our studio. For this we hire two additional vocal coaches and someone who helps us administrate everything. After all the expenses and with with our employees, this basically covers our expenses for the studio.
- Finally, we also run a small record label with three signed acts, one of which we are both a part of. This currently only costs us money, but we have high hopes for the future.
PROFILE 6: London (England)
Darryn de la Soul – Found of Soul Sound
Having last done a live mix in 2010, these are the wages I received. To my knowledge, nothing has changed since then! Wages have been pretty much static for the 15 years I’ve been involved in audio.
- £150-200 ($232-309) for a nightClub.
- £180 ($278) as the house engineer for live bands.
- Anywhere between 2 beers and £200 ($309) as a the band engineer for a live band depending on how much I liked the band and their financial means.
- £150-250 ($232-386) for up to 12 hours for Corporate events.
- £160-230 ($247-355) on festivals for whatever length day.
Learn more about Darryn’s work in my interview with her: Learn from the Sound Engineers for Tori Amos, Prodigy, and The White Stripes Online.
As musicians and audio professionals, there can never be enough sources of income.
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eva jasmine says
nice article. surely this article will help those who are willing to start their career in sound engineering. this article conveys the current truth of audio engnieers life.
Nathan Lively says
“this article conveys the truth”
I love it.
Ronald Basmayor says
Here in the Philipines, I mix live sound, they pay me 50$/day somtimes starting from 12:01 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. the next day, but still they pay me just One day. But most of the time it’s more than a 12hour job for me. In the studio they pay 3.75$/hour plus meals. I love my job and here in our country, you really need proper connections and pertinent people in the industry most sound companies are very nice and production outfits are also very galant in paying sound guys like me specially when they see my work and hear the difference. I’ve been in the live concert sound industry in more than 4 years, but since I was born, my father and grandfather had a sound hire company which unfortunately went out of business, but it’s like I’m still carrying the torch, not on the business side, but more on the legacy of being top quality sound people whom you can count on as years go by.
Nathan Lively says
Thanks for adding your details Ronald. That’s a lot of hours! You are a badass.
I am studying an sound engineering, i discontinued my civil engineering n i startd it bt nw i am gettin fear tht wil i get a gud salary if i become a sound engineer
Nathan Lively says
I’d say that it is 99% under your control to achieve your financial goals as a sound engineer. Where are your fears from? Did someone tell you that it isn’t possible?
Michael Alioto says
Michael…in the USA.
I am a studio engineer, live engineer, and musician (play 15 instruments). I’ve been a studio engineer since the early 90’s and I am the engineer / keyboard programmer for a lot of the house music that came out of Chicago, IL in the early 90’s (DJ International record label). I moved I left there to pursue other recording studios in Chicago. I would actually bring clients to my house, do all the programming there, then go to the studio and record the instruments, the vocals and mix. At that time, I was $20.00 an hour. I did it full time.
The digital age came about and many of the old school analog studios closed their doors because if you had $3000 and a Mac, you could basically have a $200.00 per hour recording studio in your den, spare bedroom, or basement. Some engineers didn’t embrace the digital age and fell by the side of the road. I embraced it and for a while was doing pretty well doing things that way. I would charge anywhere between $3000-$5000 per tune. But it also took many hours because I did everything (music, arranging, part writing, tracking etc). I also had a full time job as well. On projects that were REALLY important, I brought in a mix engineer that I thought was better than I was and I would pay him$500 to mix and master the tune).
So here we are in 2015. I do not do much studio work anymore because of my living situation at this time. Before I moved 1.5 years ago, I lived by myself and was able to work whenever I wanted. I can not do that right now. I will however be moving in 4 months and I will set up the studio again. I do work on my own personal compositions.
I have also been running live sound since the late 90’s and I have a great reputation as a very caring engineer who has a passion for mixing. I am well know in the local circuit. I am on speed dial for at least 4 clubs and other engineers. The pay for this is usually $150 per show…but I only walk in with a talkback mic, headphones, my iPad, and my ears. I usually work for 7 hours and beside the pay, all my food and drinks are free (nice perk). For corporate and specialty functions, I will get $250-300. I still don’t bring anything, but I am also part of a crew and the company supplies all the lights, mixing console, monitors etc. Since I am only 120 pounds (54.4 kg) and only 5ft 4 inches tall (1.63 meters) and 51 years old, I do not move heavy equipment. It is physically impossible for me to do what guys twice my weight can do. So I usually will set and wire the FOH site and the monitor site, set up the stage for the talent etc.
My love at the end of the day is mixing FOH and playing keyboards.
Nathan Lively says
This is really valuable info Michael. Thanks!
Also, fairly consistent with what I’ve seen around here.
bode peter says
I really appreciate the impact, thought I just resign from a sound company. Cos I want to increase my income. Am a live sound engineer
Nathan Lively says
Sounds great. What’s your plan?
Great article, thanks for the write up. I find it interesting and exciting that you were able t0 do sound around the world, my question is how did you achieve this,and also, what advice can you give to someone like myself wanting to accomplish the same thing?
I’m currently majoring in audio production at San Francisco State, I work as an audio visual tech for the school, and I’m looking to get my first internship this summer. Your work experience around the world sounds awesome and your feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Nathan Lively says
Thanks for commenting.
Well, I knocked on a lot of doors to start with. 😉
Every place I’ve lived has had a little bit of a different story. All of them involved relationship building and personal referral. People want to help you.
Please see The Sound Engineer’s Path: http://www.sounddesignlive.com/clear-path-to-pro-audio/
And The Sound Engineer’s Path Webinar: http://www.sounddesignlive.com/sound-engineers-path-webinar/
Keep me updated and feel free to write with more questions.
Hi. I’m N.C, from Mauritius.
I’ve been working as a sound engineer since 2004.
I started vocal training and touring as choir boy at the age of 15.
I discovered MIDI and music production in 1999 and it you could really see the stars in my eyes when i started laying my music ideas using a PC with a mouse!
From 2000 to 2004, I learned music production, synthesis, MIDI sequencing and recording with the help of an amateur music arranger, working as an IT technician.
I got paid $0 for arranging, producing and engineering the 1st album of my career (8 songs – they dont do more per album here). I got free food though, and it was a lot of fun and a lot of frustrations.
The 2nd album was better, around $170 for an album…
Some 10 albums later, in 2009, I was making $100 per song. I got a local award for best music arrangement too, that year.
Making $400 – $800 per month was a nice pay. I’d also buy some cheap audio equipments on ebay and sold it for 2 – 3 times the buying price, mainly of korg and roland brands (this works really well here).
That same year, a retired person from abroad sponsored me for a Diploma course at SAE Institute Perth (which I did in 2010) in return to helping him learning MIDI and music production. We even produced an album together.
When I came back to Mauritius in 2011, it went wrong and I couldn’t make it as an engineer/producer locally till in 2012 I quit to work in BPO and data entry.
But then, in 2013, things started to change and by 2014 i was back into audio and music again :-)!
Right now I’m full-time AV tech at the Mauritius Institute of Education and getting paid $600-$800 per month.
I’ve also teamed up with a friend and we are producing local artists for $200 / song part time. He does all the recording and production and I do the mixing and mastering. We get 2 to 3 songs per month…
Our goal is to be able to make $2000 – $3000 monthly extending our services targeting international clients.
So here it is guys! I’ve done very few live stuff but i do love it each time i get the chance though…
Nathan Lively says
Thanks for sharing N.C. Wow, Mauritius. You’re way the heck out there.
Mario Pereira says
Loved the article, very informative! I´m a live/studio engineer from Portugal, I´ve been doing this for the last 20+ years, but I don´t think I ever ran into you! Whom did you work with/for during your stint here?
Nathan Lively says
Thanks for writing. I worked at Galeria Zé Dos Bois, Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II, and with O’QueStrada. It’s a small city. My guess is that we probably ran into each other somewhere.
Emmanuel essien says
Hi…..am emmanuel from nigeria studying sound engineer and would love to learn and work wit you guyz
Local average soundtechs (basic connections skills and no English speaking) get around 300rmb (47$)per night or no more than 3000rmb (470$) per month. As a foreigner working for bars that host foreign musicians was getting 600rmb (86$) per night with a monthly average of 12000rmb (1890$). Now i am working in Hard Rock Hotel’ cafe, with a 1000rmb (157$) per night, up to 6 nights per week. Both this and bar gigs usually involve wifi mixing of anything from acoustic duos to full rock bands.
For festival gigs as a monitor sound guy i was receving 1000-2000rmb per day (157-300$), for designing the whole two stages line-array DJ soundsystem (specifying the number of boxes, position, tuning) and running it (DJs only) i received 10000rmb for two days of babysitting it once we set it up the the day before (1500$)
I learned that top class Chinese live engineers receive anything in between 3000-10000rmb per day (780-1500usd) with a guy claiming that for some super high-profile corporate gigs he gets 30000rmb per gig (4700$)
I am yet to reach these waters as my Chinese speaking skills are limited. Not too many foreigners doing so anyway
Music mixing+mastering for indie bands 1000rmb per song (147$)
For commercial artists and tv ads/promo company movies etc same goes from 2000-5000rmb (300-780$) these figures for both foreign and local decent engineers
Nathan Lively says
Wow, that’s really interesting Marko. So what is the difference between you and “Top Class Chinese live engineer”? Is it just the client? Or is there something super special they are doing? The contrast there between the lowest wage and highest wage is amazing.
Melquior Chaves says
I am looking for a good sound engineering course for my son in Europe? Any recommendation in Portugal? thank you
Nathan Lively says
Live sound? Recording studios? DJ production?