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.
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