Careers in Audio: Front of House Engineering
Career Path : Audio Engineering
A front of house, or FOH, engineer mixes sound for live performances. The term front of house comes from the fact that the engineer is generally situated in the middle of or behind the audience, rather than backstage with other key event staff, giving the engineer a direct frame of reference as to what the audience is hearing.
What Does an FOH Engineer Do?
An FOH engineer is responsible for working with performers, instrument technicians and stage managers to perform soundchecks, ensure that all equipment is working properly and that the audience hears and experiences the performance the way they should.
Front of house engineering requires a good ear and the ability to work well under pressure. FOH engineers diligently work to find the best possible mix for the performer and venue, while not putting the performance behind schedule.
Differences Between Studio and FOH Engineers
The scale of work performed by an FOH engineer differs from a studio engineer in many ways.
An FOH engineer must be able to work under tremendous pressure. Though a studio engineer may deal with the stress of a record label demanding that a song or album is recorded, mixed and mastered by a deadline, an FOH engineer is responsible for making sure the mix is perfected by the time a performer is scheduled to take the stage. Live performance schedules can be very stressful, especially at events like music festivals, with dozens of bands on the bill and stage changes that must happen in very narrow windows.
Studio engineers usually work in the same controlled environment, day after day. Recording studios have the luxury of soundproofing, meticulous configuration and the availability of various sound displacement tools to optimize the recording environment. FOH engineers must deal with an infinite number of variables on every shift, with generally limited resources. FOH engineers must be able to think on their feet to efficiently resolve the numerous issues that can arise with a live performance.
How Much Money Do FOH Engineers Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for an FOH engineer is $50,020, but this salary varies greatly depending on the scale of the performances. Small venue engineers may make as little as $300 per week, while contracted engineers working with big artists and large venues can make upwards of several thousand dollars a week, plus per-diems.
How Does One Become an FOH Engineer?
Some studio engineers will transition to FOH, but with the constant advances in live sound technology, the learning curve can be quite steep. A quality sound engineering school will have a live sound program in addition to teaching the fundamentals of audio production. Furthermore, an event management school can help a budding front of house engineer understand all of the processes involved in making a live event run smoothly.
Though front of house engineering can be a challenging career path, access to high profile events and the opportunity to make a very good living make FOH engineering worth the time and dedication involved in learning the trade.
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