How do I become a Monitor Engineer? | Ultimate Ears Stories

I want to be a monitor engineer and tour the world. Who should I call?

First of all, ask yourself this question: why do I want to be a monitor engineer? Is it because you have a passion for audio engineering, enjoy working past the point of exhaustion on a daily basis and can’t wait to get your hands dirty, or is it because you want to hang out with bands and get paid to see a lot of rock shows? If you’re leaning towards the latter, then get a job as a publicist or at a record label. If it’s the former, then read on.

Some more questions about you: How do you perform under pressure? Do you stay calm and collected when your boss is foaming at the mouth and screaming at you? Does working a 16 hour day every day sound appealing? How about the thought of living in a hallway (ie, on a bus) with a bunch of other guys with little to no privacy?

Wait — before you answer — let me clear up a few things about the business. There’s no glamor behind the scenes. This is a hard life. You’re on the road away from friends and family for endless amounts of time. Holidays? Non-existent. You’ll never have a New Year’s Eve off again.

Summer vacations, baseball games, barbecues and family reunions? A thing of the past. Working from 6 am - 3 am for five days straight? Now you’re talking. We’re not enjoying a leisurely tour across the globe here. We’re going from one venue to another to set up, do a show, tear down, load out and then we move on to the next city to do it all over again. Good news though: if you can hang, the money is good. Really good. Top-tier, big league monitor engineers can make upwards of $4 - $5,000 a week. But you’re paid for what you can do and for what you can put up with. Your job is to make sure that your employers -the artists- are getting exactly what they want in their mix. Every night. No matter what. Realize this is a very subjective thing, and know that a perfect mix one night might be absolutely wrong the next night. You are sometimes dealing with strange perceptions and odd personalities. It’s tough work and good engineers earn every cent. Oh yeah, good engineers get fired for no fault of their own sometimes too. It’s all part of the game. But if you know the gear and have a trained ear, finding work won’t be an issue.

If you’re still reading this then perhaps you haven’t been scared off yet, and that means there’s hope this business could be for you. As tough and as strange as it is, it isn’t without its rewards. We already talked about the pay, and the accommodations on days off are usually pretty nice, the tour buses you travel on are some of the nicest vehicles on the road, and if you like to get paid to see the world, well this might be your bag. And really, there aren’t many jobs that offer the satisfaction of delivering a big rock show at some point in the work day.

So back to your original question: who should you call to get started?

Here’s the thing, you don’t make the calls. You get called.

This business is all about reputation. If you’re good and easy to work with, you get more calls and you stay busy. So how do you start? Start small. If you’re friends with a band that needs an audio guy, help out. No band to work for? Find a bar / club / venue that will let you work for free. Show up on time -which means 10 minutes early- all the time. Learn the equipment inside and out. Read. Practice. Ask questions. Keep learning. Keep showing up. Get your name out there.

If you keep at it, one day the right person will notice you and your (hopefully) positive attitude and aptitude. Maybe that guy is a production manager on a large tour, and maybe on his next tour there’s an opening on the audio crew for a low man on the totem pole to come out to fly PA and pull feeder (don’t know what feeder is? you’ve got some reading to do!)

When you land that first tour, maintain that positive attitude and make a point of working harder than anyone else out there, without telling anyone you think you’re working harder. PEOPLE WILL NOTICE.

Once you have a few tours under your belt, it gets easier. You get more familiar with the routine, your role and what’s expected of you. And your name starts to get out there. Build your network and don’t actively give anyone a reason to not call you. Do a great job every time in spite of impossible circumstances. And once you’ve got that down, give us a call and we’ll think about featuring you on the UE University. Every engineer that we profile here is on top of their game and each one has a story pretty similar to what’s above. Hats off to all the guys and gals working day in and day out to make shows happen. 

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