“This industry isn’t going anywhere” – Meet the students training to work in live sound in the middle of a pandemic

The events sector shutdown has left many doubting the viability of live sound as a career path, but these students aren’t giving up on the industry just yet...

It feels like almost every day, new figures are published that attest to the devastating impact the pandemic is having on the live events industry. With many live sound professionals switching fields and numerous venues on the brink of closure, it’s easy to write-off the idea of studying live sound as a non-starter right now. Yet despite the current health of the industry, there’s a strong contingent of students who are refusing to give up on their passion and are finding creative ways to further their development during this unique hiatus.

We spoke to three dBs students about their recent learning experiences and how they’re using this time to prepare for the resurgence of the industry they love. 

Jake Garland – 1st Year Live Sound student

Live sound student at dBs Sound & Music Institute

1st year live sound student Jake Garland is staying positive

What has it been like studying a Live Sound degree in the middle of a pandemic?

"When the initial lockdown was implemented I was beginning the third term of my Live Sound Access Course at dBs. Getting most of the way through the course to have the final modules cancelled and worked out on predicted grades was a blow, but the response with remote learning and guest speakers was a silver lining.

"The first semester of my degree was excellent given the circumstances, thanks to the small working groups we have had as much face-to-face learning as we would have pre-pandemic. As we enter the new year in lockdown, teaching is exclusively online. If this occurred a couple of years ago this would have ruined the learning experience entirely. However, due to developments in software and video calling, we can now use loudspeaker simulation software to set up sound systems and test arrangements, DAWs to simulate the use live mixing desks, and apps such as KLANG to simulate monitor mixing for a band.

"Personally I’ve found a lot of benefits to studying during this pandemic. After some rearrangement, half of my bedroom functions as a workshop space, and not having to go anywhere to tinker has been great for workflow and motivation. I’ve tried to make the most of not being able to go out much by spending most of my time reading research papers and working on designs."

What have you been doing to further your development during this time?

"Aside from time spent on the 9-5 grind (solely to buy more and better equipment), I’ve spent much of my time working on streamlining my sound system as much as possible. 

"Initially, I was teaching myself networking protocols to allow me to control the entire system from a portable tablet anywhere within wifi-range or with the addition of a 4g dongle, anywhere on the planet if I wish. 

"Alongside this, I have been learning to create 3D CAD (computer-aided-design) files, by creating free domain loudspeakers within SketchUp 3D using technical drawings. After becoming proficient with this and having conversations with an engineer at Martin Audio, I moved on to creating tilt and splay boards for the deployment of our Martin H3T+. These are now ready for prototyping when access to equipment allows it.

H3 Tilt Setup Design

Jake has been using time spent in lockdown to streamline his sound system

"I’ve also been working on my first loudspeaker design from scratch. This is for a 12v portable sound system project that is in its early stages. Using a rough guide online and some of my own tweaks, I’m building a 2x12” 4th order bandpass subwoofer.  This has been my favourite project to work on, I’ve fallen into many research holes investigating physical principles of sound to avoid any issues with the design and it has much improved my understanding of the behaviour of sound.

"On a more practical side, I have been refurbishing a set of moving head lights for use when events return, I realise this is somewhat controversial in the audio industry as there is such a divide between ‘lampys’ and sound crew, but I think it’s imperative to have skills in different areas to help with progression."

Moving head light tear down

Jake has also been refurbishing a set of moving head lamps

Has the pandemic changed your perspective on the live events industry at all?

"Having just found my feet running events in Bristol with my crew ‘Stomp Project’. shortly before lockdown, it was very disheartening to hear that we weren’t going to be able to do anything like that for at least a year. Our last event was only five days before the lockdown so luckily the high from that has definitely helped me stay positive.

"I don’t think my perspective on the industry has changed throughout this past year. It’s been terrible seeing so many businesses folding and having to sell up, however, this industry isn’t going anywhere. People have an ingrained addiction to music and dancing, no matter how bad the economy is and how many live sound crews have had to leave the scene due to losses. Once it reopens I believe we will see a massive resurgence in the industry. I’ve no doubt it will be small crews who have been able to tide themselves over during this time that will be able to spring into action as soon as possible.

"I think the live streams that have come out of the pandemic are going to be here to stay as well, it opens more routes into the broadcasting area of live sound that I think will benefit the industry as a whole."

Skye Walters – 2nd Year Live Sound Student

Live sound student at dBs Sound & Music Institute

2nd Year live sound student Skye Walters has been busy researching into new areas

What has it been like studying a Live Sound degree in the middle of a pandemic?

"It's been interesting, we've been lucky enough to study in person when many others couldn't but it's meant that we've had to change the way we do a lot of things and work within the restrictions. It's limited the number of practical experiences we would usually be able to have within a year as access to events and artists is limited. However, we've still managed to work with a variety of new equipment and learn new techniques in a practical environment so I feel very lucky."

What have you been doing to further your development during this time? 

"I've been researching into areas that I wouldn't usually get a chance to focus on. I managed to work alongside the team at St Paul's Carnival to produce a virtual event in the summer. Myself and a couple of other students helped to set up and monitor their live streams on Facebook, Zoom and Twitch. I was also asked to be involved with extra setup days, recording DJ sets and venue management. I worked with a team of broadcast engineers which was something very new and exciting for me."

Live sound engineering student working at St Paul's carvinal

Skye helped to manage a virtual live streamed event for St Paul's carnival 

Has the pandemic changed your perspective on the live events industry at all?

"It both has and hasn't. I think that most of us are understandably worried about what the future holds for our industry, these are uncertain times and nothing can be guaranteed. On the other hand, I feel like the live events industry is going to come back with a vengeance which will hopefully allow room for those of us who will be newly qualified when it does. I think the industry has had to adapt very quickly and I'm proud of the way that many members of the industry have achieved this." 

Luke Arnold – 3rd Year Live Sound Student

Live sound student at dBs Sound & Music Institute building his own sound system

3rd year Luke has been building loud-speakers on a semi-professional basis

What has it been like studying a Live Sound degree in the middle of a pandemic?

"Studying the Live Sound degree in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic has been hard. For over a year now we have been almost entirely unable to take part in any live music events (and most painfully, festivals), something that had been one of the main components of this course. However, I have found it strangely useful to have this period of isolation, even during my degree. The first lockdown hit during the end of my second year, therefore there was naturally a bit of turmoil around our assessments. That said, now in my third year, it has actually been a bit of a blessing to have so much time to further my personal career whilst shaping my honours project. 

"dBs has also been able to make up for this; a lot of industry professionals have suddenly become jobless, offering the course a glut of applicants for new lecturer positions. I can testify to the institute having a truly incredible team now. Something potentially unachievable without Covid 19."

What have you been doing to further your development during this time? 

"As mentioned before, I have found this time very useful to work on my third year. I have definitely found the work more challenging this year, so alongside all the distractions pre-Covid, I would have potentially found it harder to reach a similar quality of assessed work. 

"During and pre-pandemic I have been building loudspeakers in a (semi) professional basis. Strangely, contrary to my assumptions, there have still been many loudspeaker projects for me to undertake; notably the 10 EM15 Megaton (15" kick bass cabinets pictured). 

"Due to multiple lockdowns' and continued reduced interaction I have had ample time to complete these projects, unlike before the lockdown where I often felt stressed for time. The time I’ve gained during this pandemic has definitely put me on a strong learning curve for my loudspeaker manufacture."

10 EM15 Megaton 15" kick bass cabinets

The extra time provided by lockdown has enabled Luke to complete more loud speaker projects for clients

Has the pandemic changed your perspective on the live events industry at all?

"This pandemic has shown me how fragile the industry is to these kinds of unforeseen issues. All sound kit has plummeted in value, and seeing the sheer amount of people selling up has opened my eyes to how large and easily damaged the world of professional audio is. I’m aware that the professional market I was previously hoping to target will take a little while to recover in order to meet my manufacturing and business competency.

"As a result, I have begun to turn my eyes more towards personal home/bar systems. This pandemic has shown me that the home fi-fi world has been largely unaffected compared to the live sound industry. This has also provided me with a more creative inspiration over each project. Hopefully, soon there will be space to have a healthy balance of both." 

Do you share Jake, Skye and Luke’s passion for live music experiences? Then why not check out our Live Sound degree page? You can request more information about this pathway here.

New call-to-action