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The Right Stuff: The Keys To Success In The Role Of An A1

Sometimes it's a challenge to find qualified technicians that actually know the job of an A1 tech in professional audio.

By Craig Leerman September 5, 2018

As a regional production company owner, I regularly hire freelancers to fill certain roles, and sometimes it’s a challenge to find qualified technicians that actually know the job of an A1 tech in professional audio.

Some candidates that have proven disappointing are graduates of tech schools that didn’t seem to prepare those students for what’s actually required in the real world, while simultaneously filling their heads with the idea that they’re indeed very qualified. Others who have fallen short have actually worked in this business for many years and still can’t manage to competently set up a simple rig, or even an intercom for that matter.

With that in mind, it’s my position that anyone claiming to be an A1 audio tech must have the following skillset:

Solid understanding of key audio concepts and signal flow. An A1 should be able to troubleshoot and correct problems such as a dead channel or noise in a system without assistance.

The ability to set up a system, including subwoofers, front fills and delays. I don’t expect techs to understand all of the details of our digitally steered loudspeakers or know the specifications of every loudspeaker in our inventory for that matter, but they should have a firm grasp of crucial aspects such as crossovers, delay times and acoustics, and in particular, how to position loudspeakers to optimally cover an audience area.

Possession of basic loudspeaker rigging knowledge, such as how to use stands, crank towers, and chain motors. I also can’t emphasize enough that basic rigging safety must be a part of every A1’s knowledge base. We’re not asking them to serve as a high rigger or to calculate point loads but they must be able to use stands correctly and fly loudspeakers safely using motors.

The awareness to mix a band or speech at the appropriate volume for the event. Period. Enough said about that.

Set up and mix stage monitors, including in-ear monitors. I don’t care if a tech likes or doesn’t like monitors, the fact is that they’re an important part of almost every show and must be addressed properly. This also includes correctly implementing backstage monitors at corporate gigs.

Get a basic intercom system up and running, which is especially important in the corporate market. (If you don’t know what a “biscuit” is, you may not be a corporate A1.)

Carry a computer that can play back audio cues that the client has handed you on a thumb drive. In addition, the computer should provide the capability to edit audio cues for a show/event.

— While audio techs don’t have to be DJs, they should have playlists available for walk in/out and dinner music, mostly consisting of smooth jazz and light modern tunes. A1s in corporate applications should also have some high-energy tracks, preferably royalty-free, for walk on and off.

— Speaking of clients, A1s must be able to interact with our clients and everybody else on the job site as well. This includes coworkers, house staff, attendees, artists, presenters, promoters, event planners and – in corporate world – company executives.

The capability and responsibility to help unload trucks, push cases and pack up at the end of the gig. Unless it’s a briefcase gig with an installed PA, or there’s already an agreement to just walk in and mix, it’s time to check your ego at the door and help build the rig for the gig.

— In a similar vein, all techs should have an attitude – a positive one, that is. Nobody wants to work with someone with a lousy attitude. We all have bad days, but leave personal troubles, problems and politics at home.

Carry the basic tools required at most gigs, including a flashlight, multi-tool and headphones with a 1/4-inch jack.

— Last but certainly not least, a qualified A1 must have an understanding of the concept of personal hygiene as well as the ability to carry it out. In addition, correct clothing is required at all gigs – it should be non-logo black unless told otherwise.

Pro tip: a dirty, ripped T shirt with the logo of a heavy metal band is not correct attire for any gig.


About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
 
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Reno.
http://techworksreno.com/

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John Peter Erskine says

Very Interesting post. However the section on intercom is very 70's. I haven't had a biscuit on a system for over 10 years unless you consider a Riedel, Adam or Clear-Com digital station a "biscuit". Needless to say, I think the gist of this article is correct. Good audio companies may hire graduates from sound schools but they should start at the bottom - coiling cables and grunt work and then move up.

Andrew Lipnick says

Thanks for this concise list of skills. I really like that you included the importance of communication. Live production should be viewed as a "collaborative sport" and communicating well with all departments and client teams can't be overstated. Thanks again!

Leticia Castaneda says

Thanks for this!
Yes I need to strengthen my knowledge on using motors so I’m confident and competent even with unfamiliar ones.
Thanks for reminder.

D says

Nicely done!
This is an echo heard throughout the mountain tops. I strongly agree with this article.

Terry R Violette says

I have 40 years of live performance , monitor engineer, system engineer and corporate A1 and I have never heard the term "bisquit" and I would never show up to a gig in anything but show blacks!
If you have a "school" in your resume... you be doin trucks.
It is a tough road to the top...

Carl Stewart says

Nicely done, Mr. Leerman. I agree wholeheartedly. I'm a longtime veteran A-1 in a convention market, so I do a lot of corporate gigs. I also work as an A-2, and even an audio stagehand. I see the A-1 as also being a decision maker. If, for example, I have questions about the cable path (for signal or power), or which power drop is ours, or the angles and connection groupings for the line array speakers, etc., I ask the A-2, who asks the A-1. If I'm the A-1 on the gig, I know I'll be making those decisions. If I'm the audio stagehand, I know it doesn't matter one iota how I'd do it. I also know that the A-1 and the A-2 both appreciate working with someone who understands what they're talking about when they say in response to a question about line array groupings, "3-3-2," and it gets done correctly without having to repeat it... or worse yet, explain it.

Mike Tallica says

It’s actually pretty crazy how many “A1’s” don’t know most of this stuff. When I see one, I usually do the old, “hey, have you seen the madder daddy?

....idiots.

Marc says

Well said. My bread and butter for the last thirty years has come from corporate shows. A professional attitude realizing this ultimately is a business goes a long way. We all had tour dreams until we slept in the van with others whose hygiene was an afterthought one too many times. Few of us learning our craft meet a young Bruce Springsteen. Learn well. Be professional. Be on time and on point .

Beth Gladen says

I agree whole heartedly on the article, however I have been doing audio for well over 25 years and have no idea what a biscuit is. Unless hmmmmmm it's a Rrrrrrubber Bisquit?

Monty Curry says

I work as an A1 in Corporate, Broadcast, and Music. As an A1 I agree with ALMOST everything you have listed. The only point I have issue with is the Playback computer and Playlist. This has been a personal bent of mine for many years. I have done too many shows where he client spends ALL of their time producing videos and visual content but doesn't give a second thought to any Audio content until the doors are about to open. Then they run up and expect the A1 to play exactly the genre of music they like. They would NEVER do that to the Video Director. No other department is required to provide their own personal gear to carry out a show. in 35 years I have never seen a Video guy have to provide his own Tape decks or computer, much less have Visual content on the ready and available for unprepared clients. I have had this discussion with a few clients over the years. Some of them understood and just never thought of it because it has become the accepted way. A few others became belligerent and I lost their numbers years ago.
Simply put, if you are going to require someone to provide their personal equipment then they should be compensated for it accordingly, and it should be addressed before the event. It is NOT a requirement to be a good A1.

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