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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.

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.

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— 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.

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