April 2022

How a sound education at dock10 has helped to build TV careers

How a sound education at dock10 has helped to build TV careers

The first two graduates from dock10's inaugural trainee scheme for multicamera production are now carving out successful careers for themselves in the TV industry.

Conor McKeown and Dom Lawson joined dock10 two years ago as entry level sound assistants as part of a new scheme that aims to train up the next generation of experienced production crews.

Conor, who had previously studied TV and radio production at Salford University, and Dom, a graduate in popular music production from Huddersfield University, both heard about the opportunity while working as runners at dock10.

"It's one of those opportunities you don't normally ever see," says Conor. "dock10 wanted entry level people rather than someone with lots of experience, so it was a no brainer for me to apply. I was really chuffed to get it."

Dom had previously shadowed some of the sound assistants on Match of the Day in his free time. Then he heard about the opportunity to train as a sound assistant, learning on the job at dock10 while being paid at the time.

"I think the fact that I was already trying to get shadowing experience off my own back helped me. But I was only managing to do one shadowing shift every month or so, so it wasn't like I was super clued up on what was going on. But I think the willingness to learn and wanting to do it helped my application stand out."

Initially, both received introductory training from a freelance sound engineer to show them the ropes. Then followed time with the engineers from dock10's Master Control Room (MCR) – the heart of the studio operation – to learn about sound from their perspective. The pair also worked in the mechanical workshop, learning to fix headsets.

"Basically, we were getting our heads around the audio side of dock10," says Conor.

Then came on the job experience, shadowing and learning on TV shows that record at dock10 – but being paid to do so.

"To start with, we would be assigned to a show that was fully crewed up already," recalls Dom. "We wouldn't really be expected to do anything but watch and ask questions. Then after about half a year, we started to be put on shows as crew members ourselves."

Over time, the pair worked on shows such as BBC Bitesize Daily, A Question of Sport and The Voice.

They soon got to grips with the complexities of a sound assistant's role. Reporting to the sound supervisor – who is responsible for the overall sound of a show – a sound assistant is, in Conor's words, "the eyes and hands of the sound supervisor." They will help rig the show - positioning and installing speakers and sorting out the microphones – and mic up onscreen talent so that their mics are unobtrusive and clear of interference.

"You've got to be like a swan – calm and quiet on the surface, even though there are lots of things going on," says Conor.

Sound assistants aren't able to control what onscreen talent will wear for a shoot, which can throw up problems. A particular challenge is securing mics to lightweight dresses. "If the material is thin, the cable can be visible – and the weight of the microphone means that it doesn't sit nicely," says Dom. "It's the kind of thing that keeps me up at night," laughs Conor.

After two years on the course, both are now working successfully as freelance sound assistants at dock10 and for other clients as well.

Their time working on a variety of shows as trainees at dock10 has helped them build up the skills and relationships needed to support their new career. Both have since gone on to secure paid work on BBC and ITV shows that they previously shadowed on.

One of the real highlights of the course has been how they have been welcomed and supported by dock10 and the freelancers who work there. "There was a bit of worry about how freelancers would receive us, as we're entering their world and some people might see it as us taking opportunities for work away from them," says Dom. "But they were so welcoming and helpful – and it was great to have support from dock10 as well."

Dom adds: "Training over two years gave us a chance to prove ourselves - and to prove that we're serious about this."