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Stephen Hughes

BA Modern History, Economic History & Politics (2005), Sound Engineer and Project Manager

Why did you choose Royal Holloway for your degree?

I was interested in studying history at a prestigious university and had considered going to Cambridge, however, the History department at Royal Holloway seemed equally world-class, with engaging and interesting tutors that we met on our Open Day. As Royal Holloway is a campus-based university, as opposed to the city ones which are spread around various areas with no discernible boundaries, there is a great atmosphere of community which I felt should be a strong part of the university experience. The chance to study at other University of London institutions for modules in the degree was also a unique advantage that Royal Holloway offered - in fact I studied a 'Comparing Dictatorships' course at King's College in my third year.

How did your time at Royal Holloway help your future career?

In a very direct way! I learnt from the Students' Union the basics of sound engineering and how to mix bands on function nights and at the Summer Balls. There was a technical crew that encouraged students to mentor others and pass on all that they had learnt, and was a very encouraging environment. Friendships were formed for life there, and it certainly augmented my time at Royal Holloway.

In terms of my studies, my degree and time at Royal Holloway instilled in me a very real love of learning - I still keep up to date on some periodicals relating to my degree subject, but the discipline to improve oneself and learn as much as you can in the field in which you're working is as relevant to my industry as it was to the subject I studied. The sound industry, like any technologically-based sector, is constantly moving forward, and requires you to research the latest methods and practises to stay up to date.

What do you do now and what advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career in your sector?

Following my time at Royal Holloway I was a freelance sound engineer for five years and worked on festivals such as Hard Rock Calling and Wireless as well as countless shows at the Royal Albert Hall and arenas through out Europe. I am currently the senior engineer and project manager for a live sound company called Sound By Design. My main role is to be the company's account manager for the Royal Albert Hall, which doesn't have an in-house sound department, and project manage and occasionally mix the audio for around 160 - 180 shows there a year. I also look after the BBC Proms season and other large scale classical/light entertainment events throughout the country such as Friday Night is Music Night for BBC Radio 2 and shows for various orchestras (such as the BBC SO, BBC CO and the RPO). 

The live sound industry is very open to people who are self-motivated and passionate about music. Most professionals haven't come through the academic route, and experience is much more preferred than qualifications (as my lack of a music technology degree would attest). I think it's no accident that for the BBC Proms we have other Royal Holloway alumni on the team of sound engineers, not to mention a BBC Concert Assistant, a Royal Albert Hall Event Manager and, most impressively of all, Music alumnus Roger Wright, who is the Controller of BBC Radio and the Director of the Proms.




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