I love sound men. I admit it. A great sound man can do more for your career than that hack wannabe manager you are paying who is doing Natta for you. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, your live sound is everything. So when was the last time you gave the sound man at your gigs a little time, and a lot of respect? Do you frequently show up late for your sound check without the proper gear, extra cables, batteries, extra adapters, etc that you KNOW you need for your gig?Keep digging that grave because your sound man will inevitably press the suck button. Be a human being and treat people with respect. The sound man is not your servant, he is at the club to do a job and you should be doing yours.
Sound men know everybody. They have to know the booking agents, club owners, promoters and every band around in their line of work. They are interacting every day with the very professionals that YOU are desperately trying to get to notice you. Wise up, your connection is standing beside you and you are behaving like a spoiled prima donna. Doug Siebum wrote a great piece in The Village Voice called, “The Top 15 Things That Annoy the Crap Out of Your Local Sound Guy.”
“10. When people touch my mixing board or audio gear. You can blow up a speaker or amp or potentially damage someone’s hearing. This is expensive equipment so if you don’t own it, don’t touch it and keep your drinks away from it.
9. When bands ask me to turn the monitor up. Each monitor is a separate mix. Tell me what instrument or vocal you want to hear in the monitor and I will turn that up for you.
8. When bands tell me they want to hear everything in the monitor. If I put everything in the monitor it’s just going to sound like mud because it’s a mono mix and everything is on top of each other. How about you tell me the two or three things that are most important for you to hear and we’ll start there.”
I love this one…”2. When people blame the band’s lack of talent or poor equipment on the sound guy. It’s amplified sound. If it sounds like crap, it will be amplified crap.”
Here is a great blog comment about the relationship between sound men/women and bands by Steven Hsieh.
“If your sound engineer is a legitimate one, meaning he does it for a living and have proper knowledge about live sound reinforcement, then there’s a few things you should know. Firstly no engineer enjoy making a band sounds bad, it takes tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to be a good sound engineer, and we are misunderstood a lot of time by musicians thinking we don’t care about the sound or we are just poker face jerk who likes to ignore them, many times when we act like this is not because we don’t care about your concern, its because there are a ton of other problems out front that we are dealing with and there’s simply not enough time to explain to you what’s going on during a live performance. Maybe the vocalist is standing in a position where there’s a fat sound build up at certain frequency pushing it any louder will cause feed back and we are trying to EQ out the feed back frequency so I can push the vocal up to the desired balance. Maybe the guitar amp is too loud in certain frequency and is amplified by the room acoustic and we have to push everything else louder to maintain balance while making sure we are under safe volume level. When the bass player stands in front of his amp pointed at his waist high, he can’t hear his own sound over the drum next to him so he turn up the volume on the bass amp, without knowing that in the audience, where his bass amp is pointed directly at, the volume is already loud enough to cause discomfort. All this I just said barely scratched the surface of what we have to deal with. I hope you can see why explaining this to musician during a performance is not a smart thing to do. Also why we often give poker face when a musician tells us how he thinks something is too loud, too soft, etc. because when you are standing on the stage, what you hear is completely different then what the audience is hearing, thus any concern regarding what audience hears is simply invalid. Regarding your monitor mix, like the bass player example I just gave you, maybe the monitor is in a position that if your sound engineer pushes it any louder it will cause feedback, the real solution? sometimes rearrange the monitor location is sufficient, but other times you just need to buy better equipment, perhaps in ear monitor system, room acoustic treatment, better mics etc. telling you this during a live performance is not going to solve the problem, so we often respond with a nod and nothing more. Bottom line is, having a distrust between musician and sound engineer benefits no one, while a successful show often is a the result of great teamwork between your sound engineer and the band. My band trust me when we are live and they understand why I have that attitude, we will usually go over all the details after each performance, whats great, whats bad, what works and what didn’t. Unless your band has a dedicated sound engineer who has the time to tell you all this, you may just misunderstand your sound man for many gigs to come, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.”
Another point that is well taken is to not expect the sound man to be super excited about doing your mix. He does this 7 nights a week, it’s his job. You will have to really bring the house down to get him to feel all tingly about your performance. And that should be your goal, every time you play. When you find a great sound man, develop a relationship with him/her. Ask them about their life, family, work, etc. Just like any other person you are meeting for the first time, have a real conversation, you know, where the other person actually gets to speak. It isn’t all about you…not if you want to make a valuable connection.
On one of the first gigs I ever did, I came across an amazing sound man, Chuck Chason. Sweet funny, very young family man who was a brilliantly talented sound engineer. I brought him a beer before the show and sat down and chatted for a while. He was a total sweetheart and we really hit it off. The sound that night was remarkable. The monitors were perfect(that never happens), the mix was amazing and the crowd was stoked. After seeing Chuck at a few different clubs and developing a great working relationship with him, I asked if he would be the sound man for my band. He had a busy schedule that took him around the country but he agreed. He took my CD’s and EP’s with him on the road and learned every nuance of my original material. My sound on the shows got better and better and soon we were working together like a well oiled machine. As I started to really get traction in the industry, I was hearing from fans that Chuck was playing my music before large national shows. He had been spinning my discs for thousands of people across the country and turning other National Acts on, to what I do. I had no idea for months. He could handle any gig, had top of the line amazing gear, and I soon found out that he was also running sound for the best up and coming and biggest acts in the business. He was touring constantly but driving hundreds of miles to make it to my gigs. He ran sound every year for me at World Aids Day for giant crowds. A total pro and the sweetest man on the planet. I credit Chuck for much of my success; he was part of my team. Sadly at 35 years of age, Chuck died in his sleep and left behind his young wife and children whom he adored. I was devastated, as was the music community. I still think about Chuck all the time and stay in touch with his assistants who have run sound for me over the years, after Chuck passed away. Chuck taught me the importance of the role of the sound man and I learned a valuable lesson about how the business works. Treat the sound man like gold, he knows everybody!!
If I hadn’t ever taken the time to talk to Chuck and get to know him, I would have missed out on a great friendship and the best sound man I’ve ever worked with to date.
Never put yourself above anyone that you are working beside. Get to know people on a personal level and give them the respect that they deserve. Find out if they can help you get a gig in a club that won’t give you the time of day. A sound man can open the door to getting you gigs anywhere you want. He/She can also make sure you don’t work in that town again, mark my words. Make a reputation for yourself as being difficult or demanding and watch how fast doors will close. No one wants to hire a pain in the ass entitled musician. There are an endless number of bands to choose from, so no reason in the world to hire a band that is difficult. If you aren’t a household name, forget being a diva and get real. You NEED all the connections you can get, and a great place to start is your local sound man. So, humble yourself, and take a few minutes to get the know the person who holds your sound in their hands. Don’t piss off the sound man! The suck button is just one push way.