Sound Guy Rules – A gentle riposte

Ok, we know it’s true guys – some days us musicians suck and the sound guy saves us. That backing vocalist who is constantly flat; yeah, the sound guy mixed him down. The guitarist who drank too much, the sound guy turned up the keys to cover him. And most of the time, we love you to bits, you’re our ally front of house. But not always… So with all the general advice to musicians out there, I thought I might start with a gentle riposte to all the ‘musicians are such assholes’ articles out there on the web with a few “Dos and Don’ts” for soundguys from us musos! (Don’t take it to heart guys, we know most of you know this stuff already, and we love you !)

1) Be on time. Most rigs are hired in for events in the UK, very few smaller venues have house rig and a house guy. But even if you are a house guy, be on time. There’s nothing worse for a musician than to be still sound checking as the people are walking in. And if the band is set up and waiting for the rig, your relationship with them is already screwed and the night is going to be unpleasant, probably for the audience too as the sound is going to be a rush job.

2) Don’t assume that all musicians are assholes. OK, I know, some of us are, but please take a moment and allow us to remove all doubt before you treat us as the assholes we really are. We might just surprise you by being professionals. Might, I said… promises!

3) Know your artist before you take the job. Or if you don’t, do a little research. I watched a great Zep tribute band at a 10,000 capacity venue about 5 years ago. The two guys on the desk had clearly never heard a Led Zep record. Ever. It’s a guitar driven blues rock band, right? We all know that. They didn’t – no guitar in the rig at all, bass drum rattling the buildings all around the square, and enough bottom end to imitate one of those US military experiments where they try to make the enemy drop its guts.

4) Be Sober. Or close to it. We’ll buy you a beer or two if you’re a decent guy but please take it easy. Hearing goes real quick when you’re hammered. Don’t be hung over – that might be worse than drunk, because nobody is Mr Approachable while they’re hanging. Don’t you guys always rage about drunk musos?

5) Monitors – If you’ve taken a job running live sound for a 5 piece rock band with big vocal harmonies and you turn up with a single wedge and no side fill….well you know how the night is going to go. I did a musical in a temporary venue once where we were told we had to use ‘line’ amps – i.e. no speakers and everything was to be monitored back with headphones. I spoke with the sound guy weeks before the shows to set the spec. (There wasn’t a pit, we were in a temporary booth in the wings). You guessed it – turned up on the day and the sound company denied all knowledge of this (basically calling me a fool or liar), and to add to that didn’t even have wedges. We had to go and locate amps and monitors for the V-Drums on dress rehearsal day. The whole week then turned into a pitched battle with the sound guys complaining we were too loud, and us desperately trying to hear the stage. The rows were legendary, and punches nearly thrown!

6) Volume. Don’t be afraid to tell us our stage volume is too much for the room. If the guitarist can’t hear his rig over the drums at the volume you need, he’ll cope if you put a little in his monitor. Come with the solution (see 5), and problems evaporate quickly. Soundcheck at something like gig volume though. How many times have I done a gig where the sound check was great, but as soon as the gig started everything was feeding back and howling….it’s because the rig got turned up and it’s leaking back onto the stage. Even outdoors this can happen, because the PA speakers leak through the back of the boxes.

7) Keep your rig in good order. Test your cables, keep your spares organised. Chasing issues on the day is a pain in the ass for you as well as us and everyone’s nerves get frazzled. Once confidence is broken for the night, it’s rarely recoverable. Or schedule for that matter.

8) (And this is probably the real biggie right here) You are NOT Merlin the bloody wizard. We don’t expect you to disappear. Locating the sound guy during the set shouldn’t be like a “Where’s Wally” picture book puzzle! Especially as the PA all just went sideways, the monitors have failed and there’s a local taxi firm’s radio competing for space in the mix!

Now it sounds like I’m being really negative about the Sound Guy – but I’m not and here’s the main point: There are going to be sound guys out there reading this who are saying ‘I never do that’, and I know. But just like musicians, most of you are decent guys trying to work with you to get a difficult job done in good spirits. Just like the idiot, egotistical, unreliable, drunk, asshole musicians that always get complained about, it’s a very few giving the majority of hard working professionals a bad name.

And musicians, remember that when you came off stage last night ready to kill yourselves and each other because you thought your playing was absolute pants, but then got mobbed by an appreciative audience for whom the sun shone your of your backside, it was probably the sound guy that saved your ass!

Buy him a beer, get his number and hire him again.

( He’s easy to find. He’ll be the guy at the back of the hall looking like the dude at the end of the video – with an exhausted expression and smoke coming out of his fingers!)


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