Every kind of performing artist, whether it’s a singer, DJ or band, has probably had to contend with bad live sound or technical issues on stage. Often, you’ll work with the live engineer to try and get things fixed. 9 times out of 10, the engineer will do everything in their power to solve the issue, but on some nights it can feel like you’re dealing with someone who really wants to win the title of ‘Worst Sound Engineer of all Time’. Since I’m pretty certain that no sound engineer actually wants the title, I’ve compiled some good advice for sound engineers on what not to do.
Just Smile and Nod…
If you’re working with performing artists, then it’s pretty simple and common courtesy to actually listen to what they’re saying instead of just pushing your own opinion. If something is asked of you, then actually do it. Smiling and nodding and then doing nothing or just pretending to twiddle knobs is plain rude (feel free to squirm a little bit if this sounds like you). A lot of the time, engineers might do stuff like this because they’ve already concluded that the artist ‘has no idea what they’re on about.’ Actually, it’s part of your job to try to understand what the band or artist wants and help them to achieve it, because the fact is, if the bands you work with are putting on great shows backed up by great sound, then you’ll only be a happier sound engineer!
Show Zero Interest in the Space
We can be brief about this one. Never assume that because everything sounds good where you’re standing, it sounds just as good everywhere else in the room. If you blame bad sound on the band or on the way the space is set up, then shame on you! Another part of your job is to get the best out of the space and the equipment that’s available. Walk around, test and listen and then repeat the process. It’s not that hard, and it’ll only help your career to train your ears to get the best sound in any space.
Monitor Placement? Are You Insane?
“Where you put them doesn’t matter. That’s what the volume knob’s for!” Just turning everything up and blasting away everyone that’s standing on the stage is not really the point. Sure, the monitors need to be loud enough, but they also need to be placed in the ideal position so that the volume on stage can be as low as possible. It’s not that difficult, it yields great results and everyone on stage will only thank you.
Monitor Mix? What’s That?
Giving the vocalist a balanced mix of everything in their ears is easy, because it’s actually what they want: a mix – and there’s no reason why they can’t get it. A loud stage is tough enough to perform on for singers, so if they can hear exactly what they need to hear then they’ll be able to give a good performance – even if they aren’t that experienced.
If everything’s running smoothly and sounding good, then there’s no reason to just stand looking stupid by the mixer – time for a beer! “Oh, by the way, I left my headphones in the car so I can’t actually hear any of the reverb.” Both are the reverse of what you want to do, or what anyone wants to hear come out of your mouth. First and foremost, always make sure that you have everything you need and might need with you at the venue, and secondly, during the actual show, you need to be present: standing at your mixer and on hand to solve any problems that might pop up during the set. Is the microphone causing feedback? Are the guitars dominating everything? It’s your job to do any necessary real-time tweaking.
The artist will almost always turn up late for sound check, so why should the sound engineer bother being on time? Well, even though you’ll spend most of the night staring at a mixer, you’re not the DJ. Everything needs to be sorted before the show starts. Also, testing gear and getting everything in shape while the support band is playing their set is really not the done thing. Even artists that have just started playing gigs deserve good sound. Also, yelling “Test, one, two!” through a microphone halfway through the set is just annoying – for everyone – even if it is for the headline artist. A thorough sound check, even the day before, is no luxury for a sound engineer – it’s a necessity.
Stretching the Truth…
I hope you understand why I’ve exaggerated a bit in writing this blog and that it only helps get the message across. The best place to start as a sound engineer is in simply trying to be good at what you do, listen to the people you’re working with and help out whenever you’re needed. As the sound engineer, you’re the pivot point for the live show. If you don’t do your job well, the engine will tick along nicely, but at some point, things will invariably go off course and bits might even start falling off. Work with the band or artist and the audience and give the best you can.
If you’re a sound engineer and dare to share any mistakes you’ve made or lessons you’ve learned, let us know in the comments!
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