The following article was created with assistance from the fine men of Whosah. If you don’t know about this amazing group and the unforgettable music they create, follow this link and get familiar before you’re caught looking like a fool.
Let’s face it- everybody who has run sound or a musician has at least a small handful of shameful war stories about how the other side has totally blown it at a gig:
“The sound guy didn’t know what he was doing and the mix sounded terrible.”
“The frontman cupped his hands around the mic and kept pointing it into the monitor.”
etc. etc etc.
The reality is, the relationship between the venue or headliner’s audio crew and the bands involved is the most important relationship in putting on a great show. You need each other. It doesn’t matter how well prepared the band is to perform, if they aren’t working well with the sound crew, the vision of the performance won’t translate to the audience with nearly the impact it could if the sound person and stage techs are completely on board with that vision.
Always assume you’re talking to someone who’s smarter than you- who’s a person who might surprise you when you get to know them.
I’ve stage-handed for 17,000+ attendee festivals, been the A1 at convention centers, and designed and installed AV systems in small Universities- but when I walk into a venue with skinny jeans and drum set, nobody I talk to knows what my background is. Conversely, how can I walk into a venue and assume to know the background (or lack thereof) of the guy standing across from me who’s running sound or stage teching that night? There have been times when after the show, I find out the guy mixing used to work for Journey, Steely Dan, or Prince. The stagehand could have just come off a tour with All Time Low or Hey Violet and be working this show as a favor for a friend. You never know what someone’s contacts are, and you never know what their chops are like until you actually interact with them. In this case as in any, always assume the best in the people around you.
Be friendly and personable.
Now, I can tell by their demeanor that many of these guys have been treated like crap over the years, but if I avoid the pitfall of being the stereotypical arrogant, diva musician, I may be surprised at the wealth of resource in front of me. I might even make a friend. Memorize their first name and use it regularly when speaking with them. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes that friend I make at the soundboard references me to a local band who just sold the place out last night or gives me the contact of a promoter who puts us on a sweet show next time we’re in town.
More than that, it’s just generally a sad and disappointing reality that many bands are disrespectful or dismissive of sound crew. I’ve met some of my closest friends through this industry- as a general trend sound guys are some of the most selfless, generous, and authentic dudes and ladies out there. If you lead with a friendly handshake and a smile, you might be surprised by the connection you inadvertently make.
Be accurate and specific in your rider.
You’ll make a bad impression early on if you don’t pass along your tech information or if you walk into the venue and the first thing you say is, “oh yea, that email was wrong. We actually also have….” Not only does this make the sound guy roll his eyes and probably not like you, but it will also take you twice as long to set up for your soundcheck and will have you playing catch up the rest of the night before doors. Not fun. Much better to plan ahead with specific information so that everyone’s on the same page. Make sure your technical rider is crisp, clear, as simple as possible, and up to date.
Leverage your gear so that processes are streamlined. The time it takes you to load onto stage and be ready for soundcheck should take no more than 5-8 minutes.
I’m a little bit of a fanatic on this. In order to avoid any need for a monitor guy and to significantly reduce stage volume, I built my band a custom in-ear-monitor rack controlled by everyone’s iPhones. This system contains 5 wireless in ear systems, a digital mixer, and a splitter for all the channels going to front of house for every show. Regardless of venue or stage size, this setup is pre-configured and tested fully at rehearsal. It has labels on everything, and has repeatable steps for assembly each time we set it up. Each person in the band has a rough aspect of this system he is primarily responsible for, but everyone is at least vaguely aware of how it all goes together so that during setup time we’re always ready to help each other out if one part needs more time than another.
Now, I recognize that not all bands are equipped financially or tech-minded to be able to have a system this robust, but the principles still apply to any band. Label all your equipment. Have general responsibilities on stage for who sets up what. Have labels (color coded if possible) for all your cables and other common equipment so you can quickly glance at a pile of gear and know which one is yours. Preset as much of each member’s equipment as possible off-stage before your allotted setup time, so that when it’s your turn, all you’ll need to do is lift your rig onstage in 1-2 trips and patch into the system.
There’s are several huge wins you’ll earn for your band if you take on this mentality. First, it’s never a bad thing to be thought of as “easy to work with”. For sidemen and sound dudes, this is the best way to earn a positive regional rep. Second, it makes you an easy book as support for a big show- if they know you aren’t a lot of work and you have a professional changeover time, you’re more likely to be asked back. Third, being a quick setup means you’ll have more time at the show to interact with your fans and meet new people, which is still the number 1 way bands build a following. The faster and simpler your setup is, the more time you’ll have for this critical face-to-face interaction.
Always be explicitly thankful and grateful.
Not only is this just a good rule of thumb for how to do life, but it is a simple, unassuming way you can breathe life into the day of the guy running sound. It’s one of the most thankless industries to work in, and one in which the people slave away on crazy hours for often very low pay. While these types of folks might typically come off as a little gruff and weathered, a simple, non threatening way to meaningfully “see” them is to just thank them explicitly and behaviorally throughout the gig. Truly, your fans experience of your show would not be even possible without them, and when human beings feel valued and appreciated, they always produce their best work.