The most important person at your next gig is not going to be featured on the poster. He won’t be listed in the ad. You may not even remember his name after the gig. But he has the power to control your night. He is all-seeing. He has the machinery. Like Oz, he is The Man Behind The Curtain. He is the Soundman!
You may think he is disinterested. Slightly comatose. Perhaps high as a kite. And hey, congratulations—you may be right!
The soundman may have already heard 3,000 terrible covers of "Free Fallin" before your showed up. And if you play terrible version number 3,001, he will not be surprised. By the way, on a song like "Free Fallin", the ratio of bad versions to quality ones is roughly 3,000 to 1. At least, according to a study conducted in the “Soundman’s Scientific Studies of Suckiness” published in 2007.1
That does not diminish his role in making you sound good or bad that night. Granted, if you are terrible, he cannot make you sound like a chart-topper. But on the other side, with the twist of a few knobs, he can make the best band sound worse than you ever imagined.
So be kind to the soundman. Learn his name. Get to know him. Bring him a coffee or a bit of food. Thank him. Stay out of his way. And if “he” is a “she” but you didn’t know that until too late, you’re on your own. Today, I really don’t feel like being gender correct and typing he/she the whole time. So let’s call your sound person “Max”. Not strictly male or female, yet suggesting Maximum Volume, Maximum Cool, and Maximum Control.
(This person is the one responsible with your sound. Good luck)
For example, while Max is setting the mics on the drums, it is a very bad time to start testing the strength of your snare head. Max will need to be able to hear you for the rest of the might and blowing our Max’s eardrums will ensure your sound is dull. Same with those moments when Max is putting mics in front of your amps—bad time to test out the new distortion pedal.
Asking Max to do any more work than Max is planning to do does not make Max happy. For example, a sound check for all four bands on the bill is not fun for Max. Also, if you bring a pedalboard with enough gadgets that it looks like a communication center for NASA but do not have a power strip to handle it all, Max does not have to go in search of one for you.
If you stand around on stage, with your open cases strewn about and proceed to tune and chat while Max is trying to set up everything, Max is not happy. Any chance you can vacate the stage so Max can do Max’s job? Then Max will stay off the stage while you do your job. Can we agree on that?
Max understands that your girlfriend, mother, or lawyer brother, believes that he or she knows more about your sound than Max does. When these people tell Max how to do Max’s job, you can bet Max is more likely to make you sound worse. Your fans ought to leave Max alone. Max can be vindictive, mean, or lose complete interest.
Max is working sound. Other questions and concerns take Max away from Max’s job. Don’t bother Max.
A brilliant sound man (Rich Masarik—Vertical Sound) at one of my favorite clubs (Grog Shop) got so tired of some of the same questions every night, he posted his own FAQ by the sound board. I suggest every soundman make their own. I can’t remember all of his, and added a few of my own.
For your pleasure, I present The Soundman's FAQs:
Q: Where is the bathroom?
A: Walk to the wall, turn left and follow it until you find the bathroom.
Q: That wall?
Q: Where do we put our gear?
A: At the side of the stage.
Q: It won’t fit.
A: Yes it will.
Q: Where is the food?
A: Ask the bar.
Q: Where is our money?
A: Definitely ask the bar.
Q: Our rider said……?
A: I don’t speak “rider.”
Q: Hey, jackass, that’s not funny.
A: (singing to self) I know your rider gonna miss me when I’m gone…
Q: Why can’t I hear anything on stage?
Q: Why doesn’t this work?
A: You have to be smarter than the equipment.
Q: Can you turn the heat down on stage?
Q: I require a wireless mic.
A: Just take out the cable. Oh, you want to be in the mix, too?
Q: Can you autotune my voice?
A: Sure. In these situations, I take this fader here and keep moving it down until any dissonance is removed.
Q: We are absolutely, definitely NOT moving the drums.
A: Ha. Ha. Ha.
Q: Can we start later?
A: If you shorten your set.
Q: Dude, why did you cut our set short?
A; Because it took you half an hour to set up. Dude.
Q: The stage is so small!
1A: If you can tellme the secret password, I'll open up the hidden stage extensions and hydraulic wall expanders.
2A: (point to band pictures on walls or ceilings) All those bands have fit on here. I'm sure you can too.
Q: Do you have any duct tape we can borrow?
A: Are you going to give it back when you are done?
Q: Do you have a sharpie we can borrow?
Q: Do you have any batteries we can borrow?
A: See last two questions for a theme.
Q: Is my amp too loud?
Q: How about now?
Q: Still too loud?
A: If you have to ask, then yes.
A: Yes, it is still too loud.
Q: Can you turn up the faders during my solos?
A: Yes, but only the really sweet, face-melting awesome ones, dude!!!
Q: Can you watch our gear while we leave to (get high/have dinner/hang out elsewhere)?
A: If by “watch your gear,” you mean ignore your highly valuable equipment, while I focus on my job and my life, then, yes, I will watch your gear.
Remember: Rock and Roll is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.
QUESTIONS FROM AUDIENCE MEMBERS
Q: I can’t hear my boyfriend’s playing.
A: You’re welcome.
Q: This is not how they sound on their record.
A: If you say so.
Q: They sound like crap.
A: You should have heard them before I fixed things.
Q: The guitar player’s amp is too loud.
A: Yup. 3
Q: When does the next band play?
A: After this one.
Q: Where is the bathroom?
A: Go to the wall…….
I humbly ask any soundperson to submit additional FAQs for inclusion in a master list which will be published in the next compendium to “The Soundman’s Guide to Courtesy and Good Hygeine”.4
1 This publication does not exist. If you had to read this footnote to understand that, I’m kinda starting to wonder about you.
2 This answer works in any place with four walls. Think about it.
3 You may want to read the conversation between Max and guitar player further up. The guitar amp is always too loud.
4 Please refer to footnote #1.
5 Footnote 5 here does not relate to any text above. But if you are reading this far, I'll let you in on a secret: I thank and tip the better sound personnel at the end of the night. It might be a little, but I'm probably one in a thousand who will do that. I swear they remember that stuff and tend to be a little friendlier the next time around.