Communication On Stage – Getting The Best Live Sound Part III

Posted on August 31, 2010

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In the previous installments of this series, we talked about befriending the sound guy and showing up prepared for the gig. In this article, I want to talk about communication at that gig. It’s extremely important!

Remembering that what you as the performer hear on stage and what everyone else hears from in front of the stage is key in what you put out from the stage. Your only focus during the performance should be exactly that, the actual performance! This is why you have the sound guy. He’s not just going to mix you for the listener; he offers you a sound mix through the monitors so you can hear what it is you are performing.

As we discussed earlier, you have made friends with said sound guy and you’ve shown up prepared to give it your best. You are tuned up, now it’s time to tune in. If you don’t hear what you need through the monitors, ask for it. Ask politely! Don’t shout out, “I can’t hear a fuckin’ thing in this monitor! The drums sound like ass!” This is a sure fire way to be completely on your own when it comes to the output. Don’t let your band mates flail uncontrollably while ripping out pre-show licks. Keep it quiet on stage until the sound guy asks you to play. Lean quietly into the mic and ask nicely, can I get a little more volume in the left monitor. Remember, he’s got a lot to mix, and he’s got a method for doing it – it’s his method, not yours. Let the man work.

When looking to see how you sound on the floor, don’t ask the bar patron and certainly don’t ask the keyboard player standing in front of the Marshall stack. The guys on stage are as deaf to the front of house sound as you are and the drunk guy – what the hell does he know? There’s a reason why sound guys are positioned where they are and why the get paid like they do.

Having a manager or band related friend who knows the usual sound of the band can help – but approach this with sensitivity. During the first song at sound check, the sound guy is working his magic. If he doesn’t hit the nail on the head during the first try, cut him some slack. I mentioned this before – he’s got his own method. If your personal sound engineer knows that you usually have a wet mix to get the band’s sound, wait until the second song is being mixed to see if the sound guy hit it. If not, then mention – and do it politely – that the band usually has a little more or a little less of this. He’s got the foundation down in the first listen; he can tweak it after that. It’s all about communicating this with respect and professionalism.

Most audio tech’s and sound guys love what they do. They went to school for it, made a career out of it and are willing to put up with long and loud nights to do what they do. You have to have them on your side if you want a peak performance. His subjective decision on how he makes the band sound is based on experience, the normal club atmosphere and the usual patronage. If you are a death metal band and you somehow booked a show in a dance hall, there’s a good chance the sound guy isn’t the right guy for you – maybe you want to book your show into a club that caters to your sound design. Give that a thought when booking shows too.

Remember the power of twenty bucks too. Just because a mechanic usually works on Toyotas doesn’t mean he isn’t a die-hard Chevy lover. He might be just the guy to set up your ride, after all – he is in the position to do it. Communicate with the sound guy like a professional and your results will come out closer to flawless.

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