The Soundman Is Your Friend – Getting The Best Live Sound Part I

Posted on August 31, 2010


As you are ready to hit the stage, there are a few things you’ve got to remember about how the audience hears you. The guy behind the soundboard is the biggest audio connection you will have with the club goers. He needs to be your best friend in the whole world!

These guys show up early, they take the hit from the club owner if the show went poorly and even if he’s an absolute dick, you do not want to get on his bad side. Upon entry, introduce yourself and shake his hand, even if he’s unrelenting and doesn’t seem to care or notice you standing in front of him. Don’t be a longwinded bore – just introduce yourself with a handshake and a smile. If he doesn’t respond like you are a rock star – remember, he’s not a fan, he’s working to make a weekly wage and keep his job. No matter how well you craft your set, without his input – the audience might be saying, “you suck.” If you approach him with an attitude, you will find out how fast the sound guy is in charge and for sure – you’ll lose the battle.

Here’s another consideration; if you’re making money at the gig, tip the soundman. The more they love you, the more they’ll do for you. This might include inching up the fader at certain times in the performance, and it might mean that during that blazing solo – he’s at the bar getting a drink or he’s out front smoking a cigarette. You will be surprised how far $25 goes in this industry.

Note from your writer: ”I was performing a show in NYC; we were playing Arlene’s Grocery. It’s not known for being the very best sounding club in the world, but we had certain people coming that the club didn’t need to know about. We just wanted to sound right. As we loaded in, I approached the sound guy and said that tonight we wanted to make sure everyone in the band got paid. I told him he was the fifth member of the band and handed him twenty-five bucks. We never sounded better in New York.”

Now, here’s another thing to remember. Even if the sound guy is on your side, you don’t want to hand over the entire operation to his control. He doesn’t know your music or your set and there are a few moments where you might need to kick it up a notch. During sound check, when the sound guy says give it to me the way you do live, give it to him down a notch. Just a little. This is going to leave you with the option to pump up that volume just a smidge when the time is right. It won’t offset the well-mixed sound, but it keeps a little bit of the control in your hands. I typically do this by nudging my bass volume down a hair during sound check. When I get on stage, I nudge it right back up. Keep a little bit of the bump in your pocket.

Taking all of this into consideration, the price of a cold beer or a twenty-dollar bill can be the difference in making or breaking your all-star performance at the club. Regardless of the outcome, you should keep these things in mind each and every time you perform. I can’t imply enough how much doing things the wrong way will sneak up and bite you in the ass later on. Some sound guys work at more than one club in town and if you screw him at The Whiskey, he’ll screw you right back at the Viper Room.

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