The Soundman Chronicles Pt. 1

A soundman can make or break a gig. I’ve worked with some of the best and some of the worst and plenty in between.

One of the very best soundmen I have worked with and traveled with is Tim Alverson of Alverson Sound. Tim and I have a great relationship both musically and personally.  So any bad mouthing of Tim will all be tongue-in-cheek, He’s the best. I asked him to write down a few ideas that even I had no idea were problems. I have learned a thing or two just from reading his thoughts. So let’s dig in.

Tim Alverson

Tim Alverson, Somewhere, USA. We were on one of the tours. I don’t know where this is.

I’ve went over this part many times. When you show up at a venue, MEET YOUR SOUNDMAN! Meet him with a smile and a handshake. Ask his name and use it. Remember it, write it on your set list, your hand, anywhere, just remember it. Would you rather be called by your name or red guitar guy? Don’t forget though he meets bands every night and may forget your name, even if he’s ran for you before. Take no offense if he doesn’t remember your name or your band. He’ll remember two things. You are either a pain in the ass to work for or you are good guys to work with. We want to stay on the good guy side.

The following thoughts come directly from Tim. Tim has worked everything from bars to giant outdoor stages. Local groups to major national acts. He has put together a great crew that go above and beyond their job description just to make the show go as smoothly as possible. I worked closely with him for over two years and have never gone on stage late because of Alverson Sound. Total pros.

I’m going to address a subject that I have been guilty of for way too long and after thinking about it I should have known this. When you arrive at the gig, don’t set your stuff on the stage until you okay it with the sound guy. These guys need time to get the stage ready for you. Even when setting up your stuff on stage avoid setting cases and stuff against the walls. Where do you think the techs need to run cables?” Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it. Load in and wait. Set up drums off stage, unpack amps, sit around, pace, visit with bar staff. If you get a drink before the show TIP even if they are free. Anything but get in the sound crew’s way. Ask if there is anything they need.

Carry a copy of your stage plot with you. It’ll be helpful to the sound crew. If they don’t look at it then at least it was there if they need it. You’ve done your part.

“Don’t talk down to or presume you are better than the sound crew. Many of these guys were or still are successful accomplished musicians. Your ability to realize this and present a positive attitude will go a long way when working with these guys.”

 “If you don’t need it, don’t bring it.” Ten extra guitars onstage for an opening act just get in the way. Use your head when it comes to this. More than likely there are cases that need to be packed away and spread out on the stage and floor just get in the way. Don’t sound check an upright bass “just incase” you may want to add an extra song to the set. Use discretion when bringing in your gear.

If your gear buzzes in your bedroom through your fifty watt amp turned down to 3 and at your gig you’re going to be playing through a 10,000 watt PA, don’t do the math, you’re an idiot, just fix it.”  I’m the king of buzz. I take this to heart. What a great way to say it. Ha!

“Practice is for practice, sound check is for the soundman.” The sound check is for the soundman to set levels, get the best sounds out of the PA, setting vocals so they blend nicely, and in general give you the best sound he can. Run through a tune or two that the band does well and reflects the way your band normally sounds. If you sing a lot of harmonies, then do a song with a lot of harmonies. Stopping and starting while learning parts of a song should be done in rehearsal or after sound check.

“If it’s not your turn don’t play.”  I’ve touched on this before. The sound man will ask for the instrument or vocal he wants. If he’s not checking you then be completely silent. Warm up with your volume down. Don’t wander off. This makes the entire sound check go smoothly. Get everything set they way you plan on using it. Amp volume, mic stand placement and adjustment, etc. Then stand back and let the soundman do his job. He won’t forget you. After sound check but before you leave the stage, take turns telling the soundman what needs adjusted. For example; some nights I can’t hear the drummer’s kick and snare well enough. Being a bass player I want to lock in with the drummer so from time to time I would have him toss a little kick and snare in my monitor, and sometimes even my own instrument if I can’t hear it well enough.

“The guy at the end of the bar is not a soundman. All good sound guys are trained professionals with years of quality experience or education. As with anything else, you get what you pay for and it reflects in your performance.” My God, I don’t know how many times one person will come up and tell me what needs to be turned up. I’m not the soundman and unless there is a serious problem, I won’t tell the soundman how to do his job. I worked with a singer and great soundman in Poprocks. When ever her sister and brother-in-law would come to the show after the first set you could count on the brother-in-law to come up and tell me you couldn’t hear the singer and it was too loud.

We weren’t a loud band and our soundman we worked with was killer. So I ignored his statement. No one else said anything or complained. He wanted the live band to sound as quiet as a radio with his sister-in-law’s voice in his face instead of mixed with the rest of the band. He knew a guy in a band after all, and sang karaoke. This didn’t make him a soundman it just made him a pain in the ass to the band and the soundman.

At the end of the night get your gear off as quickly as possible and out of his way. He can’t go home till after you leave. Breaking down gear quickly allows you to sell merch, meet people, network, and thank people for coming. I always threw my bass in the case, loaded my amp off the stage and grabbed a handful of CDs and t-shirts and hit the crowd to thank and sell our stuff. Merchandise sales went up considerably and the soundman could go about his business of tearing down the stage.

These aren’t my rules for making it easy on the soundman, this comes DIRECTLY from an experienced soundman. So take it as coming straight from the horse’s mouth, or in the case of Tim… The horse’s ass. I had to get my stab at him in here somewhere. If I didn’t he’d think I didn’t love him.

–Sammy

Help me out and share this site with your musician/club owner/event manager friends. We’ll get some extra discussion going here and get some ideas you’d like to know about.

Buy my CD or I swear I’ll kick the neighbor’s sweet little miniature schnauzer.

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

 

Finding the Niche in Your Music Scene

I’m forming a new band now that I’m an unemployed live musician. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still making music. I’m pumping out another album that is almost finished. One more vocal and the whole thing will be recorded. Then I get to wait on the mixing and mastering it. It’s a niche album. It is a collection of superhero themed songs done in a surf style. The idea was given to me by my long time friend and former band mate, Pat Lee. He needs to come and play his sax parts by the way (If you are reading this Pat)

Pat has some sort of plan for the new album by Sammy and the Sea Monkeys. It will be a niche market for sure, but that’s not a bad thing. If you want a surf instrumental album you’ll buy it. If you are a comic book nut you’ll like it. If you are a fan of the crazy ideas in my head and my takes on classic themes and other song choices you’ll buy it. So there is my target audience. These are the exact people I’ll market it to.

Think of your band that way. You need to know exactly what your band is and who your audience is. The most successful bands in my area and the most success I’ve personally had, fill a niche that was missing in our music scene.

I’m not out to make anyone feel bad. I swear I’m only telling you this so you’ll know why you aren’t getting to the level you wanna be. When I hear someone tell me they are in a band that “plays everything”, I think to myself $300 – $500 dollar band, playing in the lowest paying and least visited clubs around. I’ve done it myself early on so I know what I’m talking about here. A friend Bill Carlen once described us as “the band that plays the B-side to all you favorite songs.” (You youngsters follow this link to understand what I’m talking about.)

If you play everything, you won’t play enough of the same style to please anyone. The crowd that shows up at these kind of shows are probably just going out anyway. They didn’t come just to hear “everything.” I love all types of music myself. Off the top of my head I can give you a few of my favorite songs. Elvis’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”,  Foo Fighter’s “Best Of You”, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”, and I’m listening to Fishbone as I write this. I’d love a band that played all these songs, but my favorites aren’t going to be anyone elses. These songs would have to have a lot of thought to work together. What I’m trying to tell you is find a style and stick to it.


My first successful band was Dr Wu’s Rock n Soul Revue. We played nothing but 60’s soul music. Classic songs no one else could pull off because we had the horn section. Wanna see a bunch of us monkeys in suits jumping around playing soul music with the punk attitude that only twenty year olds can pull off? You’d be at the show. We were young and in suits. We looked good damn it. So girls started coming. Guys follow girls and before you know it you have your feet propped up on the patio looking at the Caribbean. A 60’s soul music party band. Summed up in a sentence. Poprocks played 70’s disco and 80’s new wave during my tenure with the band. Like the horn band, no one were playing these songs. This was the music I grew up on, like it or not and it was the music that people my age grew up on too. We played the disco stuff and the girls screamed during “I Will Survive”, and “Mickey” another party/show band that filled that market. Poss did it as an original alt. country artist. If you can’t sum up your band in a sentence then something is wrong.

Play to your strengths and focus. You may know a million songs but just because you know them doesn’t mean they must be in your set. You may have to learn a new song or two or work on a style of playing to be the best you can be as a band. I’d rather hear a band kick ass on “Johnny B Goode” than play a crappy version of a Rush song. After all our niche isn’t on making other musicians happy, hell they ditch the cover charge and don’t dance anyway. (You guys know I’m right J ) We are there to please our demographic. If you can play the hell out of Johnny B Good then you could probably play some other three-chord rockers.

I’m a roots rock fanatic. My favorite band is The Bel Airs from Columbia, MO. They are a blues and roots rock trio. They’ll play original music and obscure covers and you can’t tell which is which. The thing that sets them apart is the grasp they have on their style of music and their harmonies. The Everly Brothers of the Blues is how I’ve seen them described. 90% of the songs are three-chords but you toss the amazing T-Bone Walker influenced guitar over a great vocal and a solid rhythm section and it’s magic.

Other examples that pop into my head of very successful bands in my area are;

  • X-Krush – They DO play it all from Elvis to Rage Against the Machine, but they have turned their show into a night of wild onstage antics, amazing musical ability, a sense of humor and like the Bel Airs, they all sound like X-Krush are playing the songs. They change the song to fit them, not the other way around. Strenghts are, insane and killer band to watch, the ability to pull off all their material, the ability to make an event into a party. They are just to wild not to enjoy. They have a huge following. They filled the crazy mohawk wearing rockin show band niche.
  • The Brat Pack – 80’s music only. They dress the part play great and bring the party with them. Over a decade of gigs for this band and I’m sure they’re still in demand where ever they go.
  • Leather Pistol – 80’s hair metal at its finest.
  • Beyond 10 – They give you the concert experience in a club. Russ is a great singer and those cats can really play. They put on the big show and play songs that go over great live.

I’m sure there are more but I haven’t been out to hear anyone in awhile because I’ve been gigging. Look at that list. They all fill a niche of music that brings people out and ready to party.

The band I’m putting together is called “The Finks”. We are going to play nothing but roots rockers. Original material and covers. We will make the music fit the band and come out on the scene screaming. There are no roots rockers here. That’s our spot. I’ll kick myself for this but I’ve had other ideas that I considered also. I’ll keep them in my head for future projects or bands that I would manage here are some of the thoughts.

  • All girl band ( I of course would manage this act and book them and take a percentage for doing that part of the work and the idea)
  • Dance music – I’m talking Madonna and everything past there in dance music. A lot of work getting it all together but it would pay off in spades.
  • Swing Band featuring Andrew Sisters three part tight harmonies doing cover versions of current and classic material. A super classy act and show band.
  • Classic Cover Band – If you are going to play the rock standards, go nuts and play em all. Play them great and folks will show up to hear “American Band” and “Give Me Three Steps”… a kind of “you asked for it” kind of band.

These ideas are all missing from my regional music scene. They could be filled and the band that pulls it off will have no problem becoming in demand. There is a line that you can draw between being an artist and paying the rent. Hope fully you’ll use your head and find that line, then follow it to your niche.

Oh and it’s my birthday today. I’m looking for a crazy band and a good woman, not the other way around! Help a guy out!

Did someone say keep on rockin?

–Sammy

I’m Running a sale on my first solo album. $5 bucks gets you the entire album. 99. per download. Thats a savings of ONE-MILLION DOLLARS!!!

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.