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.
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.
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