I was out for a week of fly-out shows and on my way back to LA made a quick stop in Milwaukee to catch one of my favorite up-and-coming, metal-pop bands’, Lost In A Name, CD release show. Their new (PledgeMusic funded) album is outstanding and competes with every other band in their genre. They released it a few days before the show, giving their fans just enough time to prepare – familiarizing themselves with the new material.
The place was packed for this powerhouse two-piece. There was your typical buzzing energy throughout the crowd of fans, friends and family gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion. Lost In A Name (LIAN) t-shirt wearing fans traded stories about their first LIAN concert. Each tried to one up the next with their show count or longest fandom. One fan I spoke with had grabbed one of LIAN’s first burned demo CDs that the band convinced the clerk at Hot Topic to leave on the counter back in 2009. I think he wins.
The guitarist and lead singer, Danny Schmitz’, mother baked 200 chocolate cookies that were handed out at the merch table. Gone before the end of the set. The drummer, Geoff Slater’s, 9 year old daughter made her way (with mom by her side of course) to the front of the crowd for the start of their show.
Schmitz and Slater hung out in the house pre-show shaking hands and meeting fans. They enthusiastically cheered on their opening acts. Very few headliners are this supportive and down to earth. And their fans noticed.
I sat back by the bar and enjoyed an exclusively Wisconsin brew (yes they do not ship outside of the state), Spotted Cow.
The lights came down. Everyone started cheering. It was deafening. The bands’ epic light show was in full effect as they powered into the opening track off the record “Avert The Apathy” (co-written by Clint Lowery of Sevendust).
However, something was off. Slater’s vocals (singing harmonies) were nearly twice as loud as Schmitz’ – the lead singer. The drums thrashed through the system, but the guitars were buried. Piercing feedback riddled the mix song after song.
I thought the sound guy would work out the kinks during the first song. I went and stood by the sound booth and he was working away, but didn’t seem to realize that the drummer wasn’t actually the lead singer until five separate people came up to him and told him to turn the drummer’s vocals down and the singer’s up! Finally, by the 7th song, things seemed to settle into place. But by that point, it was too late. Lost In A Name is a two piece. Guitar, drums, vocals, tracks. How was this so tough?
Schmitz had to ask for more vocals in the monitor three times during the first couple songs. To no avail. He told me after the show that he couldn’t hear his vocals the entire performance. And at one point his guitar got cranked in the monitor so loud that it affected his playing.
The band was so confused post-show. They said their soundcheck was great. It took the sound guy awhile to settle in and to get the monitor mix right (the drummer has in-ears), but Schmitz said by the end of the check everything felt great and their crew at sound check said the house mix was good.
So what happened?
Well for one, there were 3 openers and an analog board. Meaning, the sound guy used the same channels for the openers and obviously doesn’t know how to take a photo of the board with his phone to reference (and reset) the settings. Or is just too lazy.
He didn’t know the band’s music and obviously doesn’t know music very well that he couldn’t understand that harmonies are not supposed to be louder than melodies.
The mix was super loud and top heavy. Top heavy isn’t out of the ordinary, though, for most older sound guys – because those frequencies go first (from years of cranking it up) so they overcompensate with too much treble.
But what’s the bigger issue here?
Schmitz said that they’ve been scouring Milwaukee trying to find a good sound guy to hire, but they can’t find any. He mentioned they’ve been to club after club and most of the engineers crank it way too loud (even for rock) and the vocals are almost certainly buried.
Lost In A Name wanted to hire a sound engineer to come mix the show, but in the end, out of necessity, had to rely on the house engineer.
Nothing is more infuriating watching an incredible bands’ sound get botched coming out of the system. And it happens far too often. I wanted to reach into the sound booth and take out this sound guy’s legs. Dude, the lead singer’s on the left holding the f-ing guitar!
Milwaukee is a big city. They host “The World’s Largest Music Fest,” Summerfest, every year – for 46 years running. There are great sound engineers in town. But why can’t bands find them? For one, they’re most likely not working out of the rock clubs who pay them $50-75 a night. Why would any great talent settle for that? Most likely, they have settled into sound companies that provide equipment and engineers for big festivals and corporate events. But will they freelance? For a band they like? Can these engineers take time off to tour?
Where is the site that connects great sound engineers with bands?
A great sound engineer is a hot commodity and worth a lot. I’ve known bands in the past in various cities around the country to hire the same engineer to mix every show starting from their local shows and then bring them on tour. But typically it’s a stroke of luck if a band can find someone with great talent.
Where is the Yelp of sound engineers?
After a quick Google search, GigSalad.com came up listing 2 sound engineers within 100 miles of Milwaukee. Mind you, Chicago is only 90 miles away.
This seems like the only current resource out there, however, these engineers are mainly looking to provide full package services for weddings and corporate shows. Most engineers on the site don’t have reviews.
Indie On The Move provides a classifieds section, but there are no sound engineers listed (and sound engineers are most likely not even signed up to the site).
SparkPlug seems to be the closest company to help fill this void, but they (currently) only offer equipment rental. No stand-alone services.
Want to know how to fix live music? Fix the sound guy problem.
Someone, please create a service that connects great (reviewed, rated and vetted) sound engineers with great bands. Bands would pay way more than the clubs do and there would be a hell of a lot more respect reciprocated.
The shitty sound guys would get weeded out very quickly (or remain to be disgruntled house guys) and the great ones would get regularly hired by local, regional and touring bands who care about the quality of their live show.
Who’s gonna do this?
Photo by Peter Murphy and used with permission