7 Things That Piss Off Sound Engineers The Most (From A Hollywood FOH)

joel

The following comes from Joel Eckels who is the house engineer at the respected Hollywood music venue, The Hotel Cafe. The Hotel Cafe has been a home and incubator for singer/songwriters like Joshua Radin, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, Meiko, Anna Nalick, Katy Perry, Cary Brothers, The Milk Carton Kids, and Adele, to name a few. It is a 175 cap venue (it also recently opened up a smaller, second stage with a capacity of 80). Often, it is a space where superstars feel comfortable organizing impromptu sets and jams. John Mayer, Chris Martin, Ed Sheeran, John Legend, Tori Kelly, Andra Day, Lenny Kravitz and The Roots have all graced the stage in the past couple years. 

On a personal note, the Hotel Cafe has become my performance home and where I have played most of my shows in LA over the past 6 years. When I was living in Minneapolis, it was one of those dream venues that all of my favorite artists seemed to always be playing or hanging out at. 

Joel Eckels is one of the most talented sound engineers in Los Angeles. His mixes are always pristine. A musician himself, he has the musicality to bring out the best from most bands and understands what it takes to create a great sounding show. Of all the shows I’ve seen around LA, Joel Eckels consistently delivers some of the best sound in town. Part of the reason The Hotel Cafe has such a great reputation is because of the sound. It’s because of Joel Eckels. 

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Now, I realize these tips are all subjective and are not all relevant to every situation. Trust me, I know that. These are generally comments coming from the perspective of being a house engineer at a club in Los Angeles that hosts 5-6 shows a night in a festival style format and few sound checks. Other clubs with headliner formats and touring acts with their own engineers are obviously going to be a bit different.

All of these, however, are things to be aware of and to consider to help make your life better and more professional.

1) Not Having Your Own Instrument Cable

Always have your own instrument cable. The 1/4″ cables at a venue are often either ones that people left behind and/or are nights away from being stolen. I know a number of venues that stopped buying instrument cables because musicians would keep walking off with them. One day, they may not have any available for you to use. Then what are you gonna do?

Not to mention, what if the cable the venue gives you has a short in it and cuts out in the middle of your set? Be more in control of your success and have your own cable that you know works.

Believe me, the sound person isn’t going to be thrilled to mic your acoustic guitar simply because you aren’t prepared.

Bring a cable and extra batteries for your guitar or pedals.

2) Not Knowing What Your Pedals And Knobs Do

Learn how to use your gear. Especially acoustic guitar players whose guitars have onboard electronics. Those knobs and buttons do stuff that affect the signal that is sent to the engineer. If you don’t know how they work, LEARN. Until they create bypass switches on those damn things, learning the controls is the only way to ensure your guitar won’t sound like shit.

I can’t tell you how many songwriters play acoustic guitars and don’t know what the knobs do. It’s mind boggling. And certain guitar companies (that I won’t name) are only making it worse by not labeling the stupid dials on their guitars.

If anything, just learn to set your EQ controls flat and give about 75%-100% output on your volume.

If you are buying a guitar and have a choice of getting one with onboard electronics or not, I recommend not. Unless you commit to learning how they work, you don’t need them. A simple pickup, like a Fishman, that plugs straight in with no EQ or volume controls is all most acoustic guitar players need. You can get one installed on just about any acoustic guitar. There are lots of options out there. Fishman pickups are consistently great in my opinion.

Lastly, if you use your own DI like the LR Baggs Para DI, it can be great to dial in your sound without onboard electronics. However, you really better know how it works if you’re going to use it.  Again, those buttons and dials do stuff that affect your sound.  You can’t just plug it in and expect it to sound amazing. It blows my mind when I see people bring one of those in and they don’t know how to use it.

Again, just learn how to use your gear. Find someone you know that can teach you or watch a YouTube video.

3) Vocal Effects Processors

Here’s the thing to understand first and foremost about vocal effects processors (and wireless mics for that matter).  You’re potentially compromising the signal of the most important instrument in the band by putting a foreign element in the chain. You better make sure you know the equipment inside and out so you’re sure that it’s not the reason why the lead vocal can’t sound as good as it should.

Sometimes vocal processors have EQs or compressors of their own inside the patches that can squash the signal or change the curve.  It’s best to bypass those and allow the truest signal to pass through.

Any processor with a true bypass is best.  That way, when it is off, it’s as if it wasn’t even there.  Otherwise your signal may still be compromised when it’s in the off position.

If you can help it, leave the reverb and general effects to the sound person.  Depending on the engineer and the system, it may sound better using the typical house effects.  However, I know that some venues are limited and it’s better to provide the effects you want and stay in control of your sound.  That’s a judgement call you’ll have to make, but understand that at a good venue with a good system and engineer, it’s better to give them the control over general effects like reverbs and delays that are not song specific.  Even in song specific situations, you can usually give the soundman a setlist with notes about the type of effects you need.  A good house engineer will be open to that and appreciative.

In the case where you’re using loops or specific effects to your music and you absolutely have to use your vocal effects processor, just get to know the equipment.  Take the time to learn how to make the signal sound as close to a normal mic signal without the effects and, when the effects are added, it is just enhanced in the way you want.

When the processor changes the EQ, it makes the engineer have to potentially waste all of the EQ controls on trying to make it just sound normal and stabilized without feeding back rather than using it to fine-tune the best vocal sound.

hotel-live-release
Ari Herstand live at the Hotel Cafe, photo by Chris Pan

4) Not Knowing How To Play To The Room

One of the biggest culprits of bad sound is when a musician or band doesn’t know how to play to the room.

Especially in smaller venues, you have to realize that, in order for the engineer to get a good mix, he needs to have control of being able to turn things up or down.  If the drums, bass or guitar amp is too loud on stage, the engineer will have to turn everything else up in order to get the right mix.  Many times, that would mean that the entire mix will be way too loud for the room to feel comfortable.  If the engineer cares about making you sound good, they’ll ask to bring the stage volume down.  Don’t act like a rebel and ignore them as if “the man is getting you down”.  They’re only trying to make YOU sound good.

+12 Things Every Musician Needs To Know About The Sound Guy

Be conscious of the audience experience.  That guitar amp at your feet might be ripping someone’s head off in the front row, especially when you insisted on using your Marshall half stack that is designed to throw a pretty powerful punch and is really meant for bigger stages.  I love rock n’ roll as much as anyone, but you have to know how to rock in a way that is appropriate for the room so it sounds good and not just loud.  Learning to play with the same intensity at controlled volumes is one of the biggest lessons any musician ever learns.

+9 Things Every Sound Guy Needs To Know About Musicians

The pros are easy to mix and sound better than everyone else because they understand how to play with dynamics, nuance and tone.  They learn how to leave space in the music and when not to play at all.  Ultimately, they know how to play to the room.  Be conscious of what the band would sound like if there was no PA.  How would you have to play to create the same intensity and hear everything even with no PA at all?  Start there at least. Which leads me to my next point…

A photo posted by Hotel Cafe (@thehotelcafe) on

John Legend with The Roots at The Hotel Cafe, 2/11/16

5) Loud Band, Quiet Singer

The biggest complaint people have when they go to live shows is that they can’t hear the vocals.  When you think about it and realize how crazy that is, it’s easy to blame the one person that appears to be in control of the mix, the sound engineer.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  Believe me, I’ve played plenty of shows where the soundman couldn’t care less if the audience heard the vocals.  It’s easy for the engineer to make it your problem because your band is too loud.  It would require him to tell you that the band or someone in the band needs to turn down – and he’s dealt with enough asshole musicians that won’t listen to him, so, (fairly or not) it is now your problem.

One of the biggest faux pas I see is the loud band/quiet singer.  Here’s the thing.  If you have Aretha Franklin as your singer, you can be about as loud as you want and she’ll sing over the band.  However, if your singer has a quieter voice (and, by the way, that’s the instrument delivering the song lyrics – kind of important), the band needs to know how to play so the singer can give their best performance.  Otherwise, it loses personality and is, sometimes, just yelling.  The band needs to support the singer and the song at all costs.  When it’s your time to shine, great.  Otherwise, just play the song.

It’s easy to say, well that’s what the PA and the engineer is for, but I guarantee that anyone who thinks that way has probably had shows where people complain that they can’t hear the singer.  Think about it.  Why not just lower the possibility of it sounding bad and just play in a way that mixes itself with tone, space, dynamics and focus on the singer’s delivery so that any dumbass can make you sound good.

Again, that’s what the pros do.

The most important thing to realize here is that an engineer needs to push the gain and make the mic ‘hot’ in order to pick up quiet singers or instruments.  The hotter the mic gain, the more stuff it picks up.  You’ll hear kick, cymbals and bass guitar loud and clear in a ‘hot’ vocal channel when you solo it in headphones.  Guess what, that affects the mix and makes it even harder to get the vocal over the mix.  Plus, they end up using the EQ to cut out the stuff causing problems rather than using it to make it sound good.

 

6) Asking The Audience “Does Everything Sound OK Out There?”

A good way to accidentally insult the sound engineer, ask the audience “How does it sound out there?”

Although it usually comes from an innocent place, it comes across like you don’t trust the engineer and can be taken as offensive.

Sometimes, this question is completely warranted. We all know the soundguys/girls that don’t care and ruin shows. However, you will still lose points with the engineer in most cases when asking the question. It’s generally not a good idea to put the sound person on your bad side, regardless of whether you like them or not. Remember, they’re the ones in control.

Better option?

Have someone off stage that you trust who can give a thumbs up/down or relay a couple notes to help get it like it should sound. It’s smarter and more professional to do it on the DL and not throw your most important ally under the bus.

7) Using Tracks / Laptops

I get it and have accepted that tracks are a part of a lot of music now.  Sure.  Not my preference, but I get it and have seen them used in very cool ways.

However, just ask yourself how necessary it is for certain gigs (or any of your gigs) before you commit to it.  Is it really that necessary to “sound just like the album” or is it just in your head?  Sometimes it cheapens the live experience.  The idea is to enhance the show, so make sure it actually does and make sure it fits the vibe of the room you’re playing in.

When you’re doing a big club gig, by all means use your tracks to help make it larger than life if that’s what the music calls for.  However, in some smaller venues, it might sound out of context and weird.  That’s when you consider that maybe it’s time to do the rootsy stripped-down version or the straight up rock set.  Let the music have a different experience that’s appropriate for the room you’re playing in.

I’ll never forget the time I mixed a band that used tracks and, suddenly, there was a big guitar solo moment, but no lead guitar player on the stage.  The rest of the band just jammed along and it came off pretty awkward.  Be careful of your tracks including instruments that are focal points in the music like a lead guitar, especially in a moment like a guitar solo.  It’s just not the best idea.  Trust me on this.

If all that checks out and you still need to use tracks, then, PLEASE, just make sure that you have it down to a science.  Learn how to get it set up quickly and suss out all technical problems in advance.  There’s nothing more annoying than a crashed laptop holding up the show or when the laptop “isn’t recognizing the drive”.

Whatever you do, know how to play the show without the tracks.  I can’t tell you how important that is.  I also can’t tell you how embarrassing it is to call off a show because the tracks weren’t working or someone forgot the hard drive and didn’t have a backup.  The show must go on or you’re gonna look like a real phony.

That being said, I’ve had bands that have had to abandon their tracks and wind up having the best show of their tour as a result.  Remember, people often prefer to see music being made in the moment by actual human beings when they go out to live shows.  Let the album version be the album version and let it just live and breathe on stage if you can help it.

Joel Eckels is the house sound engineer at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood and a blues rock singer/guitarist. Check out his new album The Weight of These Things

Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business, a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

54 Responses

    • Charlie Bluez

      All items were common sensical in nature, well thought out, and polite. Thanks for the heads up.

      Reply
    • Dave

      Right on the money, especially #5. Used to tour with Johnny Winter. His voice was barely there and all knobs on His amp on 10

      Reply
  1. blatanville

    back in the early 90s, I worked in a very large record store in downtown Toronto.
    There was a time when we had a live band almost every Friday night, and there were promotional performances besides.
    VERY few of the bands seemed to “get” #4. The main floor stage could host a six piece band, and play for approx 50 people. And we’d have these rockstars in there amped to play an arena. It sounded shit, and it drove people who weren’t interested in the performance out of the store.
    That said, when Napalm Death played the stage, we wouldn’t have expected anything less than soaring volume and a bouncing crowd. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Denny

    They totally missed the true #1 (and #2) here… “Turn my GD monitors up, I can’t hear ‘ME'” or, if it’s the bass player, “I need more drums… MORE DRUMS! I can’t follow the beat!”. #1: I can hear YOU and trust me, you really don’t want to hear YOU. #2: You’re a burned-out, recovering, bass player who blew out his ears a long time ago. Don’t blame me for your poor life choices. #3 would be about the tone-deaf backup singers who don’t know how to properly hold a mic, but, really, who cares? They’re the backup singers for a reason.

    Reply
  3. Drummer

    “The pros are easy to mix and sound better than everyone else because they…”

    Have tens of thousands of dollars in gear and aren’t playing a venue with a capacity of 30 people.

    Reply
    • Daniel

      actually from my experince, quite the opposite is true. while garage bands often turn up with the high class equipment they can afford with their regular jobs, professional musicians often arrive with no more than their instrument (since they arrive by plane) and plug into whatever is there… and still sound better than the bands providing the stuff. musicianship + knowing what these knobs do is far more important than the quality of the equipment, since there ain’t a lot of “bad” gear out there anymore nowadays.

      Reply
    • Allen

      It’s not about the gear as much as you would think. I have mixed Pro bands in small venues with great results. the truth is once they have been touring for 10-15 years they are over trying to be the Rock Stars and just want to play the show and get gone to the next venue so they carry the least amount of crap as possible so no more big stacks just combo amps.

      Reply
  4. GV

    Sorry Ari, but this article sounds written from opinions of bitter soundmen instead of comments from really technical and amazingly knowledgable sound men (people you would want to learn from) using equipment they find give technical perfection and quality to every stage setup. I could go through why every one of these comments is ridiculous because if you were good at sound you would solve for these issues. The Aretha Franklin comment isn’t even valid. For the most part she was often a very quiet singer, just as Billy Gibbons is actually a quiet guitar player., they just have big tones. Using loops or pedals (even though I do not unless a location doesn’t have adequate sound), is ridiculous. All top acts use those things and their sound guys make it sound amazing. So these are all just people who actually don’t like their jobs or aren’t good at it. If you like your job then surely each new act coming in is a new way to figure out how to make it sound amazing. The only things that would “piss” me off in this position would be: 1. People being rude or disrespectful 2. people showing up late / under the influence and not doing their end of their job properly (also see #1) 3. Not being paid by a venue or hired act

    I think everything above is just a part of what is supposed to be fun about the job.

    Reply
    • The Dude

      Agreed, GV.

      I don’t usually reply to posts on DMN. “X Things That ____” clickbait posts seem to be the norm here. Guess you gotta bring in views somehow.

      The problem with posts like this is they make generalizations, and when you do that, you’re bound to piss somebody off. Sure, some things are common sense (like bringing instrument cables), but in terms of how and what the band is doing in terms of volume, backing tracks and electronics, and so on, those variables are usually part of the band’s sound.

      In the world of pay-to-play (especially in LA), you’re bound to get musicians who make some mistakes. But, I’d argue part of the blame should go to the promote or whoever is booking the bands. You wouldn’t tell the Ramones to turn down their amps, would you? A good engineer, producer, etc. will bring the best out of the band. They will not alter the band to better fit their needs. Asking someone to turn down their amp is one thing, but if a guitar player needs to turn up their amp loud in a small venue, then chances are they’re not able to hear themselves through the monitors and are trying to compensate.

      As far as #7 goes: really? You’re going to tell bands not to use laptops or backing tracks in 2016? Yes, they can fail, and bands should have a contingency plan. But, again, it is up to the band to decide what works best for their sound. If they normally using backing tracks, they should use backing tracks. #7 sounds more like a purist attitude based on laziness and opinion. If a band wants to throw a guitar solo on a track, that’s their choice. It shouldn’t “piss off the sound engineer.” That’s a creative decision and all the engineer should be doing is trying to make the band sound as good as possible.

      A lot of this post just feels like opinion. You get good and bad bands, and you get good and band engineers. I don’t understand the need to generalize and complain?

      Reply
      • Whiskey Alibi

        Except, most pros got to where they are by playing small venues with a capacity of 30 people. They went beyond that because they got good at it, and now, when they go back, they make it look easy. It nearly always comes back to stage volume. A loud out of control band will always appear out of control to an audience. In my personal experience, they nearly always think they’re fantastic and don’t even notice that the audience is mainly composed of family members and friends who are simply putting in their dues, but would rather be somewhere else.

        Reply
    • Noah Peterson

      Spot on GV. This article should be titled 7 reasons to quit if you’re a crappy sound tech.

      Reply
    • PM

      Sorry guys, but having done this for almost 30 years, with bands, venues, and equipment ranging from garage-level to A-List, every one of his comments is spot on. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that I like my job, I’m not bitter, and I’m pretty good at sound.

      There is no magic in what we do. We can only make it sound good if what you give us is good. If one particular instrument is too loud on stage, the entire house mix must be raised to match it’s volume, or the mix suffers, with the vocals usually suffering the most. End of story. The smaller the room, the more this tends to be a problem.

      With a loud band, quiet singers tend to get buried in the mix. When I can cue up the lead vocal in the headphones, and hear as much guitar and cymbals as vocal, that’s a problem. The more I try to bring that channel up, the more guitar and cymbals come right up with it. So just fix it with eq, right? Yeah, let’s add some presence, which gets you even more guitar, or some highs, which gets more cymbals… See the problem? Oh, and all that stage wash also goes right back into the lead vocalist’s monitor, literally enveloping them in your personal sonic assault, and making it impossible to hear themselves. Somebody just needs to turn down. Why is this so hard to understand?

      Another thing, yes the pros usually sound better because they ARE better. Meaning they play with dynamics, feel, and great tone. And also because they know when and where NOT to play. When each instrument has it’s own space in the musical spectrum, it makes a world of difference in the way it sounds when we mix it all together. The better musicians and bands seem to have this all figured out, while the rest think it must be the sound engineer.

      Reply
  5. Tired Of Playing The Room

    Here is a great idea……don’t hire a Black Sabbath cover band to play your 50 seat shithole that serves food……..hire a band that plays dinner music…

    Reply
    • Allen

      I have seen that time and time again. Venue will hire a band knowing before hand the type of band and then want to turn them into an acoustic act once they are on the stage.

      Reply
  6. Gaetano
    Gaetano

    Great post Ari. #6 – Asking “Can you guys hear me OKAY?” is definitely the biggest douche move any performer can make. I’ve seen it over and over again and it just makes things awkward. Its an indirect shot at the sound guy and just makes everything worse.

    Reply
    • danny

      Although not spelling it out, this is largely targeted at guitar and bass players and it’s not a matter of having tens of thousands of dollars. It’s understanding who you are and your gigs and getting gear accordingly. If you are a local band who is playing rooms that are 30-500 people, you have no earthly need for a half stack as a guitarist or a 8×10 bass rig. you aren’t playing a stadium. In that case, you are likely going to actually save yourself money and make it easier to get your equipment transported on top of making it easier to sound good live.

      Reply
    • danny

      woops. mine replied to yours instead of someone else’s. Although it can tie into yours. My experience in local bands is dudes having way too big of rigs for rooms, so asking the audience if it sounds ok literally has nothing to do with the sound guy. They have too big of rigs for the room so their levels are largely falling on themselves. Not that asking the audience is the best to get advice for that, but they are playing a half stack in a small room, so it’s in the realm of beleivablity in that scenario.

      Reply
      • Aaron Shannon

        Agreed. I ran sound for SXSW, and several venues in Austin. Many performers rely on the crutch of having to have their Orange or Marshall rig and play at absurdly high stage volumes. Another great one is vocalists that cup the mic and ruin the feedback rejection by holding their hand over the back end of the microphone. Wanna guess how many times I had that argument with hip-hop artists? Every time…It helps to actually play one or more instruments, and to know where they are supposed to sit in the mix. The main thing is that the sound guy is supposed to be a part of your band, albeit temporarily. The great artists were always a joy to work with, the up and comers – in general – were for the most part jerks. My 2 centavos…

        Reply
    • Mongoloid

      Performers often ask the question if they can be heard merely as an attempt to break the ice with their audience, and to make them feel part of the show, and to calm the jitters of the PERFORMER. The violator of item 6, more often than not, has no intention of hurting the feelings or questioning the abilities of the sound engineer.

      Reply
  7. SB

    Good points all despite what GV might think. No. 5 is my pet peeve. Just try to explain the concept of gain before feedback to most musicians and they look at you like you are either incompetent or lazy. It is a rare band that turns down or asks for less of something to solve a problem rather than asking for “more me”. Worse still are musicians who haven’t the most basic understanding of arranging and clog up the entire vocal range with guitars and keyboards in the same octave as the singer. Live sound is a thankless gig… the better you are the less you are noticed until your work totally disappears.

    Reply
    • Big G

      I’ve always handled the “more me” by bringing everything else down.

      Reply
  8. Jack Spann

    You sound like a whiny douche. Most of the time, the front of house engineer is checking his phone, talking to chicks, or trying to act like he’s George Martin. Get over yourself and do your job. It’s just a club or concert. You’re not world famous, you’re supposed to be doing your job. S0, amplify the band. You’re not the arbiter of what they’re doing. Your job is to amplify the band- PERIOD.

    Reply
    • Betty

      In my experience good foh engineers are not doing anything but attempting to make everyone sounds their best, so telling a helpful engineer they’re ‘whiny’ for giving great tips to musicians on how we can all work together is not super helpful. If you don’t like the tips, don’t follow them. Taking the time to tell the author he is a whiny douche is…. whiny and douchey.

      Reply
    • Whiskey Alibi

      The band nearly never has a clue what they sound like from the audiences perspective. None. They think that “if they sound great on the stage, they sound great to the audience”. Their crappy, overly loud sound is mostly composed of squealing mics and feedback from the guitars. Assuming you can hear them over the drums. Not that you necessarily realized any of that from the stage. If the sound guy isn’t important, than neither is the engineer in the studio, who has much the same job. Just plug in and play, flip on the recording device and let’s toss all that extraneous equipment out the window; it’s not necessary.

      Reply
  9. Rob

    What the commenters who write things like ‘stop complaining and do your job you whiny douche’ don’t realise is that #1 it is they who are the whiny douche and #2 there is no point suggesting they do *their* job as they clearly are too amateur (literally or in attitude) to do so. Twice this week already we saw meaner, tighter, punchier, more ferocious bands than y’all, and we didn’t have to explain to them how to to be competent or what we needed from them to make their gig kick ass…

    Reply
  10. Ax-man Brad

    Some sound engineers are good, and some are bad. If a sound engineer tells us to turn down, we turn down. If they can’t be bothered to say anything, that’s strike one. If they mumble directions so you can’t hear them, that’s strike 2. (Here’s a tip from a musician to all the sound engineers out there: SPEAK UP! It’s not a fucking library. By the third time I have to ask the sound guy “WHAT?” I’m fucking ready to ram my guitar down his throat.) If by the third song the sound engineer is over at the bar chatting with friends, that’s strike 3. Other common sound engineer offences: Not knowing how to work the venue’s system and gear; using mic stands that won’t stay put; not addressing a noisy electrical system (it’s called a power conditioner). Three or more strikes and I refuse to play a venue if that engineer is working. I also talk shit about that engineer every chance I get. Usually, other musicians have the same low opinion of that engineer. Alternately, if a sound engineer is really good, that person is worshipped almost as a god. It’s a two way street people.

    Reply
    • PM

      It’s a common misconception, but most power “conditioners” actually can’t do anything to address a noisy electrical system. Nor can they fix ground loop hum. There are ways of addressing these problems, but your typical Furman rackmount power strip isn’t one of them.

      Reply
      • SirCletus

        Well-stated re: power “conditioners.” Best case, these are narrow-Q filters that attempt to reject anything other than the mains frequency. They don’t usually isolate; someone operating a blender in the green room can dump noise into the entire house AC system. A “noisy electrical system” usually translates to “ground loop hum.” Power strips (even the cheap kind) help here by keeping all AC mains connections to gear close enough that a significant voltage cannot develop between safety grounds.

        Reply
  11. Ax-man Brad

    Also, regarding half-stacks: literally every “name” hard rock or metal band I have EVER seen in a small venue used half-stacks. Stacks have volume controls too, you know, just like combo amps. The loudest amp I ever owned was in fact a combo amp. Suggesting a band is “unprofessional” for using half-stacks at a 200+ venue is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The appropriate amp depends on the type of music. Hard rock and metal bands use half stacks, fucking get over it. If I ever join a Phish cover band, I’ll be sure to trade in my JCM 900 for a Fender combo (right before I kill myself for being in a Phish cover band.)

    Reply
    • Tom the sound guy

      I call shenanigans. I do sound for a local AC/DC Bon Scott era tribute.
      Both guitar players use single 12″ combos. I slap C214s on them and they sound like full stacks.

      Reply
      • Ax-man Brad

        Well on the one hand, we have hundreds if not thousands of name hard rock and metal bands using half-stacks in small venues, and on the other hand there’s this AC/DC cover band who use small combos. Guess that settles it.

        Reply
    • Dave Henk

      Rediculous. The big amps don’t sound good til they are turned uo. Best sound I ever got was from a 15 watt amp turned up full tilted back at the guitar player as hi guitar moniter. Everybody wins that guitar player was a real pro. Left his Rivera 200 watt amp home for most gigs.

      Reply
    • Whiskey Alibi

      Some players think you have to turn the amp up around 75% to get “tube saturation”. I’m not going to argue that, but if you have an amp like this, and you have the knob around .05, then obviously you’re not getting any benefit and your sound would be much better with an el cheapo 10 watt head set at 75%. I know someone who had an Egnator Renegade half stack and if you bumped it even slightly, it would jack up about 30 decibels. On a volume pot, the regulator sits in a valley between the windings, and while it’s not a big deal in a coliseum, yeah, this sort of amp doesn’t belong in a small venue where 30 decibels added to what you’re already doing is a blasting force off the stage.

      Reply
  12. Jimmy Eppard

    I wish every soundman I work with had this attitude. too many are just clueless. A subwoofer is a downward extension of the mains. You shouldn’t be able to perceive it as a separate reality. I had a guy ride up the sub for a bass solo where the xover point was such that the sub was only ‘hearing’ 2 strings of the bass. It was pitiful! What can you say to someone who does something like that? Anyway all this advice is all right on & anyone who is ‘offended’ by any of it…your insecurities are showing!

    Reply
    • Scott C.

      Jimmy Eppard is spot on and is also a seasoned pro. And like Jimmy, any seasoned pro already knows & practices this stuff as part of their job (that hopefully they love & take seriously).

      Thankfully, I don’t know any band members or sound people who don’t want the absolute best for their clientele (the audience) and so this short list is simply a few personal pet peeves.

      And, is likely more aimed at (perhaps) amateurs who may be looking towards a more pro performance. The best advice ever is to simply know your own gear. Really…

      AND then (if possible) to practice in as close a space to what your intended stage setting will be like. Not always possible, but this will translate much more easily to pro performances.

      Last, just LISTEN. Heck, even most of us sound guys (girls) are musicians, and music is ALL about listening. Listen to your own sound, the mix (onstage & monitors), the room…

      And then just for the heck of it, maybe listen to your sound person because occasionally they may have some good suggestions (or not, use your judgement).

      For us sound guys / girls, we need to take this advice as well and LISTEN (not just to the mix) when band members have issues or questions or comments. GRACIOUSLY. Part of the gig!

      Music is a fun business (haha, regardless of how much money or IF money is being made) and we’re all in this to have a good time. Relax, be early (if you can) and enjoy the ride.

      Scott C.

      Reply
    • Dave Henk

      If the soundman is in his 20’s or 30’s and is dressed real sharp, the subs will make you sterile. If he is a longhair hippie type who could use a shower, the mix will probably be perfect

      Reply
  13. Lucky

    I think he’s being over sensitive about questions to the audience about how everything sounds. Sometimes you just ask a question like that to engage the audience or because you trust the FOH person but you want to know if there’s anything you can do for your audience to make things better.

    Sorry about cluttering up the midrange with guitar. It’s not our fault – it’s the leader who hired us to play a crappy arrangement. Guess what? We’ve already done everything we can to try and improve it and minimize the conflict of our instrument with the vocal. The lead singer is female so we’ve rolled off top end so she can hear herself better over our instrument.

    Sorry about the loud guitar solo. You missed it during sound check and on the first tune you didn’t get there until the 4th measure so I am not leaving it up to you to miss it again. It’s only 8 measures and it’s only one of two solos I get for the entire show. Not a big deal but we are professionals here aren’t we?

    I got to the venue intentionally extra early so I could introduce myself to you and get your name instead of showing up five minutes before the gig and distracting you while you are doing last minute checks and setups. Coud you avoid acting like a controlling natzi? I am just trying to make both our jobs easier. I am your customer and I am also your director, yeah I know you don’t see it that way but the reality is your job exists because my job exists so let’s try and be friends. No ego trips Ok? I don’t care if you just mixed John Mayers set. I am not a fan nor am I star struck by any celebrities so I am not impressed. Sure it was fun when I sat in on a set with John the previous week but I am not running around name dropping. I am here working doing a job so snap out of it fan boy. 😉

    By the way that little solo that I was deliberately playing quietly because I am professional and try to balance with the rhythm section, It’s too loud. If I can hear the reflections from the back of the room, I am too hot in the mix. Can’t you see I have a volume pedal and will adjust my solos accordingly? If you think my solos are too hot then let me know and I will make adjustments for you.

    First, You mentioned the band is too loud. Would you mind turning down the monitors? You are smacking me in the face with 120 DBs and I told you I didn’t want a monitor in the first place. I value my hearing. Just stick the lead singer and GBVs in there. That’s all that should really be there anyway. Second I play dynamically with the drummer. So if he gets louder I get louder. It’s called dynamics and the rule is that electric instruments should match the level of acoustic instruments. That’s what they taught me at college. Perhaps the club could invest a little money in acoustic treatment instead of sticking us against a brick wall facing glass windows. No acoustic treatment? That’s just cheap skate thinking and the club wonders why they don’t draw customers. Want guitar players to play softer? Then give them a stage with some room so they aren’t standing right on top of their amp. The sweet spot on the throw of the speaker is actually 6 to 12 feet out in front of the amp. I’ll do my best not to sear the ears of the front row though, I am a professional that doesn’t like causing pain to the people in the front row. While were on the topic of stage size, I am losing my hearing in my left ear because of ride and crash cymbals being right next to my ear. I don’t want to be there. Would you? Ok so the stage is small, ask the club owner to pay for some plywood or plexiglass that you can make a stand for which is angled at a 45 degree angle. Put that in front of the guitarists amp so it reflects sound up to his head. Problem solved. Be proactive man!

    Man up and ask the keyboard players to bring their own amp or have the club rent or buy one if you want to provide the mains as amplification for them. That junk doesn’t belong in the monitors nor does it require the ungodly level It’s at in the mains because the keyboard player can’t hear themselves and have asked you to turn them up.

    I don’t need to be scolded for bringing a stereo rig. Just tell me the house is in mono. I get it. I also realize channel count is limited sometimes. However I better not see you go over and plug in 4 D.I.s for the (2) keyboards when you have just told me you can only mic one side of my rig and I can hear the stereo image in the mains. I am not stupid ya know. 😉

    The last time I was at the club I was coming from a session and traffic was heavier than normal so I was late and stressed and maybe rubbed you the wrong way. get over it and let it slide off your back just as I would do for you. Could you just get over it and not be a dick everytime I am hired as sideman to work at your club with the different artists who hire me?

    Reply
  14. Romario Fernando

    Anyone get bands that want to completely change their monitor mixes from what they had it at during sound check?

    Had a couple of bands do that – announcing it over the PA before the set even began.

    Nothing pisses me off more than when they say “it sounds great!” and finish up sound check and come back later to do that.

    Reply
    • Whiskey Alibi

      They think that FOH and monitors are the same thing. Not knowing any better, they don’t understand that as soon as everyone’s playing at the same time, they don’t understand why all of a sudden they don’t hear their particular instrument or voice. And these are usually people who, when you try to impart some technical knowledge or suggestions, will say something like “I just want to play, I don’t want to be an engineer…” (And there’s the problem, in a nutshell). I’ve found that even playing a couple of “soundcheck” songs don’t usually fix the problem and I “think” that’s because they’re so used to hearing their “soundcheck songs” that they don’t really pay attention to them anymore…

      Reply
  15. Ax-man Brad

    The description of the venue where Mr. Eckels works is telling: “a home and incubator for singer/songwriters like Joshua Radin, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, Meiko, Anna Nalick, Katy Perry, Cary Brothers, The Milk Carton Kids, and Adele, to name a few.” Based on his article, it sounds to me like doing sound for anything outside of a singer/songwriter, pop diva, or folk trio is way out of his comfort zone. You know what? Music like that is EASY to mix; even an amateur like me, with only limited volunteer sound experience, can do a decent job. We all would like our jobs to be easier but that’s not how it works. When I hear a pro sound engineer complaining that it’s hard to make a loud band sound good, so it’s the band’s fault, I think of the many engineers who have done a great job mixing my various metal bands, and I don’t recall any of them complaining it was too hard. I also think of the many engineers who did a dismal job, and whose excuses sounded eerily similar to Mr. Eckels’.

    Reply
  16. Kenneth

    I agree completely… but I must also add the following…

    If you use tracks, make sure they are uncompressed wave files, not crappy mp3’s etc.

    Also, only pull out your own personal microphone if you know for certain that it is better than what the venue has provided. I’ve done a gig where I set up a Beta58 mic for a lead vocalist and she was adamant that her PG58 was the “right mic for her” (was probably told that by some clueless salesman). Anyway, there is nothing worse than having to polish a turd.

    Reply
  17. Daniel

    I’m probably guilty of #6 quite a bit. Hope the guy didn’t get mad at me, but it’s just an easy conversation starter with the audience when you can’t think of anything else.

    Maybe we could follow it up with “give it up for the sound guy!” or whatever.

    Reply
  18. Gibson marshall

    I usually play in front of crowds of 50 to 300 people. I bring a full stack because having a cabinet pointed right at my ear level helps me hear myself better and not having to turn up as loud. My stage volume has never been a problem. I don’t think it’s a big deal what you bring for gear as long as it fits on the stage and you know how to use it properly

    Reply
  19. sound bear

    Do not spit on the stage. The floor is strewn with audio cables and the sound guys have to wrap those cables at night’s end.

    Reply
  20. Whiskey Alibi

    Some things I’d add:

    Soundcheck is never taken seriously by amateurs (the most important part of your night, not your drum or guitar solo). You’ll know them by how they spend the night tweaking their monitors instead of putting on a show. (Hint: the monitors should’ve been to your liking before you started playing and if you’d spent the time working on that instead of goofing around, they would be.)

    Every musician (this includes drummers and vocalists!!!) needs to have at least a genuine basic working knowledge of their interaction with a PA or refrain from anything except taking instruction. If someone knows nothing whatsoever, but quietly takes instruction well, they usually get dialed in as quickly as the band’s “technical expert” who offers irrelevant advice but doesn’t do what you’re asking them to. Those “experts” are sometimes worse because they’re usually applying knowledge of a different system to the one they’re currently plugged into.

    If things get frantic right before showtime, don’t come up to the sound guy and say “have you checked the fuse?”, (in spite of the bright, blinking lights.) You’re not allowing the guy who’s trying to fix your issue to concentrate, but in his attempt to not be rude, he carefully considers your comments, thus wasting valuable time. Go sit down and have a beer. For God’s sake, don’t alter any cables or equipment!!

    Finally: “set it and forget it”. I once spent an hour trying to fix a very experienced acoustic guitarist’s mix only to find out afterwards that he’d spent the entire set twiddling the knobs on top of his guitar, negating everything I was trying to do. By the end of the show, he sounded like he was in a tin can. I never thought it might be him simply because he should’ve known better. Or, the drummer with the overheads at soundcheck that had a very minor feedback issue – at first, it got rapidly worse – and I worked on it for ten minutes only to find that he’d taken them off the clip and laid them by the floor wedge because he “thought that would stop the feedback”.

    Reply
  21. Kim

    It is always great to get some real life insight into what goes through an audio engineer’s head on the daily if working with troublesome clients. That being said, artists of all kinds will happen through your studio all of the time. And, in order to be successful at what you do, you have to have the necessary personality, people skills, and patience to deal with them, trouble or not, at all times. But, it’s always nice to hear what bothers industry professionals so clients can take away something from it. Thanks for sharing!

    If you are looking for advice right out of audio engineering school, look here: http://www.sheffieldav.com/education/audio-engineer-graduates-heed-advice

    Reply

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