Sound Hub contributor Andrew Anderson addresses the – often fracturus – relationship between sound engineers and musicians and provides tips for working together in harmony…
It’s true what they say: sound engineers are from Venus, musicians are from Mars. Or at least they might as well be for all the understanding that exists between them. Rather like an old married couple, they bicker away despite being bound together forever – they need one another, but they can’t actually admit it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I dream of a world where musicians and sound engineers can live together in harmony, helping one another out.
Before we continue, I have an admission to make: I’m a musician. Yes, that means I’m a bit moody, have a questionable hygiene regime and I occasionally refer to myself as an ‘artist’ (I know, it’s embarrassing for me too).
But what it also means is that I can call on my fellow music-makers and say this: let us offer the preamp of peace to our sound engineer brethren and put all this silly squabbling behind us. After all, a sound engineer is just a friend you haven’t met yet.
With that in mind here are my top five tips to keep your new found sound engineer friends happy.
1. Learn your new friend’s name
In Dale Carnegie’s 1936 self-help book How To Win Friends and Influence People he wrote: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Of course he was wrong – your guitar tone is actually the sweetest sound in history – but you should still make an effort to remember your sound engineer’s name (and if you can’t try not to substitute it with ‘oi’ or ‘hey you’).
2. Don’t break your new friend’s toys
Imagine how you’d feel if some sweaty, alcohol soaked idiot showed up at your house and started kicking your guitars over, stamping on your cymbals or pulling your carefully calibrated pedal board to pieces. You’d be pretty miffed, right? Well, that’s how it feels for a sound engineer when you rock up at a gig and rock out on his/her stands, microphones and speakers. I know it’s hard to believe, but this stuff is just as precious to them as your vintage-custom-one-of-a-kind guitar/drum kit/bass is to you.
3. Be realistic
Us musicians can be a touch deluded. We read an article in Uncut about how Keith Richards got a certain guitar sound using some obscure tape machine and we expect our sound engineer pals to produce that effect for us. Well, they can’t: no one can – that’s why Keith Richards is Keith Richards and you’re just a bloke reading Uncut (sorry to put it so bluntly, but I’m afraid it’s true). So try and be realistic with your demands. It’s okay to ask for something, but don’t be offended if it turns out it isn’t achievable.
4. Turn up on time
Alright, this one sounds super lame and ultra-obvious but it’s true: if you don’t turn up on time that makes your new friend’s job all the trickier. The more time he/she has for soundcheck, the better the sound will be. It’s like anything – if you rush it, you get a rubbish result and resentment. Now, I’m not saying sound engineers are any more resentful than anyone else…but we all know if you annoy a waiter there’s a good chance they will spit in your food. So make sure you don’t give your friend any incentive to make you or your band sound bad by being punctual.
5. Let them do their job
Generally, sound engineers know what they’re doing. So during a sound check you don’t need to wander off stage to ‘see how it sounds out front’. That’s your friend’s job, and if you step on their turf it sort of looks like you don’t trust them. He/she trusts you to play your instrument (even if you are half-cut from the rider), so please show the same respect: after all, trust is the basis of all true friendships.