Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sound man vs Musician

There are distinctly 2 kinds of sound men, (at least for this discussion) The ones who have been (or are) Musicians and ones that aren't.

I myself have been and still am a musician. I have played in many different avenues, venues and styles, both amateur and professionally, everything from large crowds at high voltage Rock N Roll shows to acoustic sets in coffee shops to churches big and small to studio session work. within those endeavors I played multiple instruments. Now... I am not trying to bash on non musician sound men or women, just giving you some of my personal history.

Now if you some of you remember our last article about MON vs FOH, you will remember the differences of a Monitor Engineer VS a Front of House Engineer. For todays discussion we are gonna focus on the MON position. This is the position where you have to interact with the band. (screams!!! terror!!! ) Now just imagine for a moment you were trying to give someone advice, input or helping solve an uncomfortable problem with something...say driving a car....say they have problems reaching the pedals and their back hurts when they drive. If you have never driven a car before then its gonna be hard for you to truly relate to there problem. you will be able to help some, and the more often you do it the better you will get at guessing, but you wont truly understand what they need. So back to sound....lets take a hypatheticle stroll....we have been rehearsing for a grueling 2 hours trying to get everyone one is, and the longer we go the worse it gets. The main problem, besides the deaf drummer and melancholy lead singer who thinks he's a tortured soul and no one understands him, is the electric player/BGV's. He cant seem to get the "feel" and you have tried everything, more or less in his ears and wedges, brighter and duller EQ, compression and no compression, sidefill and no sidefill, FX and no FX!!!! He's mad and you're mad...and no ones knows why or who we're mad at!!! We're all just mad!!!! Ever been there.....? I have....on both sides...I have been that guitar player trying to get the mix I want and I cant describe it....and I have been the sound man trying to get it for the electric player who is frustrated. Now as the guitar player, it is very true and hard to describe when you get "The Mix"; it's just right and you feel it and you play better, life is better, food tastes better, birds are singing, the sun is get the point. Now the opposite is true if your mix is off.....nothing is worse, you're sure you suck and and everyone is watching you and listening to how horrible you are...and everyone hates you on top of it!!....and food tastes bad....and kittens aren't even cute anymore.

So couple of tips to help with this...

First is walk out to where the musician is. Too many sound men stand behind a console and shout back and fourth and mumble witty comments in the talk back mic. Your musician (yes I said your musician....think of them as your're responsible for them while their on your stage until off) doesn't play behind the console next to a cue wedge, they play on stage. So walk out there and hear what they hear where they hear it. You will find the enviroment is completely different. The stage wash from drums and the guitar stage volume, and volume from the meloncolly lead singer...remember him....or lets not forget the women, In the case of a women diva singer the problems would not be unclear and omunis, the reasons would be clear, the problem would be YOU, just stand back and listen and she will tell you everything that is wrong so :-) ...moving on before I get too many nasty letters. (don't get me wrong, some of my greatest friends and colleagues and are women artists and I love you all)

Couple more technical tips....

Find out what the desired level is from your musician, see what he or she is trying to do.....are they trying to get a CD quality mix in there wedge or just to isolate themselves. Whatever it is they think they want (since it obviously isn't working) try whatever they aren't asking for to get that mix.

Even more refined tech tips... the amp a musician uses, their pedals, etc, all factor into their "sound" and "feel". That sound and feel does not always translate through wedges or IEM's perfectly. So take special care to match the sounds before sending them to the musician. Also, make note of how the musician hears the the amp tilted or flat on the floor (it is not your place as a sound man to say "tilt back that amp so you can hear it"...that's just plain unprofessional). If your stage volume is too much then try a re-angle of the horizontal axis. I like to stand exactly where the musician is and hear what they hear and then match that. Drum problems? Try adding the high kick mic to the ears and the low one to the wedges and side fill, its more natural that way. If you're having trouble with vocals sounding "distant" or "hollow", there are some great articles by Dave Rat that I can send you on "Digital VS Analog for IEM" as well as "Phase for Monitors". Just email me at and I can get that to you (no need to rewrite already well written articles) :-)

The list goes on and on, and every situation has a a million different variables. but when it is all said and done my opinion is that it is a little easier to relate to these problems if you have once been there yourself before...but then again I could be wrong...I have been before... you decide :-)

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