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Sound man etiquette


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So we went to see a friends band play last night, and the young sound man whom I have worked with before was having some issues with the sound. It was a bit muddy and lacked vocal clarity. Well, my wife and at least two other people (who know I am a sound man) kept asking me to step in and help him.

 

I told them that if he asked for my help, I would help him. But until he asked, I wasn't going to just step in and start fixing things or even offer suggestions to him. My boss was also there and he wouldn't either. Eventually the sound man did approach my boss and asked for his opinion and for help. So by the second sets start the PA was tuned much better and the mix was much improved.

 

Anyone else get prodded by friends to fix a mix for a sound man who isn't doing such a good job? If so, how do you handle it?

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I'm no good at mixing yet, but I CAN tell when someone's mix is off. But even if I was a pro I don't think I'd even mention it unless the guy was obviously stressed and feedback was clearing the bar out... even in that case its iffy.

 

I mean... I know how to grill a hamburger, but I wouldn't step behind the counter at a restaurant to show someone when to flip the patty.

 

Maybe a round about way to drop the hint would be to walk up and say... "hey man, I run sound, if you need any help or just want to take a break to get a beer I can watch over the mix for you." As friendly as possible.

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Not my business.

 

If the band sucks I don't jump on their stage and start playing their instruments, and I don't go into the kitchen and start making myself a sammich when I don't like the service at a restaurant.

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I think you handled it just right. Another way is maybe let the guy know what your experience is and then say, "If there is anything I can help you with I'd be more than happy.". Just walking over and being critical and then say let me fix this for you is poor form and unprofessional at best.

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So we went to see a friends band play last night, and the young sound man whom I have worked with before was having some issues with the sound. It was a bit muddy and lacked vocal clarity. Well, my wife and at least two other people (who know I am a sound man) kept asking me to step in and help him.


I told them that if he asked for my help, I would help him. But until he asked, I wasn't going to just step in and start fixing things or even offer suggestions to him. My boss was also there and he wouldn't either. Eventually the sound man did approach my boss and asked for his opinion and for help. So by the second sets start the PA was tuned much better and the mix was much improved.


Anyone else get prodded by friends to fix a mix for a sound man who isn't doing such a good job? If so, how do you handle it?

 

 

This situation was handled correctly

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Absolutely. If somebody tells me I should get involved with sound when I am not working, I simply tell them "It's my day off". However, I'll never turn down a fellow sound man/musician in need, if asked.

 

 

+1

I don't jump up and insert myself in the mix position.

MAYBE if there is a mutual friend/acquaintence of mine and the sound guy in the band or audience, (usually unlikely) I'll offer help with proper introductions, but generally I stay away.

Like Andy said: you don't know the dynamics (politics) of it all anyway so mind your business at hand and let the other business go.

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Yeah. Even though I know the guy, and helped to train him (and he is still learning) I don't feel right just offering if he doesn't ask. I never offer opinions at any show if not asked. I hate it myself when a sound afficianado (usually a friend or even a stranger) comes up to me and says anything about one of my mixes unbidden. Usually they say "I can't hear [insert instrument they play in their band]" and I say "Ok, I'll work on it" and not "Are you freakin' deaf, I can hear it plain as day!" which is usually the case. :facepalm:

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I've found the "you need to turn up the guitar" is usually just an opening line to the person explaining that they play the guitar. Then they talk about their band, former band , followed by various name drops of bands, people and venues. Then they mosey over the guitar player and start the whole thing over again with additional commentary on guitar and amps they own.

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Agreed, and you don't know the dynamics that possibly led to the problems he was having (other than lack of experience of skill for example).

 

 

 

Very true.

 

Many years ago I was at a Tower of Power concert in a club setting. I was sitting practically on top of the sound "booth".

 

After listening to the band for a few songs, I noticed the bari sax was way too quiet (and it's a huge part of their sound). After a while (on a break) I said to the soundtech "man the Doctor (Steven Kupka) isn't playing out tonight".

 

The tech then told me that it was his first week with the band AND that they insisted that he mix in stereo, so being on the other side of a very wide stage, people on either side weren't hearing things the way they would if he could mix in mono.

 

Mystery solved. Don't know if TOP still mixes in stereo; that was many moons ago.

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Very true.


Many years ago I was at a Tower of Power concert in a club setting. I was sitting practically on top of the sound "booth".


After listening to the band for a few songs, I noticed the bari sax was way too quiet (and it's a huge part of their sound). After a while (on a break) I said to the soundtech "man the Doctor (Steven Kupka) isn't playing out tonight".


The tech then told me that it was his first week with the band AND that they insisted that he mix in stereo, so being on the other side of a very wide stage, people on either side weren't hearing things the way they would if he could mix in mono.


Mystery solved. Don't know if TOP still mixes in stereo; that was many moons ago.

 

 

Last time I worked with TOP they were still doing a full "stereo" mix. Their FOH engineer Mike does a really good job with them, in my opinion.

 

As far as the original topic goes, I'm gonna throw out a +1 for going the hands off route. Even if I am the house engineer at a show, my only goal is to ensure the safety of the venue's equipment. However, if things start to get really out of hand with a band engineer and customers have started complaining to myself of the management, I have been known to voice my concerns to the engineer and ask if there is anything I can do to help him/her out or if they had any concerns that I might be able fix. I can only think of one occasion where I literally just took the mix away from someone and finished the night. This only came after the quality of the venue's offering was at such a risk that I felt it necessary to step in and help ensure that complaining customers were guaranteed a quality show for the money they paid.

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If so, how do you handle it?

 

It happens all the time. I'll be at another band's show having a few beers with my friends, and someone ALWAYS says "man, it sounds awful! Dude, you should go up there and show that dude how it's done!"

 

I guess it's a compliment? I'll never tell another sound person how to mix unless A: he/she is working for me and I'm teaching them, or B: he/she approaches me and asks for help. I'll introduce myself and shoot the breeze about gear and music, sure, but I'm pretty sure that's different.

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You handled it perfectly. As Agedhorse pointed out "you don't know what lead up to the poor sound". I've admittedly mixed some abismal shows before due to walking in to a poorly setup/underpowered P.A., the the band pouring pure dung into the microphones or just plain P*** poor acoustics. In cases like these you just do the best you can do and suffer through it (and then learn to avoid those sets of circumstances;) (one of the tricks to keeping your reputation intact)).

 

That said, I've mixed some stunningly great shows where everything fell into line and magic happened. When someone is having a bad day, I allow them to have it without too much judgment (as you pointed out), unless asked for that judgment.

 

Good call on your part and yes there is a certain ettiquet involved (call it profesional courtesy) by not sticking your nose where it's not needed or wanted.

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After listening to the band for a few songs, I noticed the bari sax was way too quiet (and it's a huge part of their sound). After a while (on a break) I said to the soundtech "man the Doctor (Steven Kupka) isn't playing out tonight".

 

 

That's a good way to do it. I will try to think of one (and only one) friendly suggestion that does the most good, and if I can't frame it nicely enough I won't bother. Most "suggestions" to the sound guy are usually taken as "you suck" anyway.

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A (long) while ago I had a sound man acquaintance came up to me while drunk, pointed at my mixer (the old one) and said with a giggle, "wow, your gains aren't set right. Look at your master fader." Then walked, or more accurately, stumbled away.

 

Turns out he was right. After that, I learned alot more about gain structure.

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Situations where I believe a general admission soundperson has a responsibility to step-up:

 

1) There is an obvious safety issue situation where serious damage or injury could be adverted by bringing the situation to a person in-charge's attention... like a group of mid-highs walking off of the front of some subs... with a group of boppers bopping right in-front of the stack... loose-loose situation if those cabs walk another inch or so further forward.

 

2) Total dysfunction that hasn't been detected... like the kick drum mic laying on the floor in-front of the kick drum mic stand... and no kick drum mic in the mix beyond the soundperson fumbling with the buttons and knobs looking for a fix it in the mix solution to the glaring problem.... or the other side of the stacks are dead... but the soundperson is mixing off to the side of the functioning stacks... and is oblivious to the other half of the system's dysfunction.

 

In these sorts of situations... I'd say it's "ok" to state the facts as you see it... otherwise keep your nose out of other people's business.

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Agreed, and you don't know the dynamics that possibly led to the problems he was having (other than lack of experience of skill for example).

 

 

Right = what may be interpreted as a lack of skill might be something you have no idea of - like a band member requesting some outragious levels on something or else they'll find another soundman. You just don't know all the elements involved. Best to just keep it to yourself.

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