When I Said You Should Tip the Sound Guy $20, You Called Me a Fuckwit
Wow, everyone loved my piece about how bands should tip the sound guy $20 if they don't want to sound like shit! I am humbled by the universal praise it's received.
Just kidding; out of its 100+ comments, only three or four came to my defense, and seemingly only a few more than that refrained from calling me a "fuckwit." People detested my advice, despite the fact that I'm far from the only sound guy who needs a bit of motivation to make bands sound their best. In fact, it's a widespread practice.
Still, I realized even while writing the piece that there was no way for me to not sound like a total douche. But let's get a few things straight. No, I am not just out to "squeeze an extra $20 out of every group that comes my way," as Waddasleeze in the comments section claimed, and I'm also not "Reserving [my] best work for only those who kiss [my] ass or give [me] a tip," per Songsmith.
Let me explain. You see, there really is no such thing as a perfect mix. You can come close, but you'll never fully capture a performer's raw energy and musicianship. It's physically impossible, in fact. Think of it like the law of conservation of energy; when sound waves are transferred through a microphone or instrument cable, it has a sterilizing effect and something is already lost. And live mixing is even harder than regular recording because of the constantly changing mix -- every second presents a unique challenge. There is always something that could be perfected, whether it's overlapping frequencies to be balanced out, a tweak to better situate a right-left placement, or simply a volume change.
For this reason a sound engineer's "A game" entails, literally, absolute dedication. Which is why Jeff Coleman's comment -- "would you do anything less than your best, every single time you step up to the board?" -- doesn't make any sense. It would be like me asking why he doesn't spend every minute at his office completely working his ass off (or laying bricks or whatever).
Right? Nobody works as hard as they possibly can every single moment; that would mean no personal phone calls, no staring at your fingernails, no reading blogs. You wouldn't even be allowed to stop to think about what you're having for dinner.
Sure, working like that for a couple of hours might be possible, but anyone who claims to do this every day is a joker. But not me; I'll admit that I don't give my absolute all for every single band I mix, and I'm sure that's the case with most sound engineers. That doesn't mean I don't work hard, it just means that if a band wants me to truly give my all, they need to earn my respect. They can do this with amazing music, a tip, or even, as I said, a drink or a simple acknowledgment.
One last thing, contrary to Guest's assertion, I don't expect to be tipped, and I certainly won't sabotage your band's mix because I'm not. I'm already being paid to do a job and I do it. I and every other engineer worth his or her salt mix the sound to the point where both the band and venue operators are satisfied, and continue making the necessary adjustments to keep it at that level.
But for the effort of striving for that unattainable perfect mix? A band needs to earn that. It's just like if, say, your boss wants you to bust your ass harder than ever before to build the fucking brick latrine to end all brick latrines. He'd better give you a raise, right?
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