Hey bands, ever wonder why you sound so bad when you're performing? Sure, it might be because you stink, but more likely there's something else at play: You forgot to tip the sound guy.
Extortion? Maybe, but it's true, and it's widespread. I should know, I'm a sound engineer, and have worked the boards at tons of bars and small venues around town. And while I can't help you learn to play your bass correctly, I can tell you with certainty that tipping your sound dude can make all the difference.
Sure, guys like me are easy to ignore, marooned on islands in the crowd, obscured by fog and flashing lights. But the truth is no matter how well you perform, the only thing standing between your having a good show and a great one is my level of motivation — that and a $20 bill.
Every band thinks their show is the most important, but understand that we sound technicians might mix five or six groups per night. That's hundreds per year. And while we love live music, the sad fact is that the job can get repetitive. If we can do a “B” level job without much effort, chances are we will. As for our “A” game, well, you'll have to earn it.
Sure, it's possible to win our respect the old fashioned way — through the merits of your music. After all, I give my full attention to bands that I'm really into, even if they're not famous. But short of that, it might just be easier to go the safe route, by slipping us some cash.
What difference does it make? Well, see, the sound levels can get messed up pretty easily. Every time you switch instruments, hold the microphone differently, or even turn on a guitar pedal, your sound dynamics change. A serious sound tech will constantly adapt, incessantly tweaking the EQ, compression, and effects on every channel so you sound your best at all times. Our fingers, really, should never leave the board.
But man, that's a lot of work! Hint, hint.
The thing is, I've seen this from both perspectives.
In high school I played tenor sax in a garage band. At our first Hollywood shows, we noticed that our mix was no longer balanced like it had been in practice. But then our guitarists' brother — a seasoned veteran of the Sunset Strip — advised us to tip the sound guy.
So, at our second performance at Whisky a Go Go we did exactly that, to the tune of an Andrew Jackson. And, wouldn't you know it — same sound guy, completely different sound. He even allowed us play over our set limit.
Look, I take pride in my ability as a sound technician. But the truth is, unless I'm motivated — either musically or monetarily — I will not be fretting over every miniscule detail of your constantly evolving mix.
Buy me a drink, slip me a bill, or at least acknowledge me, and baby, I'm yours. You can bet that the two of us will soon be making sweet music together.