Enter Soundman: 9 Things Engineers Wish Every Musician Knew

Odds are good that the person working sound at your next local gig — positioning mics, balancing the mix, tweaking your monitors — is a musician just like you. But players don’t always treat them as one of their own, even though the sound engineer is a critical extension of the band in a live situation.

Here are the top wishes and pet peeves from behind the board, as learned through countless shows and actually taking the time to talk to engineers.

Make sure your gear is in good working order.

Know before you go that all of your equipment is performance-ready. It’s not the sound engineer’s job to bail you out before or during a set, and you can’t expect them to have a stock of cables, batteries or spare drumsticks if you left things at home. Performing musicians should always have backup on hand.

Give a rundown of the instruments and vocals coming onstage.

Take a minute during setup to describe how many vocals mics, DI's, amp mics or other inputs your band will need. Indicate where each player will be situated onstage. Even better, bring along a quick printout that diagrams your stage setup with clear markings for each type of input.

You: We need two vocal mics out front and one for the drummer. Then there’s a keyboard input and a DI for the mandolin.

Sound engineer: You just became my favorite band ever.

Offer a set list marking any instrument changes.

Is the guitarist switching to acoustic halfway through the set? Different lead vocalist on one song? Will someone be sitting in for a tune? It’s great to the surprise the audience, but clue in the sound engineer ahead of time.

After you’re set up, don’t unplug anything.

Crackle, pop, wince. Until the sound engineer gives you the all-clear — meaning they have muted your channel — don’t pull an instrument or mic cable from its input.

Don’t ask the audience how it sounds.

Mixing live sound isn’t something to be crowdsourced. When you ask everyone else, it’s an insult to your sound tech. Trust that they know the room. And for the record, they won’t particularly enjoy having your friend or well-meaning mom tell them your guitar isn’t loud enough. If you learn of a sound problem afterwards, politely let the sound engineer know and ask how you can help address the issue next time.

Need more monitor? Ask over the mic.

Your mysterious hand signals can’t be deciphered by a normal human sound engineer. If you need more monitor, use your microphone to ask for it. Better yet, specify what you need — more keys, less bass, more of yourself — so the sound engineer can perfect your mix.

If your amp is too loud, the sound engineer can’t control the room mix.

We all get this, right? A good sound engineer would sooner let you wreck your own band’s set with your ridiculous volume than bring the PA up to stadium levels. Set your amp just loud enough to hear yourself, and let them ride the faders to fit you in the mix. In smaller rooms, guitarists are usually best off playing through a low-wattage amp and leaving level controls to the sound engineer.

You: Can you put two mics on my 4x12 stack, so it sounds huge?

Sound engineer: Sure, as long as you promise not to plug it in.

Break down as quickly as you set up.

Friends will come up to say congrats, but kindly let them know you’ll have to take your pats on the back later. Strike quickly, especially if another band is waiting to go on. If you can’t set up and clear in under ten minutes, you’re either too slow or brought too much stuff.

A tip wouldn’t kill you.

At the very least, offer to buy them a drink. We can hear it from here: Who tips a sound tech? Exactly. You’ll be remembered, and thanked in sonic goodness next time you take the same stage.

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