Sound Engineer: How to be a Good One

Live Sound Engineer Do and Dont

The Sound Engineer’s guide to Do’s and Dont’s

As a working sound engineer, I’ve had to learn a lot of things through first-hand experience.  The job of a sound engineer is usually a thankless one, especially if the job is done well.  The crowd never leaves the gig saying, “Wow, the sound guy was really on point tonight.”  If you are working as a sound engineer, the band expects you to be on your game just as you expect them to be on theirs.

In my 20+ years as the “sound guy”, I’ve been able to gather some mind-sets and methodologies that have helped to enhance the experience of the musicians, the crowd and myself.

Here are a list of do’s and don’ts to consider before, during and after the gig to help be a successful and requested sound engineer.

Before the Gig:

Do communicate in advance.  Talk to as many of the involved parties as possible either in person or electronically.  Band and venue information from the promoters.  Input lists and stage plots from the bands.  The more information you have going into the gig, the better.

Do pack extras. Extra cables.  Back up microphones and stands.  Extra direct boxes.  Extra wireless units.  More batteries.  It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Do show up to the venue early.  If you’re going to be loading in gear, it doesn’t hurt to build in a little extra time for issues to arise. You never know what may happen when you get to the venue.  If the venue is upstairs and the elevator is broken, load in will take considerably longer.

Don’t assume the band has worked with a sound engineer before.  It may sound ridiculous, but this is always the first question I ask.  It will open the lines of communication and set the tone of how you will run the stage.

Don’t forget your tools.  Every sound engineer has their go-to tool box.  My tool kit includes:  pocket multi-tool, pocket flashlight (don’t use your phone, that’s just amateur), dB meter, headphones (Sony MD7506), in-ear monitors (Future Sonic), ear plugs, Sharpies (Black, Blue, Red), console & gaffer’s tape, digital multi-meter, Laptop, Kensington Lock for Laptop.

During the Gig:

Do keep sound check as structured as possible.  This is time to ensure that the band is comfortable with stage volume and clarity.  When running monitors and front of house from the same mixing desk, I like to set a rough mix in the house system then move to monitors.  I prefer to start with drums. And after a rough mix in the house I ask by show of hands who needs kick & snare in their monitors.  Unless requested, I don’t mix toms or hihats in to the monitors, I’ll add a touch of overheads for musicians who ask for “the whole kit”.

Do keep your head up and focused on the show.  The job of the sound engineer isn’t to be ordering drinks at the bar or chatting up with the crowd, it is to make the band sound good in the venue.  Watch the band for nonverbal cues and keep your distractions to a minimum.

Do make stage management as painless as possible.  Working with multiple bands/artists in one show is the norm.  Moving gear around the stage and resetting for the next act should be as organized and painless as possible.

Don’t come to the gig with a “Holier than thou” attitude.  Your attitude is 100% within your control.  Come with a poor attitude, you’ll have a bad show and nobody will want to work with you.  Approach the gig with a positive attitude and people will begin to request you for their shows.

Don’t blow out your ears.  Your ears are the most important tool you have in your arsenal.  Invest in a good set of ear plugs to use during show time, your future self will thank you for it.

After the Gig:

Do take the time to properly wrap cables and pack cases.  Making life easier for the next gig starts during load out of the previous gig.  Put all the microphones back in their cases.  Repack the truck/trailer as if you’re headed to the next gig straight from load out.

Do talk to the bands/promoters after the show and offer your services for their next gig.  Have cards on hand and swap contact information.  The bulk of a sound engineer’s work goes by word of mouth and reputation.  If the band/promoter likes you, they’ll remember you and recommend and request you for their next gig.

Don’t leave any gear behind.  Always perform a final walk around the venue to make sure that everything you brought has been repacked and will make it to the next gig.  Labeling all your equipment will help if anything is left behind, but do everything in your power to make sure that all your gear makes it home.

Written by: Kevin Waites

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