The House Sound Guy Is Not A Jerk (And This Is Why)

The person employed to set up, run, and maintain the venue’s sound system for visiting acts is the venue’s audio technician a.k.a. the “house sound guy”. If you create music that needs to be amplified—(pretty much any contemporary music) then the house engineer will help you when you arrive to perform your show. Likewise, you will work with the house guys when perform on stage at an outdoor festival. (Their house is a tent or flatbed truck, and you get the idea.) The house audio tech is there to place microphones, DI boxes, and monitor wedges that will amplify your instruments and enable you to hear yourself onstage. He then will mix your sound for you (unless you have  your own engineer with you). The house guy also has to do the same for all the other bands on the bill that night. Think about that for a second.

Everyone has an opinion about the venue audio technician, like, “Jeez, that house sound guy was such a jerk,” usually in response to having a ‘bad show’. That response is not fair, and it happens because the house audio tech is an easy target. A loud buzz ruined your sensitive ballad? Blame the sound guy. The audience left halfway through? The house sound guy must have made you sound bad. And so on. See, it’s easy to shift the blame to the house sound guy, isn’t it?

There are inexperienced house engineers out there, and the nature of the environment does not help even the most able of audio technicians. For instance, many club shows feature 3 or more acts per night, who often have ‘eclectic’ instrumentation, who are all forced to set up on tiny stages, and in a hurry. The house guy must get all these various sound sources mic’ed up one at a time, and the resulting inputs mixed together. All in a short space of time. Indecision, inefficiency, arrogance, or ignorance on behalf of the artists will not help this process at all.

The most common cause of discontent on stage is sub-standard audio sources. In the many years I have been working, I still see bands and DJs turn up for a sound check with cheap, broken equipment, and expect the sound onstage and in the house to be perfect. There is a popular saying: “You cannot polish a turd”, and it applies to sound checks and gigs; if your instruments sound thin, crackly, buzzy, and out of tune onstage, then that is how they will sound to the audience, only louder! If, on the other hand, the source sounds – your amp, turntables, microphone etc – are the best they can be,  making them louder will not be a problem. The sound in your monitors, and in the house PA, will be decent, and you will have a great show. So, maybe the house guy is not a jerk – he is just holding a (loud) mirror to your imperfections?

And, as I am on the subject – sound checks are not a rehearsal. You should never assume you will have time to rehearse that new song during sound check. When it’s your time to sound check you should get your instruments or electronics set up and plugged in and listen to what the house audio tech asks you to do. Do not play or sing until they ask you and keep looking at the house guy all the time so you will catch his “stop playing” signals. I have known sound checks to cause a great deal of frustration to musicians, technicians, house staff, promoters, artist managers, and booking agents alike. I don’t understand why. A sound check should not be a battle of wills – you should be supplying output from all your stage instruments so the person behind the front-of-house desk can mix it all together and make you sound fantastic.

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