The Top 15 Things That Annoy the Crap Out of Your Local Sound Guy

Categories: Lists

doug-thumb-320x482.jpg
Doug Siebum
By Nate Jackson

Imagine for a moment that your job's sole requirement was to make live bands sound great every night. Pretty awesome right? Late nights, live music, and an endless supply of nightlife encapsulate a typical day at the office. Then after actually doing it for a few minutes you start to realize something: being a sound guy, even a good one, is typically the most thankless job in the entertainment industry. Just ask Doug Siebum. Honing his craft since 2001, the aural engineer has done sound for some pretty big names, including Katy Perry and Coachella, but he still makes his bread and butter at local clubs. And for every night when things run like a dream, there's a night when he probably wishes he could strangle a band with their own ill-functioning guitar cables.

See also: Top 10 Douchiest Guitarists of All Time

"Sometimes when a band walks in and they're being super demanding, they start requesting stuff and they aren't using the right terminology, you know pretty quickly if they haven't been around. And at that point you're like let me just deal with this and get the night over with," he says. But often times the band is only a slice of the chaos that can really irk a sound man, whether he's working behind the booth or trying to live life a lot more quietly off the clock. With that in mind, Siebum was kind enough to share with us a list of the top 15 things that will definitely annoy the shit out of your local sound guy.

15. When a drunk person I don't know wants to stand next to me and talk to me the whole time I'm working. I have a job to do which requires concentration and me paying attention to what's going on and it's a lot harder for me to hear what's going on in the room when someone is constantly jabbering into one of my ears.

14. When people ask me for a table or try to place a drink order with me. You're talking to the wrong guy.

13. When people expect me to be as excited to be there as they are. Where this might be their every once-in-a-while night on the town, I do this 3 to 7 nights a week every week. Forgive me if I look bored.

12. When people expect me to want to go to a club on my night off. Can we just go someplace quiet and peaceful instead?

11. When random people want to tell me how they think it should sound. They don't know the sound of the room, what the band wants, what the club management or owners want, or about potential noise complaints from neighbors. And really, I do this for a living. If you're not the sound guy that's traveling with the band, keep your amateur opinion to yourself.


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71 comments
Jim_The_Soundman
Jim_The_Soundman

Pretty good article.   I will add that the job of a soundman is really one of the most demanding jobs there is, you always have at a bunch of different people to keep happy, the band, the venue owner/manager, and of course the audience.  

Oftentimes those three groups want exactly the opposite from one another.  The soundman is stuck in the middle, getting yelled at to turn it down, when it's the band's stage volume that is the problem, or getting yelled at to turn it up, when there's so much bleed through the mics that there isn't any more headroom.  

We truly have a very cool. but sometimes thankless job.  And it's one of the few jobs where you can have a beer while you are working, LOL.  I started doing sound for bands back in 1986, and still love it as much as the first day. Unfortunately, kids, it's not a career that will make you rich, so don't quit school and get on the tour bus just yet...


One other funny thing I've noticed, you can tell if a soundguy is a failed musician as he'll turn up that one instrument he used to play louder than everything else.   So next time you walk into that venue and the kick drum is three times louder than everything else, you'll know why!

jbc90
jbc90

This presupposes I give a fuck if a "sound guy" is annoyed...I don't...

brian_bair
brian_bair

I think this is pretty accurate, but I will add: just because someone is a soundguy, doesn't mean they are a good sound guy.  If people in the audience are complaining about the sound, it may, in fact, not sound good.

jonathan.nyc
jonathan.nyc topcommenter

I've been to plenty of concerts and the sound has almost always been great.  Guess I can thank guys like you for that. 


The one exception was an opening act.  I suspected people connected with the headliner had something to do with that.  Today that opening act is a hugely popular headliner. 

Raja Fayyaz
Raja Fayyaz

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Raja Fayyaz
Raja Fayyaz

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justanothersnakecult
justanothersnakecult

The quickest way to annoy sound guys (in the US that is) is to ask to use a D.I. or more than two vocal mics.  In Europe they tend to be more professional and are people who enjoy doing what they do, whereas in the States they are quite often disgruntled, unsuccessful band burnouts.

Foots
Foots

When I leave a show, I always thank the crew. Without them, I couldn't hear or see anything.

decibalnyc
decibalnyc

As a touring engineer for over 20 years, I can agree with some of the things on this list wholeheartedly.  I also take local gigs while off tour and these statements are correct coming from the perspective of the engineer.  I would suspect this is a personal list from this particular engineer...it's not like he posts this in the booth under the heading "Rules."  This engineer is just telling us what annoys him.  Many non touring local sound guys have a lack of professionalism.  


There is not 1 thing on that list that I haven't dealt with...but that's the key....you've been there before, so act accordingly.  Having a negative attitude towards musicians because they do stupid things or ask dumb questions is your choice, but remember, everyone starts out somewhere.  If you want to do some good...help them see their mistakes without being negative...offer them advice on the right way to do something and explain why.  Sound engineers play a critical part in connecting the music with the audience, in my opinion, that is the most important part of the job... When I mix a band on tour, I reproduce the sound given and correct things only for the venue.  I am a translator basically, what they give me, I give the audience in a balanced cohesive mix...it's up to the band to do the rest.  I just make sure it's a good sounding even mix that is the same in all parts of the venue.  I only accent things if they ask me to.  For local gigs, it's the same...but many new bands and artists often demand more than what the system can provide due to excessive stage volume, or just the level of the venue.  If you are playing Arline's or Sine or the Mercury, it's not gonna sound like the Nokia... A lack of understanding, experience, and common sense mixed with an excessive ego and unreal expectations is the leading cause of sound engineers getting a bad rap.  The engineer is there to help you have a good show, however, they are not your best friend, they are not in your band, and they have no vested interests in going above and beyond their normal duties...they often will if you are respectful and courteous to them, but if you (as an artist) know you are a demanding perfectionist who is often an asshole when things don't go your way...do yourself a favor and hire an engineer to be the middle man between you and the club engineer. 


pgsmash
pgsmash

listen up boys and girls all this them and us shit in my opinion and its just an opinion our sound guy is a member of our band without him no matter how good we play if he dosnt mix well/ we will sound crap [thats why hes a sound guy but if we dont give him good balanced noise to work with hes fucked so bands get your levels right and he has a good chance of getting a good mix out front!

Matchless
Matchless

These comments are so rude... A band should help out the sound guy that's working as much as they can because he/she can make or break your sound... Also I don't think it's rude when a band asks the crowd how it sounds, they aren't asking the crowd whether the sound guy sucks at his job! It's usually just to get them pumped up because lets face it the band is entertainment and when you get the crowd involved it makes you a little more down to earth and likable. At least that's why my band does. On that note, always appreciate a good sound guy! Cheers. 

stupidguy
stupidguy

So question, I complimented the sound engineer at a show last night saying I'd seen a bunch of shows at that venue and thought last night sounded particularly good.  Should have stopped there.  But I mentioned a show that I thought sounded like crap there from a while ago to offer a comparison.  I thought the guy running the board toured with the band.  Did i just compliment and insult the guy at the same time because he is the venue's employee and not touring with the band?  I was trying to be nice and now think I was being a jerk without knowing it/meaning to.  

stupidguy
stupidguy

So question, I complimented the sound engineer at a show last night saying I'd seen a bunch of shows at that venue and thought last night sounded particularly good.  Should have stopped there.  But I mentioned a show that I thought sounded like crap there from a while ago to offer a comparison.  I thought the guy running the board toured with the band.  Did i just compliment and insult the guy at the same time because he is the venue's employee and not touring with the band?  I was trying to be nice and now think I was being a jerk without knowing it/meaning to.  Help me be less ignorant.

gregcarttar
gregcarttar

This is all so disappointing. We (performer and sound person) should be a team, even if we've never seen each other before. It's a dance of quickly building a trust relationship.
Now, drunks and posers? Not so much. An audience member who has a genuine concern that they can articulate? Sure, I'll try to help you, but please wait for the break. If you're not happy then I'm not happy, and if I can and if your observation is solveable, I'll try to fix it. If you are the ONLY person bitching, I probably won't take your advice or counsel. If 5 people tell me the same thing, then I need to look at that.
"What happens when I touch this knob?" Oh, I don't know, what happens when I touch your girlfriend?
My favorite quote from self-absorbed sound people: "You've obviously never heard ME mix."
Dude (or dudette), if I can "hear you mix" then you are not doing your job. This not about you or whether you hold your pinky pedantically as you adjust that fader with a grand flourish, and whether the result of that adjustment is dramatically audible, it's about how invisible and transparent you can be to the perception of the audience.
Now, players: It's arguably every musician's nightmare that the crowd doesn't hear your carefully rehearsed and artful performance (no sarcasm intended), and that is a valid concern. But raw volume is not gonna fix it. It will only upset the balance of the bands perfomance, especially in small venues, and if it gets to the extreme, there is nothing I can do to bring it back into balance.
There was time in the dark ages of guitar band performance when the only way to "get the tone" was to crank the amp. In the modern day, good amps will allow you to "get the tone" at whisper levels. Unfortunately, drums don't work that way and they don't have volume controls so there is some unavoidable conflict on a small stage between the drummer getting what he wants (and justifiable needs) from his kit and the rest of you balancing in.
So when you rehearse, do it to arrive at a workable and reasonable instrumental balance without going through a sound system. It will make monitors easier and more effective when you get on my stage, you can all be comfortable with each other, and I can have a fighting chance at making it work.

It's just as important for you to be professional and competent in the technical environment of the stage as it is for you to be a blazing musician.
It's just as important for me to be professional and competent in delivering your artistic effort to the audience.
We're a team. We're professionals. Lets act like it and work together to make the night go well for everyone.

briantempleton
briantempleton

As a professional bassist, the one thing that irks me is when some sound guy (who's never heard my rig before - that I have finely tuned for my "Tone") walks up and just pushes my "pre" button, without listening to me playing it, or even how it sounds through the house before doing so. Chances are you haven't dealt with my "boutique" equipment, so don't touch it....especially without asking.

juggernaut866
juggernaut866

Would you like come cheese to go with that whine?

Holy crap, man! You are there to make sure the audience likes the show. Interact. Have fun. 
Do a good job. 

Don't like your work? Go do something else, then.

juggernaut866
juggernaut866

Would you like come cheese to go with that whine?
Holy crap, man! You are there to make sure the audience likes the show. Interact. Have fun. 
Do a good job. 

Don't like your work? Go do something else, then.

ritualdevice
ritualdevice

Yeah...no. You aren't in my band, sound guy. You've never heard our records, and have never been to a gig. Most importantly, you didn't pay to get in. I'm not working for you, you're working for me, and I'm working for the audience. I don't care if the sound guy is happy with the mix. I care about the dude who is at every gig and owns every record. If it sounds good to him, then I'm happy. And he's gonna be pretty easy to please. If the #1 fan guy thinks something is wrong with the sound, then you need to fix it. Also, asking the room how everything sounds is just easy banter while you're doing a quick tuning check. It's like the waitress asking how everything tastes. Try not to get your panties in a bunch. You get paid before the band anyway.

cscrawfo1
cscrawfo1

Nothing in this article is negative, and it doesn't sound like complaints.  Every single one of these happens nightly,  especially when you are working/mixing with people who are not experienced musicians.  #6 is my favorite of the 15.  This article is spot on except the headline.  Local sound "guy" should be sound "person".  Some of the best engineers I've ever worked with are female.

pmpete
pmpete

Some of the stuff in this list is remarkably beautiful. You get to read,first hand,how some sound guys are on a major power trip. He is gonna cut the band off and play the club music- it's the icing on the cake. When I have a gig, I'm paid to play til a certain time and I always hope the sound guy is paid to make the show sound as good as possible for everyone. This dude is an awesome example of a dickhead sound guy. I can't believe he thinks every comment is about him and not just banter, albeit trite banter. Boy ,what a piece; beautiful.

uptoeleven
uptoeleven

Sound engineers - as a sound engineer and musician myself I've lost count of the number of poorly engineered gigs I've either paid to attend or paid to perform at (what you get paid rarely covers expenses unless you're in a well-known band, and even then it's no guarantee).


I remember watching an engineer, who is now a friend, engineer a show years ago - she'd set the sound and then disappear. Then she'd reappear a minute or two into that song, tweak stuff and disappear again. She did this several times and it was only when I caught her disappearing that I saw what she was doing. She'd leave the booth, run into the audience and just stand there. I asked why and she said

"What I can hear at the desk is how it sounds at the desk. It doesn't need to sound good at the desk, it needs to sound good in the audience". And it did. A lot of times when the sound is awful, it sounds great at the desk...

Paul.Caporino
Paul.Caporino

A good sound engineer is like gold.  Musicians, be good to them.  They have the power to make you sound even better than you actually do.

swann2n
swann2n

maybe this article should replace 'sound guy' or 'sound man' by 'sound technician' or 'sound person'. There are female sound techs around as well, and we don't really like being called 'sound guys'. Also, this sound tech seems like a classic grumpy tech which doesn't much good to the music industry. Be excited about your job, or do something you actually like. 

Darka247
Darka247

Sound men are generally jerks. The good ones are not, but most have a total superiority complex.

espantalho1
espantalho1

"When someone insults you or makes fun of you or is mean to you..don't try to be victorious. That's ego shit. you don't need to "win" over them and be defensive. Instead learn more about what is hurting that person and use it to be something you learn about them. You aren't what they say you are, those harsh words are simply a reflection of their own life" - Shiny Toy Guns

Chef
Chef

Wow, whiny whiny whiny. 

Think you've got a tough lot in life? Try finding the chef at the place you're working at... or if you don't have a chef, because they've been "replaced" by handful of guys without papers (who will still work harder in 1 week than you will in a year, despite no overtime pay on 80 hours per week, no benefits, no breaks, and absolutely *no* respect,) try finding a place that does have an actual chef; ask them how much they get paid, ask what a typical day in their typical week looks like, ask them what sort of criticisms and annoying requests they run up against on a regular basis... then take a look at your article again.

This snobbish, art-school-kid, "I'm a precious and delicate snowflake, because of my creativity, despite the fact that the purpose I serve is largely utilitarian, so I'm above being exposed to minor drudgery, and exposure to the words of those who I considered unenlightened" attitude, is completely infuriating to people who actually have to work hard for a living.

gdalley
gdalley

I have read many of the Band and sound man comments. It is all very interesting. I have not worked with some of the big names, and I started long ago. I found the following approaches had good effect. #1, I would take a few minutes to meet the people on the band write down the names of the people I am working with, #2  I would tell them that the sound check was for them. I wanted them to be happy and satisfied with the sound on stage, have them play a few songs, not completely, stop when they want and tell me, a little more here or there in what monitor. Yes, yes, the loud guitar player, well that has been discussed, and guitar speaker placement is paramount. Keep in mind I am an old guy. We would turn 2 x 15 guitar cabinets backwards, didn't even mike them. Nobody lost their hearing that night. #3, work with all the guys/girls in the band. Remember, in their mind, you are subservient to them, which is fine. Compliment the guys on guitar sound, kick drum/snake tuning, harmonies etc after sound check if your happy, if not go back. #4, if everything goes well, the wives/girlfriends will tell the band how great they sound. The band will tell you after the show, sometimes thank you through the PA if the crowd is hopped up. #5, Never be happy with the mix. Always think of what could be better, what to try next time. I come from an era where having the power to get a tight kick/bass on the floor was a challenge, regardless of the band., and of course, #6, if the band isn't that good, and you know it, their friends will think they are great because of your mix, and you will be a hero!! Please don't get the impression that I am an old has been. I was doing this before the guitar effects processor or electronic tuner was invented, so I guess I am. I did attend an after concert party with Fleetwood Mac and Deep Purple in 1972 in Duluth Minnesota  which is the day when I got my desire to learn about concert sound engineering. I can describe the PA to you if you are interested. Sincerely Graham

therealex
therealex

One thing I've learned after thousands of performances over the last 38 years: if you're a guitar player with the amp pointing at your ankles/knees, it's going to cause problems.  I've found a lot of "GTL" (Guitar's Too Loud) situations can be solved by using amp stands or a block to point the amp at the guitarist's head.
Yeah, I know, very simple.  But you'd be amazed how many players - especially at festivals and small clubs - don't do this.  Then they crank the amp.  And there's nothing a sound person can do, as everyone else follows suit.
That being said, I would not look forward to working with the author of this article.  If you don't treat every gig like it matters ("Forgive me if I'm bored") then you're in the wrong line of work.  Get a day job.

- Russell "Hitman" Alexander
The Hitman Blues Band

neville6
neville6

Uh-oh did did the drummer go home with you're girlfriend again?

fliptrip96
fliptrip96

@briantempleton  Brian. just wanted to clarify why this happens to help alleviate your annoyance.  Everything is situational in Live Sound Reinforcement and seemingly similar jobs will require drastically different approaches.  Taking a bass DI line out of the head with the "pre" switch engages is indeed standard practice amongst professional audio engineers, especially for one night gigs when you only have one channel to devote to the bass guitar.  The "tone" knobs on your bass head exist as a blunt equalization tool mostly used for the purpose of overcoming the incredibly compromised frequency response of your speaker cabinet, as well as whatever room your rig happens to be in at that point in time.  Ever notice how the more expensive or appropriate a bass rig is, the less you have to slam the "tone" knobs to the extremes?  The problem is that the FOH speaker system is usually a 4-way speaker system that has an accurate (hopefully) full range frequency response, far different from the capabilities of a bass rig.  If we took the Direct Out post EQ, we will amplify any of the boosts and cuts that you've made to make YOUR particular rig sound "killer", which USUALLY sounds terrible in the house PA.  Now, we're forced to do our own set of boosts and cuts to make that signal pass through a sound system with a drastically different bandwidth not sound terrible.  Add in the need to equalize that channel to sit well with the kick drum (don't get me started on the neglect of drum heads and tuning by drummers), keyboards, guitars, etc., and what results is a mess.  We just don't have the tools to accomplish all these different EQ moves without destroying the integrity of that sweet sounding bass guitar you have up there.  The best way to use one EQ section on the console to match what is coming off your bass rig in the house (so that every one can enjoy the tone you worked so hard to achieve) is actually by taking the "pre" output of the signal.  We still get all the goodness of your bass and the preamp section of your head, without having to scoop and dig your tone into the ground.  There is no doubt that we can hear what your amp tone sounds like in the room.  We will do our best to reinforce that with the incredibly flexible "tone" knobs we have on our piece of gear.  IF we have the ability to accommodate a DI line as well as a quality microphone for the bass, that will be a better day for everyone involved.  Hope that helps!

mdubree
mdubree

@ritualdevice Wrong, we are working and hired by the club or promoter. And no I'm not in your shitty band, if i wanted to i could go play 4 power chords with any other group of 3 assholes and make a band of my own and act like you do that "holier than thou attitutde" If i haven't heard your CD, it's because you suck so bad I never saw it for sale, ANYWHERE, and also you have no idea how to balance the sound output from the PA to incorporate the room and live audience. If you have solo's or highlights to feature, how about ataking 10 mins to walk over to the sound guy and ask politely if at certain times when you see a member step forward to push his level slightly over everyone, BUT GUESS WHAT GENIUS, we probably already have. ALSO since were on the genius topic, you are listening to yourself thru monitors, you are not the guy in the middle of the audience. "We work for you".  No Bitch, you work for the Club or Promoter who has heard of you or your crappy CD, and if they hired us, then that puts us under the same umbrella, but don't worry Were professional enough to make even your shitty bound sound bearable enough to your 20 friends and family at your show bro...And we do get paid, because we are doing a job, you're on stage performing your HOBBY.

coldfiresquire
coldfiresquire

@ritualdevice You are definitely in a band. What an arrogant prick.
 Also, asking the room how it sounds is just easy banter, yeah... no. It's actually rude. Think of something else more clever to say. Your sound guy, despite the fact that he is working for you, holds the power to turn your shitty band even shittier if he gets pissed off enough. Be nice, he will most likely do the same. And number one fan guy is just that, number one fan guy, nothing more. If you value his opinion on sound so much, hire him. Otherwise, let the sound guy do his job.

coldfiresquire
coldfiresquire

@uptoeleven You're referring to someone who obviously wasn't doing their job well. As a sound man and a musician myself, I can attest that ineptitude and laziness are issues on stage and behind the sound board. However, you cannot assume that every sound man is like this, just as one cannot assume that every band are arrogant amateurs. Some of them are arrogant pros.

coldfiresquire
coldfiresquire

@swann2n This sound guy mirrors the thoughts of every sound tech in the industry. I guarantee that.

ritualdevice
ritualdevice

@swann2n Guy can be gender neutral, especially in the plural. Look up the origin of the word, it has interesting history.

uptoeleven
uptoeleven

@therealex Hear this man he speaks the truth. I played a lot of bass over the last few years and, for want of a tilting speaker stand, have had to come up with a variety of ingenious methods to point the damn speaker at my head so I could hear the bass loud as I needed, but everyone else got a balanced mix. I also play guitar - guitar's worse - you're cutting across the vocals, the keys, pretty much everything. Buy in-ear monitors or point the speaker at your head and become instantly more popular with the rest of the band / sound crew etc. Out front they'll hear enough, if the place is decent sized your amp's miked. And on stage everyone hears a balanced mix or at least everything they need to hear. Perfect.

ablebravo
ablebravo

@neville6 "Uh-oh, did the drummer go home with you are girlfriend again?" AHHHEM!!! The word is spelled Y-O-U-R! One of these centuries, people will know how to use an apostrophe!

jabberwacky
jabberwacky

@coldfiresquire You are obviously a jackass with an attitude problem. Attacking every comment just shows what kind of dick you would be to work with. You don't speak for the entire profession. I know plenty of sound guys who are chosen for their skill and go on international tours with bands. What are you? Probably just some house sound guy that the bands is forces to use and pay for. If you are good at your job you get thanked, requested and promoted to other bands. If you are shit, well I guess that's the box you are in. Just remember, without the bands you hate so much you would be out of a job. So don't bite the hand that feeds you. If you had actually made a name for yourself as a good sound guy you wouldn't be on here complaining. Get a day job.

ritualdevice
ritualdevice

@coldfiresquire The only person who *might* think it's rude to ask how the music sounds is the sound guy. He shouldn't be married to his mix. If I get feedback on stage that something is missing, he needs to know. I'm not gonna tell him HOW to do his job, that's his craft. But just assuming that he's got it perfect and the band and the fans don't know what they want...that's arrogant. Incorporating feedback is part of being professional. 
I'd love to see a list of sound guy annoyances ie, things sound guys do to irritate bands. #1 would have to be applying buckets of reverb to channels at random times, and playing it like it's an instrument. A headbanging sound guy is a bad sign too.

juggernaut866
juggernaut866

@ritualdevice @coldfiresquire 
But what about those sound guys that hot-patch amps/speakers and who make feedback at interruptingly high levels? Because I know a few who do it for sadistic/jackass purposes. And they think it's funny to burp into the clearcom.

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