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Thread: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

  1. #1

    Default Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    My band played two gigs last weekend. One gig was a BG festival with several good local bands and two national headliners. We played both Friday and Saturday. On Friday, we got on stage and tried to get a sound check. The guy running sound on stage couldn't get our monitors working at all. We later learned he just turn up the main volume on his board after taking a long time trying to figure out why he couldn't get the monitors to work. To top it off, the guy running the house mains really had the bass turned up way to loud. He ran loud bass for the two national acts as well. Next day, we were slated to play in the late afternoon, and we were able to get an early sound check. We were able to get the monitors set right, and I spoke with the house sound guy, asking that he turn the bass down in our house mix. He reluctantly agreed. When it came time to play, the monitor sound guy was again unable to get our monitors set right. Apparently, he failed to take any notes during our sound check, and again, the sound on stage sucked. And again, the house bass was too loud.
    These guys were hired to run the summer concert series, which included several rock groups. The sound men really didn't seem to have any experience running acoustic instruments.

    We then traveled over five hours to play at a county fair. We were scheduled for a sound check 30 minutes before we were slated to play. The sound guys there were also rockers and it took approximately 40 minutes to get our sound check right. While setting the sound, they destroyed our high end hearing with horrible feedback. And they still didn't get the sound right. It should be noted that the guy who played before us was a one man act that played guitar and fiddle, and sound guys butchered him as well.

    Why don't promotors who run acoustic festivals/venues hire sound men who know how to run acoustic music. They seem to hire friends or family members who have a PA system, or sound guys who are used to running rock concerts. It also seems that many times, promotors want to skimp on the money they pay sound guys, hence paying less for the friend or family member.

    Anyway, I've experienced poor sound much more frequently than good sound.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by banjoboy View Post
    These guys were hired to run the summer concert series, which included several rock groups. The sound men really didn't seem to have any experience running acoustic instruments.
    That's the problem....

    Last year we did a very large "mixed genre" type concert. One act was an excruciatingly loud rock band. They messed around for over an hour trying to get "their sound". They spent longer just fiddling around with the drum sub-mix than we did to get our entire setup and sound check done. They still sounded really bad and were complaining about not being able to hear each other in the monitors. The guys doing the live radio feed were in despair.

    We arrived. Refused flat out to use their system (they had been told this in advance, but 'forgot'). Set up two SA220 towers, a little Soundcraft EFX8 mixer, some AKG D5's, Shure SM94's and Rode M3's and had the whole thing running nicely inside 20 minutes. No monitors to worry about, we could hear each other perfectly, we did not deafen the audience (many of whom later walked out during the rock part), and the radio feed guys said we had by far the best sound they'd heard all day. Many compliments from the audience too, who appreciated being able to hear everything clearly, and without suffering hearing damage.

    A couple of other people did use their system, including a singer-songwriter with just an acoustic guitar. They could not get a decent level at all for him without diabolical feedback ruining his set. They had not got a clue.
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    Registered User Jordan Mong's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    It is so rare to ever hear anything good about the sound guys. On just about every instrument related forum I've been on, there was always one thread dedicated to stories of how horrible the sound setup was at a gig, and how the sound guys never know what they're doing, or even getting cocky or obnoxious with the musicians in trying to prove them wrong about something. Sounds guys are just notoriously bad.

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    Registered User Hendrik Ahrend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Yep, the bass is always too loud, always. Analytical hearing seems rare.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    why? maybe Nepotisim..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    I know a couple of local sound guys that I trust because they're also acoustic musicians. But the average Joe doesn't appear to have a clue.

    Our band, when it was a going concern, was very fortunate to know a professional sound engineer who mixed some of our shows because it was fun for him. He couldn't do all of our gigs, though, and the difference could be night and day.
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    This thread poses a fine question. Who better to have in sound than those who understand acoustic performances? I think I answer the question this way: there is something "cool" to being a sound engineer, or whatever people call themselves. They feel in control and rather cool managing all those mikes. Of course sound is so much more than that. However, I think the cool dudes may have a rather superficial "view of sound" The latter of course figuratively, but still they have a superficial idea of sound. Let's all have the acoustic musicians managing sound. But certainly agreed. I cannot tell you how often in SA we have a big international act performing and lo and behold, there is a problem with the sound. At that one that could be solved by basic adjustments to equipment. Viva acoustic musicians for sound!

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    There was a jazz festival in town recently and a bluegrass outfit was slated to play - so i turned up to watch and to add a bit of support. They were'nt - ahem - the most traditional of Bluegrass groups but they did have their instrumental parts well worked out but they were absolutely hung out to dry by the sound guy who managed to mix it so that the mandolin fiddle and guitar were nigh-on inaudible, those of you familiar with the genre might see a problem here.

    I thought that, however this came about, it was pretty inexcusable because i'm convinced that not a lot of any given audience will realise that a good band can be completely compromised by a poor sound set-up - a lot of folks will notice something is off but would leave thinking that the poor sound mix is the result of poor musicianship... not many folks will turn the accusatory eye to the soundman twiddling away on his desk.

    Out of curiosity - does anyone know of an instance where a group have filed an action against a poor sound man for misrepresentation? - is that even a thing?

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Having worked, over the years, on both sides of the fence, you may be interested to hear that sound "guys" have as many complaints about some musicians as musicians have about sound guys.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by banjoboy View Post
    "To top it off, the guy running the house mains really had the bass turned up way to loud. He ran loud bass for the two national acts as well. "

    "And again, the house bass was too loud. "

    "These guys were hired to run the summer concert series, which included several rock groups. The sound men really didn't seem to have any experience running acoustic instruments. "

    "We then traveled over five hours to play at a county fair. We were scheduled for a sound check 30 minutes before we were slated to play. The sound guys there were also rockers and it took approximately 40 minutes to get our sound check right. While setting the sound, they destroyed our high end hearing with horrible feedback".
    Banjoboy, I've selected some sections of your post I want to clarify:

    I'm curious as to why the bass always seemed to be too loud. Does your band ALL play through external microphones or is there a mixture of pick-ups/internal mics? Is the bass player playing bass guitar or double bass, and if it is double bass does it have a pick-up?

    These points are important. In my experience it can be very difficult to get acoustic instruments loud enough for a festival by solely going through mics, and it is even harder if some instruments are amplified but others aren't.
    I assume that the feedback which destroyed your high end hearing was due to the sound people trying to get acoustic instruments as loud as they could before they hit feedback levels.

    Bluegrass bands seem to generally resist using pick-ups. I can guarantee that in every thread here on the cafe where pick-ups are discussed, someone will invariably say that you get the best sound using a microphone.
    Yes, probably that is true, but in a festival situation where there is little time to get it right you need to have some control over your own sound. Some people have fairly complicated set-ups they run their instruments through, and they are doing it for a reason.

    It's one thing for sound crews to be more familiar with working with people who mostly use pick-ups (not necessarily rockers) but quite another to be incompetent and not know how to work the monitors etc.
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    That's why some bands travel with their own sound guy, he is part of the band and is intro'ed on stage as the 6th man.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    A good, professional sound man is a rarity ... but also quite a joy. We played a local festival run my a huge music lover who gets it ... every stage has a sound pro who is paid well.

    Sound for the audience is great and he fills up next year's schedule fast as all the bands LOVE the feeling of dealing with a sound pro who didn't blow their ears out a decade ago.

    When we were packing up post-gig the soundman came up to ask about intstruments, how we split up parts ... after 9 hours and 7 bands he was still listening intently. It is too rare to get that quality of person ... I can tell you that every musician noticed.

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    Registered User Andy Alexander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    A venue with a poor reputation for sound will not survive. Too often a promoter hires an $8000 headliner and has a $500 sound reinforcement company. The sound quickly becomes the weak link in the quality of the performance.

  19. #14

    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Having worked, over the years, on both sides of the fence, you may be interested to hear that sound "guys" have as many complaints about some musicians as musicians have about sound guys.
    That wouldn't surprise me one bit. Whenever the sound guy is doing a terrible job, part of the mix of horror is his obvious and utter contempt for the musicians.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Played the Osborne Brothers festival this Thursday and the sound was as near perfect as one could ask for.Its a rarity to be able To say that! But the sound people at this festival really knew what they were doing.be nice if it always worked out that way,maybe we wouldn't dread some of the venues we play.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    I don't mean to step on any toes, but I'd just like to add a little perspective to this often flogged horse.

    This really is a two edged sword. Because for every burntout old rocker trying to wade into mixing acoustic music he neither listens to or understands, there's just about as many acoustic musicians who don't know how to work a mic. With the right mic and a properly tweeked system you can get plenty loud. But if the musician doesn't want to help the soundman out and get right into the mic, what's he gonna do?

    Just the other night we saw one of my long time hero's who was playing a small intimate theater. All 57's and 58's. All these guys have done it all, rock, country, bluegrass, pro's. But the singer kept closing his eye's and pulling his head back to belt it out. But on a 58, he was getting out of the range and there was a drastic volume loss. This is what happens with a mic that's used on stages where you are sharing the space with drums, loud amps, and louder monitors and huge house systems. It is VERY sensitive to proximity for a reason. And the difference in levels an inch away, and 2 inches away is dramatic. So when he closes his eyes and pulls his head back to belt, while dramatic, totally messes the mix. Meanwhile the other three guys(pro's for most of their long careers) do it like you are supposed to, lips almost right on the windscreen, no moving, good breath control. But the lead complains he can't hear himself in the mix or the monitors. And guess who gets the blame, yeah, the soundman.

    As you can see this has become a pet peeve with me, as I have one of these types that I work with. And I keep hoping that when people come up after the gig and say to me, "I could hear every word of your song", and meanwhile nobody says anything to him, he would get it. He is a million times the singer, he's a pro that has been doing it literally all his life. But when he puts on this "show" tilting his head for effect etc the mic doesn't pick it up and vital parts of the song go away. It's beyond annoying. And all it takes is one person like this that the soundman is having to ride the faders to keep them in the mix properly and it's feedback city.

    I'm not discounting the OP's experience, I've been there so many times it's not funny, at all. But, I've also run the sound for my own band and have certain people who because of the day they have had a work, or whatever, are timid and not getting into the mic. And one person comes up and says, "I can't hear him" and everybody stares at me. Meanwhile I can show anybody who's at all aware that I've got sometimes almost twice as much gain on him than anybody else in the band with everything maxed out so what else can I do? But it's still my fault that he won't plug in because it sounds like crud....it gets old.

    We are blessed here on the Left Coast that one man, Paul Knight, has literally changed the whole way sound is done, and how it sounds on stage and in the audience. He often does a small festival all by himself. No drama. Sets up what the band wants mic wise in like 2min. Has all AKG and Neumann mics on stage. Is a bass player and knows acoustic music. A sound check goes in under 5min and you are off and sounding as good as you can and gets better through the set. He's my hero, and to everybody who comes in contact with him.

    My point is, don't leave it up to the soundman only. Understand how mics work and how to work them. Then at least you are not part of the problem. I avoid any time there is going to be a supplied sound system that I don't know. Like has been said, 99% of the people don't know what the problem is they only know you don't sound good. And if you don't sound good you don't get more jobs. And if I do get butchered by the sound, I find the manager and let them know I don't appreciate getting butchered in front of a crowd.

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    Registered User mandowilli's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    My experience is that there is usually plenty of blame to go around on either side of the mixer.

    Want your instruments to sound good when you don't control the sound? Use good pickups with high quality preamps on all instruments and hand the sound guy line level signals. Also, get right up on the mic and be consistent with your singing. A mic that is hot because the singer is 12" away from it is bound to feedback at some point.

    Take care of the things you can control and leave as little as possible to chance and if this doesn't work play as if it were the best gig of your life.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    I manage the sound for our band, and we do have the "one guy" that absolutely refuses to get closer that 6 inches to his vocal mic. It can be annoying at times dealing with the feedback generated from this. Plus he doesn't sing as loud as he could, so the gain is set dangerously high at every show.

    When the feedback comes, people will look at my mandolin as the cause. Makes me chuckle.

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    The blame could be shared by lots of issues here. Just because someone has a pa system and knows how to turn knobs and push fader levels doesn't make a good sound guy. BUT just because you think you sound good off stage doesn't mean you know how to on stage either. Seems like most bands I've played BG with always complain about the sound. I'll think it's pretty good ....never great because we were not great. Others bands before and after us sounded good. WE didn't. As if we were purposefully sabotaged. Or maybe just not as good as some in the band thought. I think that truth is what got me canned...
    I LOVE BG but can't stand sharing stage with someone who's never played a little something else. You cannot stand a foot away from the Mic and expect it to pickup well and still have strong monitor levels. Something is going to feedback unless extreme eq adj are made which will alter sound considerably. When you start out in a loud poor garage band you learn to sing loud and close to the Mic.
    This is a dream for sound man. Make him turn you down not up. Guarantee that will help your sound...oh and learn to not be so picky
    Best singer I,'ve ever sung with always sounds great. And she never complains about the sound. Not a pro but she should be. Everyone else I.ve played With are wanna be,s and they always complain about sound.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by TonyP View Post
    This really is a two edged sword. Because for every burntout old rocker trying to wade into mixing acoustic music he neither listens to or understands, there's just about as many acoustic musicians who don't know how to work a mic.
    Yup. I was running the board for the mainstage at an outdoor festival a few years ago. Not a music festival per se, but a neighborhood-type thing with bands in several genres plus other things going on in surrounding tents. The band onstage was either a salsa band or a jazz fusion band, I forget which. They were sounding pretty good and seemed to know what they were doing, but mid-show some lady came up to me and started yelling at me to turn down the mains.

    The mains had been preset by my friend Chris, who had the contract for the festival and had hired me to run the board. No way was I messing with his mains or his EQ presets unless he was the one telling me to do it.

    Turns out the lady was coordinating events in one of the other tents. Some dude in her tent was trying to give a talk or a cooking demonstration on a small PA and couldn't be heard over the mainstage band. Well, I looked over at him, and he was holding his 58 about eight inches from his mouth.
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    I'm glad to see some of the later posts here. The one thing many bands fail to do is practice stage and mic technique. They also fail to invest in good quality clip-on mics or pickups (yeah, I prefer clip-on mics, but I do get it when someone absolutely wants a pickup). Many bands we put on will also travel with their own mics just for certain specialized applications that are important to them. Yes, mixing an acoustic band is far different than electric, but if the band really knows what they are doing with their own equipment, they can usually communicate with the sound guy and get what they want. Usually being the operative word here...

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlieshafer View Post
    They also fail to invest in good quality clip-on mics or pickups (yeah, I prefer clip-on mics, but I do get it when someone absolutely wants a pickup).
    I don't like pickups as much as a good condenser mic either but to me it just comes down to the averages. That increase in tone quality that a good mic affords you comes with the risk of a complete meltdown in the total sound that you are putting out in your performance. And in my experience the odds are pretty good that it is going to happen.

    I just look at using a pickup and preamp as a practical sacrifice for the overall good.
    willi

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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    I think there is a distinction to be made here between an "acoustic concert" in a venue well-suited to that event, with plenty of advance preparation, and "combat audio" like a festival where there may be little advance coordination between band and PA provider, and multiple acts have to be rotated through the stage.

    There may be trainwrecks dealing with a FOH engineer who is only used to Rock bands, and this is often made worse by the trend lately for bass-heavy music and serious sub power. But even if the FOH engineer is familiar with acoustic music and knows how to mic and mix it, it can be a challenge to deal with bands who may be less than professional, and with little advance notice of the band's requirements.

    The best concert sound I've heard has been a result of two things:

    1) A band that knows what they're doing when performing with good sound reinforcement, and is also touring at a high level... i.e. a "famous" artist or band that can specify a technical rider in advance.

    2) An indoor venue capable of handling that tech rider, with a quality PA system tuned for the room, and someone who knows what they're doing at the FOH and monitor desks.

    In the last year or so, I've heard Lϊnasa at the Triple Door in Seattle, and Natalie MacMaster at the Center for the Arts auditorium in Edmonds, WA. Both great shows and no complaints from me about the sound quality. Communication is key. These aren't frantic 15 minute sound checks and ad-hoc gear arrangements. It can be interesting to look at the tech riders for bands like this, which can usually be searched on the Web. Here's the rider for the 2011 Natalie MacMaster tour, and here's one of Lϊnasa's riders. It's much harder to pull off sound reinforcement at that level, especially outdoors, with far less coordination between band and provider.

    Speaking of which, I have my own combat audio gig later today so I gotta pack and run. It's an outdoor wedding, simple setup, two K10 speakers on stands and a MFXi8 mixer, clip-on mics, and that'll do 'er. Running your own sound under those circumstances is pretty easy.

  36. #24

    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Playing a gig when you are the only band or maybe one of two there shouldn't be any problem. You do the sound check and get it right there. If you luck out and get a sound man that doesn't second guess you or thinks he knows better, leaves it alone and follows the plan-- and assuming that the equipment is of high enough quality-- it should always work out. In a festival setting I can see how it could be a logistical nightmare for a sound man but once you have seen/heard it done right then you know that it can be done. For example: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass -multiple stages going on at the same time and a couple of stages actually quite close to each other with virtually no bleed through, you don't hear the other stages. Bands with very different styles and techniques -from acoustic solo acts to bluegrass bands to heavy rock and roll. Forty odd bands playing each day in often blustery conditions and at each stage for every act the sound quality is spot on terrific. I comes down to the sound people knowing their job and realizing that they are there is a subservient position to do everything thing they can do to make the artist sound as good as possible. What else could be going through a sound mans head other than "Great sound -job well done!"

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    Registered User mandowilli's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why Do Festivals Hire The Wrong Sound Guys?

    Quote Originally Posted by barney 59 View Post
    What else could be going through a sound mans head other than "Great sound -job well done!"
    "Man, that should be me up there."
    willi

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