I just got the following email with questions about how to communicate with your sound technician.
I have played in big bands many times where the sound men didn’t really help all that much. Frustrating.
You sound like you know what you’re talking about!!
Right now – I am directing a Praise Band in Xxxx Xxxxx, XX. I don’t know who to contact about some questions I have to help me communicate with the sound man there. Are you interested or able to help me?
Some questions I would like to address – –
-How to communicate with the sound man while on stage in front of church. Reason it is so important during the performance is because the sound man doesn’t have any ears. :/ Need to tell him when to turn up mics (for solos and duets and when the inexperienced guitar player’s part is actually being play correctly so it should be turned up, etc. etc.He seems to have a mind of his own when it comes to vocals being above band volume.)
Uff. Seems so hopeless. He can speak to me on the mic he has connected at the board. However, he never knows when I NEED HIS ATTN. (I can’t really use my hands to signal him on stage during the service)
I tried a 2-way radio but he didn’t want to wear ear buds all the time (as I can understand).
Diane, it can be very frustrating working with sound technicians who can’t or aren’t willing to help you out. Unfortunately, many sound technicians have the idea that they know better than the music director how the band should sound and want to do their own thing, regardless of what you ask them to set up for you. Since I don’t know your particular sound man personally and the performance situation, I can’t give you specific advice, but here are some general things you can try or think about.
Treat the Sound Technician As An Integral Part Of Your Ensemble
This is just interpersonal skills 101, but I feel it’s important that your sound tech feels that you take him/her seriously and trust their judgement. That can be a double edged sword if they don’t have the same vision for the sound as you do, but start from that point and go from there. I try to remember to thank our sound tech during the performance the same way I introduce members of the ensemble on stage. The trouble is, the better the sound tech is at doing his or her job, the more “out of mind” they are. Sometimes I mention to a sound tech before the show that if I forget to thank them on stage that it means I was extremely happy with their work.
So basically, remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Spend Some Time in the House Listening To the Ensemble With the Sound Tech
Whenever possible (hard to do if you’re also performing as well as directing), spend some time out in the house at sound check and listen to how it sounds. See if you can get the sound tech to mix the sound as close to how you want it to be so he or she gets an aural picture of your needs.
Since I most perform with jazz groups when I use a sound system, I have to trust that the sound tech understands what jazz is supposed to sound like. Too often they come from a background of mixing sound for rock groups and then have a skewed understanding of how things should be miced. With my big band, for example, I want the sound tech to mix the band in such a way that we’re approximating the sound of an all-acoustic jazz ensemble. A sound tech with experience mixing rock bands will often want to over-mic the rhythm section and we end up with an unbalanced sound. With a sound tech I’ve not worked with before I will step out into the house to listen to the mix during our sound check to ensure that it sounds right.
Find a piece or tune that involves everyone in the group but is also simple enough that they can run through without you up on stage. During sound check run out to the sound board and help your tech mix it the way you want. Since it’s hard for you to communicate during the service, try to take care of as much as possible ahead of time.
Communication While On Stage
This is frustrating, and I don’t have a good answer. Maybe some visitors reading this can offer suggestions. The best sound techs are focused during the entire show and keep coming back to watching the music director. When they do, you can unobtrusively point at the vocals and then point down to indicate to turn them down, etc. If you work with the same tech regularly you can both come up with some specific hand signals to help make your on-stage needs clear. But if your sound technician is not paying attention, that’s not going to help.
The best solution, if you can find a tactful way of doing so, is to make your sound man understand that it’s important for the music that he keep his attention on you and make your adjustments as needed. Another option is to get him a “liaison” between you and him to assist him during the service. That assistant can be someone charged with keeping an eye on you and passing along your needs, freeing him up to focus on other things.
Thoughts For Further Discussion
What advice do you have for Diane? What are your strategies for working with sound technicians? What’s the worst performance from the sound tech that you’ve ever dealt with? What are the best experiences you’ve had with a sound technician and why was it so good? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.