You can be the most skilled musician in the world, but when it comes to performing live every artist is at the mercy of the sound technicians. Here we explore when is the right time to hire a professional sound person, and what qualities they should possess when you do.
Guest post from indie.ninja
There are many different jobs in the music industry, but knowing who to hire and when to hire them requires thought and planning. The needs and budgets of developing artists and labels aren’t the same as those for established ones. Making the right decisions and hiring the right people is where indie.ninja comes in. ‘Why Every Indie Needs A Ninja’ lets you know when it’s time to bring in a professional and how they can help take your career to the next level.
No matter how good you or your band may be, when playing live you are always at the mercy of that intimidating presence behind the mixing desk. Sound engineers (sound men, sound guy, sound women, sound persons, what have you) have the ability to make you sound great or make you sound really not great. In the early days of punk and indie rock, musicians often butted heads with condescending sound men fretting over their precious mics getting damaged in the heat of performance. Over time the scene started producing its own breed of soundpersons with more sympathetic sensibilities.
Dave Curran has manned the boards from some of music’s hardest and heaviest bands, and, oh yeah, he’s a pretty good musician too, having held down the bass for legendary New York noise rockers Unsane for the last 20-something years. Find out how he got started and when he thinks every artist needs to start taking their live sound more seriously.
I grew up in Montreal, Canada and started playing in bands when I was 14 or 15. One day, this local punk band Blood Sausage were playing one of those 9-band punk rock fiascos. After the third band, the Mafioso who ran the club fired his junkie soundman who was literally nodding out at the mixing desk, and got on the mic asking if anyone in the crowd could mix bands. My friends volunteered me, it went well, and that guy basically hired me on the spot.
Around 1987, I started doing sound at a club in Montreal that’s fairly famous called Foufounes Electriques. It had a proper PA and microphones and got a lot of international bands. I did that for a couple years and shortly thereafter, I hooked up with Unsane and moved down to New York. Ironically, I was originally hired to do sound for them on tour, but four shows in, they fired the guy that replaced (founding bassist) Pete Shore, and I would up playing bass for the rest of the tour and the rest is history as they say.
After that tour, Season To Risk asked me to do sound for them on a tour opening for C.O.C and Monster Magnet. A couple weeks in, Monster Magnet asked me to do their monitors. Then C.O.C. fired their monitor guy, and asked me to do the same thing. I did a few tours with The Hellacopters, a couple tours with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and then in 2007, started working with The Melvins. I was with them up until the end of 2013, doing two to three tours a year. After a couple of tours, I started road managing them as well, which was easy, since those guys were pros.
The advantage of a band having their own sound person is first and foremost consistency. Sometimes you’ll hit a club with some pretty dinosaur gear that kind of half works and you have to work with what you’ve got. I think it gives bands confidence as well. With Unsane, we always bring our own sound person. It costs a little more but it’s worth it. You know your sound out front and on stage is going to be good. And if you have consistently good sound, it puts you in a situation when you’re playing on stage where you’re comfortable and confident and that makes you play better.
As far as when a band should hire a sound person, I would say bands that are out on their first or second tour, and they’re playing smaller venues, which for the most part will have smaller PA’s and some of your shows might be house parties, it would behoove you to save your money and not bring anyone out with you. But if you start getting more popular, or get invited out by a bigger band and start playing bigger venues, then you should to hire a sound person. You’re playing to more people, you’re trying to impress them and get them to buy your record, your merch, etc. It would be to your advantage to have somebody that can just take care of all that shit so you don’t have to worry about anything other than playing.
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