Pirates and Thieves? Sounds Good…

By Pooch / April 24, 2015

 

The live sound industry seems to attract pirates and thieves.

In a captain Jack Sparrow kind of a way, we meander thru on our Prevost pirate ships coming soon to a town near you.

I had the pleasure of attending Webster University’s Audio Engineering Society earlier this year. It was really a pleasure to lecture to a bunch of young students who obviously care about music, and how music sounds.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and would love to go back next year. But this is NOT the norm.

 

As soon as those young whipper snappers get out of their bubble in college, and get a taste of the real world, are they going to forget it is about the sound and get absorbed into the “carnival atmosphere”  ??  (Thanks Scott and Bill for that phrase – again) The live sound side of this industry seems to attract the pirates and thieves.  In a captain Jack Sparrow kind of a way, we meander thru on our Prevost pirate ships coming soon to a town near you.  Working in this industry for 20+ years leaves you a little jaded.  You hang out with enough ruffians and you become a ruffian.

 

God knows I spent a lot of years only concerned about myself, and how much I was going to make on the next leg of the tour.  But is it bigger than that? Who do we work for?  Who is ultimately our end client?  Who REALLY pays our salary?   The answer is somewhere between the lines of “Those friggin 15,000 water bags that show up and screw up my PA tuning I did earlier.” and the very nice families that come to see a rock show so that my bosses can make money, so I can make money.  The answer is the audience.  My favorite saying that the incredible marketing team at Dolby sound came up with “The audience is listening.” holds true in my heart today.

 

So, yes, we are paid by the band, but ultimately we are paid by the concert goers.  I get really depressed when I have a show where it is not as good as it can be.  Whether it be my fault or not, I get genuinely upset that I was not able to provide the best possible sound to the audience for that evening.  Here is why……  The flowers, the babysitter, the dinner, the gas, the parking, the tickets, the t-shirts, and the condoms, all cost money.  By the time the guy was done with the evening he was into it for $500 or more.

 

That just isn’t fair that the couple decided to spend their hard earned money on a show, and not get 100% effort from those putting on the show.  With the technology available to us, there really is no excuse for a bad sounding show. Thankfully so far in my career I have had the chance to work with bands who keep their bean counters at bay, and allow me to do my job by choosing the very best in audio components in order to provide the very best sound possible.  But more and more I am seeing money dictate sound quality.  This is so unfortunate.  It’s the audience that is getting screwed in this.  The band is often unaware that someone other than the FOH engineer has decided what sound vendor to use based solely on who bid the cheapest.  This leaves us sound engineers to deal with whatever gear the bean counter decided was good, knowing that it could be so much better for just a few more dollars.

 

Practice what you preach.  If you care about what it sounds like, care enough to put your foot down when it comes time to decide what gear works best for your band.  You are the SOUND engineer, make decisions on making it sound better, and be prepared to fight to get what you think is right. Choose a sound vendor that has your back.  One that provides you with the latest in technology, and the best trained crew to go with it.  I love what I do, I love making a show sound great, I love it when the audience energy is over the top because it sounds so good.  It is what drives me, it should drive you too.

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About the author

Pooch

Ken "Pooch" Van Druten is a three time Grammy nominated recording engineer, multiple Tourlink "Top Dog", and FOH Magazine Parnelli FOH sound award winner. He has worked in this industry as a FOH engineer, monitor engineer, production manager, and tour manager for over twenty years. His clients include Linkin Park, KISS, Guns N Roses, Kid Rock, LImp Bizkit, Mötley Crüe, Pantera, Whitney Houston, Rob Zombie, Jane's Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, System of a Down, and Ted Nugent.

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