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The Worst Part of Being an Engineer

By Robert Caprio / April 7, 2015

For me, it is the aggravation of not being able to put on the best show possible or to not have control over what I need to make that happen. Due to an enormous number of varied circumstances, sometimes the show is just not as good as it could have been. At times I have no control over certain elements of a show but I always have control over myself. When I can’t do anything about a situation I let the chips fall and make the best of it. But when I know I can do something I always take a deep breath and critique myself to make sure I’m doing the best I possibly can. Coming off a recent show in Brazil (Sonar Festival in Sao Paulo) I felt pretty good about overcoming a number of shortcomings to end up with a rocking show.

<rant> Such was not the case two weeks ago at another recent festival. Due to me having to be at another show (with the same artist) the night before, I was not able to get in early enough to soundcheck. Plus, I had my mics with me so we had to use what the provider had. I carry my own mics for the simple reason that I know them intimately. That’s a whole other blog entry.

Anyway, when I did arrive I discovered that my poor monitor engineer/PM (Aaron “Double A” Dilks) had a horrendous time with the stage and all related elements. Errant patches, no frequency coordination among mics and IEMs… the list went on and on. I have to give him mucho props for prevailing in a VERY difficult situation but I didn’t have much time to console him since I had to set up our playback system (JoeCo BBR) and get out to FOH.

I got to my desk about 5 min before the downbeat. In those 5 minutes I discovered I wasn’t getting a number of vocal channels as well as some of the playback tracks. Did I mention the errant patching? We got that sorted and moved on. So, the show begins and so far things are not too bad. I’m jumping all over gains, faders, sends, etc. to get things dialed in but overall it’s sounding decent.

About halfway through the set I start hearing that people to the extreme sides can’t hear the vocal too well. That’s a big surprise to me since I’ve NEVER been accused of having a lead vocal too low, especially with Cee Lo. I tend to keep his vocal pretty far out front. Upon hearing that I send one of the techs out that way to get his impressions. I’m in a tent and I keep going out in front of it and around it to get an idea of what’s really happening because it’s sounding WAY different at the desk. My tech returns and tells me that to his ear the vocal is lower out that way (we’re talking about 60′ at least) but still audible and the band sounds fine.

Apparently though there are folks that are complaining that they can’t hear his vocal AT ALL. That’s downright odd, and really aggravating. I don’t get it. What’s going on here?

The PA was a 13 box per side hang of L’Acoustics KUDO boxes with no outfills (deployment error #1.) Hm… could they be set on their 50 degree dispersion setting (possible deployment error #2)? That would make sense… the band may still carry out a bit to the sides, but folks out on the extremes may be losing the vocal just due to the fact that they are so far off axis. To this day I’m not sure of what really transpired but youtube videos and my own ears confirmed that in front of the PA and off to the sides to about 20′ or so you could hear the vocal and all other elements just fine.

So that’s a good example of being in a situation where I could only do so much at the time. Had I been able to be on site for soundcheck I would have done a complete walk around and likely would have discovered whatever issue was at hand to cause the punters to complain.

The bottom line is that as FOH engineers, we’re often taking the brunt of the complaints and accusations. Cee Lo and his management ended up reading a few negative Tweets about the sound of the show (there were MANY more positive ones) so that is obviously an issue that was discussed in earnest when we met up backstage. Talk about being thrown under the bus. This is a situation where your average person will certainly blame the sound guy, not knowing the myriad circumstances that could be attributing factors.

I doubt we’ll ever read a Tweet about a monitor guy messing things up because 99% of the people in the audience don’t even know there is one or what he does. Likewise, it’s unlikely anyone will Tweet or post a Facebook rant about a local provider’s improper PA deployment or a TM messing up routings and schedules. When everything goes right everyone just faces forward and rocks out. If anything goes wrong, regardless of the reason or where fault may actually lie, the only thing they do is turn around and point their fingers at… you guessed it… me.

Obviously, after more than 20 years of doing this I’ve grown a thick skin and can take the lashings from anyone, and I never shy away from taking responsibility for my own goofs when they do happen. But thankfully those years of experience and my own fastidious nature keep those goofs to a minimum and most shows go off without a hitch. My frustration lies with the simple fact that there are times when we can’t control everything (except ourselves) and it can adversely affect the show. Alas, such is life as an audio engineer.


Next blog: The BEST part of being an engineer…


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About the author

Robert Caprio

Void began working in recording studios in the winter of 1988 after doing live sound for numerous bands throughout high school. He started out as a general assistant for producer Ric Wake (Taylor Dayne, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez) at Cove City Sound Studios on Long Island. Within six months he moved on to become a second engineer & drum programmer on many gold & platinum recordings. He left Cove City & Wake Productions after about a year & a half to begin freelancing as a first engineer at Media Recording & The Music Palace on Long Island. While working in these studios Void began to develop his own engineering & production style. After two more years on the Island, Void began working in Manhattan at such studios as The Power Station (Avatar), The Hit Factory & Electric Lady Studios. Working in all of New York’s world-class studios for the next five years gave Void the opportunity to acquire more knowledge & experience in the field of audio recording & production. Since that time Void has worked with top engineers & producers such as Ray Bardani, The Bomb Squad, Tony Brown, David Gamson, Mick Guzauski, Mark Heimermann, Steve Lipson, Shep Pettibone, Glenn Rosenstein & Russ Titelman among many others. After living in Nashville, TN for eight years & building his own studio (Interzone), Void has moved back to New York & is working with the area’s top sound companies & in the area’s most prestigious studios. His experiences as a 24-year veteran of audio & production enable him to work proficiently & effortlessly in any studio or stage environment. Void has extensive experience behind the console in live audio having toured as FOH engineer & tour/production manager across the US and abroad with numerous prominent artists. Void has recently been instrumental in the meteoric rise of NY based teen sensations Push Play having produced, recorded & mixed their debut album “Deserted” as well as touring with them throughout the US. Void has also been achieving success as a composer having recorded & released three albums for music library companies OneMusic & 615 Music. Void's compositions have been heard extensively on the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Food Network & Saturday Night Live among others.

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