Getting Along With Tonight’s Sound Engineer

Feb 15, 2016

Getting Along With Tonight’s Sound Engineer

by Dustin Boyle

Note: I asked Dustin if he had any advice to bands regarding working with a live sound engineer. Having worked with many sound engineers (who in turn have worked with many bands) myself, I thought he may enjoy the chance to offer some advice to bands while also venting a few frustrations. I hope you find yourself nodding, cringing, and smirking as much as I did when I read this. -Ken Fitzsimmons, Education Director

I hear it from bands all the time; the struggle with the sound tech on any given night on tour can be all too real. From basement shows on up to big arenas, getting a good sound seems all but impossible for some bands. Is it the band that is doing something wrong or is it a bad sound person? Could it be a combination of the two? And more importantly, what can be done to correct it?

Just like mixing in a difficult room, even the best sound techs can have a hard time with a band that doesn’t have many hours of experience playing live on a stage in front of people. You may think your band sounds great in practice but everything can change in a live situation. Stage fright can overrule common sense and easy mistakes can be made without knowing it.

There are definitely a few key behaviors where the level of stage experience a band has is revealed to be that of a newcomer. A lot of these behaviors stem simply from improper practices or from not fully understanding the gear that is being playing on. Being aware of these bad behaviors can go a long way to help the sound tech perform their job easier as well as instill trust that you and your band aren’t going to do anything that might irritate the sound tech or worse: break something.

Microphone Technique

  • Do not cup the mic. This actually makes the mic more prone to feedback. The smaller the stage, the worse it is.

  • Pointing the mic down and holding it by your side in between vocal passages is really just a bad idea, especially in front of a monitor speaker.

  • Do not swing the mic around by the cable, if you wish to do this please bring your own mic and cable.

  • Do not sing quietly a foot away from the mic, on a small stage in front of a loud band. Sing with good projection and close to the vocal mic live. Studio vocals are where you sing further back. Learn to project your vocals for proper volume.

Stage Etiquette

  • Set up and breakdown quickly, don’t chat or hang out with fans and waste changeover time.

  • On smaller stages especially, take the drums off stage then break them down. This allows for the next band to quickly set up.

  • Please learn how mic stands operate and don’t just force them to move without loosening them first. They are not cheap to replace and repeated abuse will quickly ruin them.

  • Don’t stick your foot onto the monitor speakers. This pushes in the grilles on most brands, usually the tech is not likely to enjoy watching gear get damaged on their watch.

Amplifiers, Man Are They Loud

  • Try to keep stage volumes appropriate to the venue you are playing in. The best players rarely rely on pure volume to achieve good tone and can get good tone at any volume in any room.

  • Keep in mind that on an elevated stage, amplifiers might be aimed at the musician’s legs and at ear level for the audience. A guitar player might increase the treble to hear it better from where they stand but the audience is hearing ear-bleeding volumes. Pointing amps up to your ears can help you both hear better and save the audience from to much volume.

  • Power cables with broken off grounds are not only dangerous they can be deadly in certain situations. DO NOT solve hum problems by cutting off grounds or using lifters. There is always something else causing the issue or a different way to fix the problem. If you value your safety do not compromise electrical grounds.

  • Try plugging all of a single player's equipment into a single power strip into one outlet. This can go a long way to solving hum problems.


  • Show up on time, being fashionably late while the sound tech has been sitting around for three hours waiting to see if you’ll show up doesn’t start the night off on a good foot. If nobody provides a load in time please just ask. Whoever set up the show

  • If you cannot hear something in the monitors politely ask the engineer to fix it. But don’t use vague terms like “more me” what is that even supposed to mean? More vocals? More guitar? We don’t know what you are asking for. Be specific like bassist would like more kick drum, or center guitarist wants less backing vocals. Okay done. You can’t be comfortable unless you say what it is you need.

  • Asking the crowd how it sounds tends to leave a bad taste in most sounds techs mouth. Most sound techs are trying to do their best and feel its tacky to ask the crowd how it sounds.

  • Provide up to date stage plots even if you think you have a super simple setup. The more correct info we get beforehand to better prepared we can be and the faster things will go.

Green Room Manners

  • Leave things the way you found it.

  • Don’t bring people in that aren’t directly tied to the band. Keep the green room for employees and performers only. Resist temptation to look cool in front of your friends.

  • We get that fans like to help bands by lending a hand moving equipment around. And that moving it yourself can suck especially after a show. But please try to not let unqualified people (that most likely are intoxicated) move equipment around the venue. Too much can go wrong and the venue usually ends up holding the liability. I have seen a lot of people inadvertently hurt themselves and try to take legal action against the venue.

  • Why so many people think it is okay to block doors with lots of equipment is something I will never understand.

If all bands were to keep these items in mind, sound techs might start to be less grumpy all the time. We might be able to finally all come to an understanding and live in musical harmony. Or maybe not but it’s a start nonetheless. Next we have to work on those bad sound engineers…

Dustin Boyle is the house sound engineer at The Frequency and will be co-teaching Live Sound Basics with Jourdan Hines on February 20 at The Frequency.

Dustin earned a degree in Recording Technology & Music Business from Madison Music Institute and has since worked in numerous audio and technical fields. Dustin has been working as a live sound engineer for over a decade and is currently the head engineer at The Frequency in Madison, WI. He's also an A/V System Designer at Pridham Electronics.