Saturday, February 25, 2012

Uncle Jon Wants YOU

I gave a little bit of thought to how much information I intend to give out here.  I suppose I could be all paranoid about letting all my good sound guy secrets go but that's not really my philosophy.  Any time someone engages me about my favorite subject I tend to give them a lesson on whatever topic came up whether they want it or not.  I'm not at all shy about sharing.

Why would I want to just give away all my hard earned knowledge?   Why would I want to share information that my competition could use to get the jump on me in a highly competitive market?  Here's why:

I want people that mix audio to be better at it.  I want the percentage of good sounding gigs that I go to to be higher than about 10%.  I want people to think we're all Gandalf or Batman or MacGuyver and we make the world a little more enjoyable every time we set out to turn some knobs. I want people to generate some good will toward sound guys.

Additionally, I want them to be NICE about it.  If there's one thing I'm even more sick of than poorly thought out systems run by unqualified personnel it's this prevailing opinion that all sound guys are dicks and to be considered the enemy of musicians everywhere.  Every gig I work it seems like I have to put more effort into putting the artists at ease and making them believe that I'm on their side than I do setting up and running my system.  It's such a rare occurrence that I can meet a band, state that I would like to work together to make them comfortable, sound good, and insure that everyone has a good night and they take my word for it.
//end rant

Something few people realize is what a serious term the word engineer is.  In Germany if you have a piece of sheepskin that says you studied engineering on it you get to put that in front of your name on your business cards just like doctors do.  In fact, pro audio is the only occupation in the world where you can call yourself an engineer without actually having a piece of parchment to back it up.  The term audio engineer started back when audio engineers were the guys at GE and RCA who wore lab coats and horn rimmed glasses and knew what was going on inside all the tubes and transistors that their gear was made from.  Now days any slob who can turn on a Mackie and murder some fledgling band's set or fire up Garage Band in their parent's basement wants to log in to Vista Print and order some business cards with a Shure 55 (Elvis mic) and call themselves an engineer.

I think it's OK to call yourself an audio engineer without a diploma but it would be nice if there was some differentiation between people who know about the mysterious ways that electrons course through our equipment and someone who is basically using the same skill set required to operate a microwave.  If you're an engineer you don't just look at a problem and come up with a solution that more or less satisfies the conditions.  You look deep into your store of knowledge on the way your gear works and try to come up with the best, most elegant solution you can and then refine that even more.  (I get goose bumps just thinking about it).

What's more, you should also operate by a fairly strict set of rules and also know when and how to break them to make it happen.  I love telling newbies something and following up with, "That's the way you should always, always always do this... except when you don't!"  You should fight and fight to always do things the right way while keeping a sharp eye out for that time that you can't. And then calmly and purposefully break the rules to make things work.  All while not forgetting to demonstrate to the client that you have their best interests at heart and are going the extra mile at all times for their pleasure, comfort, and dollars.

So that's what I wish for my Brethren of the Knob and Fader.  Get after it boys.


  1. well said. i could go on for days about your "being nice about it" point. I tell artists now if they are working with an engineer, and they ask for something, and the engineer says "no", it means they probably don't know how to accomplish what you want. Look for someone else who can make life easier for you to do your best. That is after all, our job as engineers.

  2. Yes, all too often hacks represent themselves as engineers. The simple fact of the matter is that you need to be prepared for basically anything and the hacks just aren't. Not implying of course that tech riders or requests are given with enough advance to accommodate miracles. I've found that most good engineers share their knowledge-base freely and welcome a challenge. We're all in this together, why be snooty or act like a prima donna.

    1. Audio Analyzer, you sound as though you are just the sort of member of the Brethren of the Knob and Fader that I would love to have do a guest post here. Got anything you'd like to share?


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