Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: Bryan Savage - The Most Important Relationship

Bryan Savage is the Worship Director at the church where I work.  I asked him to write about his perspective of the sound guy (not me in particular, in the philosophical sense).  He wound up confirming that quite a few of the ideas that I've mentioned really do work and have an effect on the musicians you work with.
Arangeous Maximus
Over the last twenty years or so I have had the privilege to perform in quite a variety of venues.  I've sung in bars, night clubs, restaurants, funeral homes, old-folks homes, churches, radio, t.v., stadiums, cathedrals, and yes, even on the streets of New Orleans with a tip jar.  While all these venues were incredibly diverse and uniquely rewarding, there was always one common denominator - a sound engineer.

I'm sure you may be thinking, "really, you had a sound engineer on Bourbon Street as a street musician?" - oddly enough, I did - maybe I'll save that story for a later guest post.

The most important relationship any musician can have in this industry is the relationship with the sound engineer.  Fortunately for me, I have the honor of working with the same sound engineer every day and every time I play I have the same engineer by my side - or more like in the balcony - but you get my point.  Over time, our relationship has become one of mutual trust, understanding, and respect.  Kinda sounds like marriage - in a lot of ways, it is.

For most sound engineers, you do not have the advantage of working with the same band every day or every weekend and it is hard to build trust, understanding, and respect in a 30 second hand shake and a 10 minute sound check.  So let's look at some very practical ways that this "one night stand" can turn into a "one night marriage".

My goal is to write this from the point of view of the band, or front man, or musician to help give sound engineers a better understanding of how to make the marriage work.  Obviously, in any relationship there is give and take and frankly at some point every sound engineer is going to run into a real jerk of a band who treats you like crap.  My suggestion to you would be to always take the high road and let the jerks be jerks - you are better than that and their band probably sucks anyways.  Let's get back on point now.

Suggestion #1:  Make a good first impression.  Introduce yourself to the band, preferably face to face and not from the back of the room talking through a mic.  This will quickly establish that you care enough to know who they are.

Suggestion #2:  Within the first 30 seconds of conversation, find a way to let them know that you have their best interests in mind.  Don't tell them how you plan to mix them and make them sound but ask them if there is anything specific they are looking for.  

Suggestion #3:  Carry about yourself a presence of confidence - not to be mistaken with cockiness though.  Cockiness can translate into a persona that you think you are better than them and then trust will be thrown out the window.  Every band wants to know they are in good hands - confidence from you makes all the difference.

Suggestion #4:  If the band requests something always try to deliver.  Try not to tell the band "I can't do that".  

I'd like to take a quick side bar here and mention something about most musicians.  Every musician I have ever met is self conscious at heart.  Anyone who is on a stage being watched by others has to face results at the end of every evening.  Did we suck or did we rock?  

If you, as the sound engineer, can keep the band encouraged and focused on what they are playing and give them what they need to perform then you will find that they will be more focused on their playing and less focused on you.  Which in turn means that you can do your job without any interruptions from a musician who thinks he knows how to do your job.

Suggestion #5:  Always be honest.  If the band asks a question don't just give them ear candy to puff them up.  Help give construct feedback.  This can actually go a long way in the respect department.

For example, just the other night at a band rehearsal I stopped the band and I asked my sound engineer how the intro to the song sounded in the house.  Without hesitation he said, "I felt like the intro was a little muddy - what would you think about having the acoustic enter at the start of the verse".

This made me smile for several reasons.  First, because he cared enough to be paying attention to that kind of detail.  Second, he gave an honest answer with feedback that was pertinent.  Third, he didn't lie and say something stupid like "if you don't consider the intro to Boston's More Than A Feeling then frankly, that was the best intro to a song I have ever heard."  Fourth, and most importantly, it made me realize how much respect I have for him and his opinion.

I have one of the best sound engineers in the world and he just so happens to be the author of this blog.  Jon is amazing.  He always wants to know what I am looking for in a given song set or performance.  He has a healthy confidence to his art that makes me feel at ease knowing he is behind the board.  He never says "No, I can't do that for you" but he says "I'll figure out a way to get you what you need".

Just like marriage there should always be a mutual respect and hopefully by following these suggestions you will find that your gigs become smoother and your relationships grow stronger.

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