Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Breaking myth #5: They're all out to rip you off! (part 1)

They want HOW MUCH (for their professional services)?!?!?!?!
Okay, this myth has quite a few aspects, so I am going to break it up into a few 'parts'. (New Year's resolution is to TRY to keep these things a bit shorter)

In this first part I am going to talk about the live sound person and their true value. Now, I think I should start by pointing out that things run a bit different here in Cyprus than they do/did in the other places I have lived/toured. The difference is that here in Cyprus venues tend not to have an 'in house' PROFESSIONAL sound person.
There are a number of advantages to having an 'in house' sound person.One is that they get to know the room and equipment intimately and, therefore, should be able to quickly get a good sound for pretty much any band. Two, their pay is usually a flat rate for every gig paid to them as an employee of the venue. As such, it is generally not something that the bands/promoters need to worry about.

Now, some people might think they SHOULD be aware of the cost of the sound person and should be able to negotiate this cost. Well, are they also concerned about the pay of the bartender, door person, servers, promoter, or other people working in a venue during the gigs? Probably not, and they shouldn't be.

True, you don't want to get ripped off nor be taken advantage of, but that doesn't mean that someone else should be. There is a difference between looking out for your own best interests and sticking your nose into someone Else's. More on this point later...

If a venue in Cyprus does have an 'in house' sound person, they might have gotten their 'training' by reading the manual to the mixing desk or maybe watching a Youtube tutorial... (yes, I actually know a couple live sound engineers who have admitted this to me)

Now, I am all for the DIY way of doing things. There is a LOT to gain from teaching yourself by doing, but that does not equate (necessarily) to good nor professional sound. At least not until enough time and effort has been invested to actually master the craft. As with playing an instrument, you aren't going to be a pro (or even listenable) by just reading a 'how to' book or watching a couple Steve Vai guitar tutorials on the Internet.

This, I assume, is why some bands have approached me and a few other professionally qualified sound engineers I know to do sound for their gigs. They are aware of the 'limitations' they will face with getting good sound at their gigs with the 'in-house' engineers or the venues they are playing simply have no one to do the sound. The problem in these situations is that the expectations of cost of such a service seem to be SEVERELY MISGUIDED!

Let me relay to you a couple situations that happened recently with a very good friend of mine (no, really... a friend, not me) with gigs he was asked to do sound for. This friend holds a degree in audio engineering from perhaps the world's most pre-eminent Audio Engineering Schools. He also has a good deal of practical experience. 

Situation #1, my friend was asked to do sound for a 3 band gig here in CY, by the bands. When they asked him how much it would cost, the quote was truly reasonable. Their response was that they felt the price was WAY TO HIGH. Well, they ended up getting someone else to do the show who is NOT trained in sound in ANY WAY and ended up paying that person the same amount as was quoted to them by my HIGHLY QUALIFIED friend. 

Situation #2, the same friend was asked by some bands to do sound for another 3 band gig and the same quote for cost was given. The bands tried to get my friend to include some of his personal (high end) sound equipment into the price. I am VERY PROUD to say that my friend refused and did not get the gig.  I'm not sure who ended up doing the sound for the gig, but I am guessing it was someone substantially LESS QUALIFIED than my friend. 
I still can't be sure what happened in the 1st situation, but I am guessing that because my friend is friends with a couple of the bands on the bill, they figured they should get the service for much less, if not for free. The funny thing is, the quote they were given was quite a 'friend discount' anyway... At least 25%.

The 2nd situation is a more typical and, I think, sadder one. It is sad because, as it seems, one of the bands saw no inherent value in the service. The venue already had all of the equipment needed for the gig, but the bands, or possibly only one of them, felt they would only be getting their "MONEY'S WORTH" if my friend also hauled along his personal sound gear! The funny thing is, I actually know ho much my friend charges for his sound gear ALONE, and that cost is almost 10 times the quote he gave for his engineering services.
Here is the reality. He was going to be investing a minimum of 10 hours PER GIG. That includes setting up, sound checks, and being ON TOP of the sound during the gig. It does not include getting to and from the gigs. Apparently, someone said to my friend something along the lines of "You want that much to just STAND at the mixing desk during the show?" Well, unfortunately there are sound people on this island who don't even do THAT MUCH, but if that is all they are doing, THEY SUCK! 

A good, professional sound person is pretty much always WORKING to make sure that the band sounds AS GOOD AS POSSIBLE THROUGHOUT their set. This usually means adjusting not only volumes of individual instruments/vocals throughout, but occasionally finding and dealing with out of control frequencies as they pop up on individual channels, and working the effects to make the band sound even better. If the band is pretty static stylistically and dynamically AND it is an amazingly fortunate night, it may be a pretty simple task, but that RARELY happens!

What a professional live sound engineer is offering you is their knowledge, experience, and LOVE of what they do. Getting a friend who knows "a bit about mixing boards" is NOT going to give you the same results. I know first aid, but I don't think you would want me doing any major surgery on you. I am a pretty damned good driver too, but I don't think I will be asked to drive Formula One any time soon. Get my point?

As for the folks out there that think the sound engineer should be also providing you with gear... THAT IS A DIFFERENT BUSINESS! There is a HUGE separation between sound engineer and sound equipment rental company. One may hire the other or even both be part of one combined venture, but the two are mutually exclusive. 

I have been known to lend a piece or two of my personal gear to friends or to bring along something that I think will make my job easier (usually something that is not already available from the house system), and I might even do so for no charge! BUT that is because the people I am working with or for have shown me respect and have made me feel welcome. I have NEVER done so on demand and WOULD NOT simply on principle. And the idea of bringing in my entire rig as a FREE-BE on top on my charges for my engineering services... Well, um, let me think... NO!

The fact is that most Professional Sound Engineers have no interest in ripping off the bands that they work with. Yet, just like you, they don't want to get ripped off for their work either. Most of them are musicians and quite a few have gotten into doing live sound because they have had to suffer through bad sound people themselves

Remember, these are the people that ultimately have the last word on how good or bad your sound is going to be at a gig. THEY ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY! As a matter of fact, they can and should be your greatest Allie. Trust me on this next point: NO PROFESSIONAL SOUND PERSON WANTS TO SIT THROUGH A BAD SOUNDING SET! 

Although doing live sound is a TON OF WORK and you almost always are TRYING TO DEAL WITH PROBLEMS LIKE FEEDBACK it is a job most of us love. We get to make the bands sound great! Hey, we are listening too! The key is we are, hopefully, listening a little more intently than the average audience member AND we are hell bent on keeping your band sounding as good as can be so you can concentrate on playing a great show and having a great time!

So the next time you are wondering if the extra 50 Euros (dollars, pounds, whatever) is worth it to get a REAL PROFESSIONAL LIVE SOUND ENGINEER, consider the SERVICE they are going to provide you with and the benefits of having a Pro with not only good intentions, but skill and experience, at the desk.

(So much for keeping it short, but just imagine if I had not focused just on this one point! Hahaha.)

P.S. By the way, there is nothing wrong with buying your sound person a few drinks and even dinner. It might just make them warm to you even quicker! ;-)

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