How to be a Live Sound Engineer Your Clients Love

by | May 20, 2015 | Uncategorized

I tend to think that being a good live sound engineer isn’t rocket surgery.

It mostly comes down to modifying your approach based on the band or artist, the situation, the venue, as well as the audience.

I’m not necessarily a schooled live sound engineer, and yet the reason I keep getting calls is rooted in the fact that I demonstrate sensitivity in every situation I walk into. I don’t just turn the soundboard on, adjust a few knobs, step away, have a few drinks and hit on the band’s girlfriends!

Sound isn’t necessarily hard, but you do need to exercise professionalism if you expect to get more gigs.

If people like what you do, you can bet you’re going to gain a positive reputation and be more in-demand. You’ll start getting more calls!

So, here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to be a live sound engineer your clients genuinely love.

Sound Engineer Tips

In my experience, the following tips are the most crucial to making every gig a success.

Pay Attention

It doesn’t do you or your client any good if you “set and forget”.

Sometimes, there are gigs where you can literally set the faders and EQ and never need to change a thing for the remainder of the performance. But that doesn’t mean you can set the board (and your mind) on autopilot.

A lot of singer-songwriter shows may allow you to walk away from the soundboard after initial setup, but when it comes to bands – especially bands that are made up of three or more members – you should be keeping a constant watch on the stage, so you can make adjustments on the fly.

You never know when the guitarist might need an extra boost for her solo.

This communicates care. Your client wants to know you care about your work and their sound, and when you can demonstrate you do, they will love you for it.

Be sensitive to the artist or band you’re doing sound for. They may have multi-instrumentalists that needs to switch out instruments from one song to another. They may have multiple vocalists within the group, even if there’s one primary singer.

Sometimes, you’ll need to adjust on the fly.

If you simply aren’t sure, talk to the band beforehand and get a sense of what they’re going to be doing for the show.

Use Your Ears

It’s a great idea to get your education in sound engineering. But if you do “everything by the books”, your education is all for naught.

Fundamentally, sound engineering is about how things sound, and regardless of what your training has taught you, setting certain instruments at specific thresholds without listening to the overall mix will get you in trouble.

Some musicians are exactly the same way – they practice in a room all day, only to show up on stage “without an ear”. Sure, they can play, but they’ve lost all sensitivity to the music!

By all means, take advantage of what you’ve learned in school, especially when cutting frequencies to eliminate feedback. But don’t be a slave to your education!

It’s dangerous to assume that every situation will be exactly the same, because most of the time, the rooms and the gear will change from one gig to another.

Even if you’re using the same gear, the weather, the environment, and sometimes the band may not remain a constant, so you must match the sound to the situation.

Sometimes this will go against your instincts, and sometimes you will find that what shouldn’t work does! I’m speaking from experience here.

So, do yourself and your clients a favor by leveraging both your experience and your ear! You’re a sound engineer, remember? If you can’t hear the mix, you’re not going to do a great job no matter how many years of education you have behind you.

Stay Open to Feedback

Sometimes education and training can puff us up and make us proud.

It’s great to have confidence in yourself and your work, but if it gets in the way of taking feedback, it’s a weakness rather than a strength.

Sound is subjective. That may not be what you learned in school, but running sound isn’t just a science – it’s the practice of shaping an experience.

Have you ever been to a show where the sound ruined the experience? Hopefully, you have, because that instance should show you what can happen when you aren’t hearing what others are!

Now, don’t get me wrong – you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. But you can’t ignore smoke signals, because they could be indicative of fires that need to be put out.

The band will have their own thoughts, and the audience will have their own thoughts too. There’s always a delicate balance of trying to make everyone happy.

You don’t need to accept all criticism launched at you, but do keep in mind that feedback could be revealing weaknesses within your game.

Other Common Questions

In this section, we’d like to address other common questions related to sound engineering.

What do Sound Engineers Get Paid? What is Their Salary?

According to PayScale, sound engineers in Canada, on average, get paid $19.65 per hour.

Glassdoor tells us that sound engineers receive $34,922 as an average base pay.

In my experience, you can easily command $50 per hour, independently, if you’ve got some experience under your belt.

But just know that you won’t be working all the time, and when you’ve got a business model that resembles that of a mechanic or a plumber, you’ve got to charge more per hour than minimum wage.

What does a Live Sound Engineer do?

A live sound engineer is typically responsible for mixing the artist or band for a concert performance. This means manipulating the overall levels of each voice and instrument, tweaking EQ (equalization) to achieve the ideal sound, and adding specific effects to specific tracks using a sound console.

A live sound engineer’s duties may extend to:

  • Bringing and setting up the necessary gear
  • Running cables to microphones
  • Setting up mic stands and microphone positions
  • Swapping batteries in wireless units
  • Communicating with the artist or band and understanding their needs
  • Playing sound effects or sound cues at specific times
  • Recording the performance
  • Packing up the gear and teardown
  • Pulling the curtain

I’ve had gigs where I had to do all the above and more!

Final Thoughts on Being a Live Sound Engineer

If you have the desire to do a great job for your clients, remember to stay flexible in your approach. It isn’t just about twiddling a few knobs and pushing a few faders – it’s about having a great attitude, being willing to experiment, and making sure you’re meeting the needs of your clients.

What do you think? Is there anything else sound engineers should know? Do you have any additional tips for them?

Let us know in the comments below!