If you work with musicians (or you are one) then you’ve probably seen this article by Ari Herstand called “10 Things You Should Never Say On Stage.” Some of it is common sense (“Your city sucks”), some oddly specific (“This song is about my grandma who died of cancer”), and some is sorely needed (“Any requests?”—because then you’re gonna get the guy who yells out “Freebird!” and feels oddly satisfied with the freshness of a zinger so stale that not even Dolly Madison would try passing it off as edible.)
The final no-no is “How does it sound?”
This is a slap in the face to the sound guy. Never ask the crowd that. It should sound amazing. If it doesn’t, then it’s either your fault or the sound guy’s fault. Either way, you just pissed off the one person not in your band who can actually make you sound WORSE.
As someone who has booked shows for over ten years I hate this question but for other reasons. Here’s why:
“How does it sound?”
"LOUDER!" cries the jackalope, one of the six folks who showed up to sit through their friends’ project. Or "TURN IT UP!", another clever variation on the theme. The band will proceed to take this advice as gospel because the people verbally poking them are clearly in the know.
This almost always happens two songs into a band’s set. Two songs in, almost every time. I could set my watch to it if I still lived in 1857 and used a timepiece. But occasionally a band is halfway through their set before asking “How does it sound?” Which leads me to my own scientific finding:
"How does it sound?" really means one of two things: (1) They are too timid to ask for more monitors, thus the passive aggressive approach; and (2) they're insecure about their talent and wondering why no one’s throwing any goddamn panties on stage. And that’s because in a lot of cases, the answer to the question is “Not that great. You guys should practice. But after the next song I’m gonna sit at the bar and watch ESPN, while tuning out the rest of your set.”
Of course, sound advice is not limited to the folks on stage. A couple of months ago, a patron came back to the booth to complain about the volume of the cello. He thinks it’s too loud. I stand up, step out of the sound booth, and gesture towards the board. “OK. Go ahead and fix it.”
This is the last thing the guy expects, and he replies “Oh, you’re being passive-aggressive. Well, that’s cool.” (Only in Seattle, right?) He does not take me up on my generous offer of letting him prove that he’s better than me. He slinks off and is never heard from again.
And just a few weeks ago, some kid on mushrooms came up to the booth and said “Hey, do you have any control over the speakers on the left hand side, man? Because something sounds real funny, like wrong or something.”
“Sorry,” I say, gesturing towards the 16-channel mixing board. “This only controls the right hand side of the stage.” He makes a face and skulks off before I can say that I’m kidding. He then stands in front of the stage and busts out some dance moves that remind me of those guys with the orange flashlights who land planes at night.
How does it sound? Fine. Since no musician will take the advice in this article (they can’t read), it will continue to happen. Maybe I’ll ask myself this question on my death bed, just before I flatline and that one machine makes that high pitched noise that says a guy is dead. You know what I mean. I saw it in a movie once.