Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How Does It Sound?

Posted by on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 2:52 PM


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?”

Herstand writes:

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @jasonjosephes


Comments (9) RSS

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fletc3her 1
I guess I naively would think they were asking whether the performance was enjoyable, not about whether anyone has noticed the third mic is overcompressed.
Posted by fletc3her on March 25, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
TopherBook 2
Well said. Henceforth I shall never ask this question from stage.
Posted by TopherBook on March 25, 2014 at 4:04 PM · Report this
Jason Josephes 3
1: If they have to ask, then the answer is "no." Or, at best, the kind of "fine" you say to your mom when you're 11 and she asks how your day went, even though some kid spit on you and you got in trouble for not doing your homework.
Posted by Jason Josephes http://www.myspace.com/bluemoonseattle on March 25, 2014 at 4:10 PM · Report this
@3 I want so, so badly to agree with this, but I can't. The unfortunate truth is that, while there are plenty of great sound men/women out there, the vast majority are the enemy. Asking a couple friends up front, who have seen you play many times, is not unreasonable when your sound person is a fucking douchebag. And that is like 85% of the time.
Posted by Cappelletti on March 25, 2014 at 4:43 PM · Report this
Jason Josephes 5
4: 85% of sound people are douchebags / enemies of the band? No. Sure, we've all been called names but it's not a war.
Posted by Jason Josephes http://www.myspace.com/bluemoonseattle on March 25, 2014 at 4:55 PM · Report this
Estey 6
Good Lord. It always is two songs in, isn't it? You think I'd have that timing memorized by now. But it's true.
Posted by Estey on March 25, 2014 at 5:42 PM · Report this
Hernandez 7
@4 Sound people get paid to run sound, just like you (theoretically, if anyone shows up) get paid to play music. If the music is good, the sound is good, people have a good time and spend some money at the venue, then you both win and improve your reputations. You're on the same side. I guarantee that if you go into your gigs with that mindset and attitude, you will have better interactions with your soundman/woman.

Posted by Hernandez http://hernandezlist.blogspot.com on March 25, 2014 at 6:22 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 8
@4: "Asking a couple friends up front, who have seen you play many times"

That is not at all what this was referring to. I guess if there's only two people at your show, they consist of the entire "crowd".
Posted by undead ayn rand on March 26, 2014 at 6:14 AM · Report this
I've been in all three corners of this triangle, sound guy, musician, and listener. It's not often that I hear a really well-mixed band in a club. It seems the current rules are that the kick drum and bass guitar should take up at least 80% of the sonic space, in every genre of music. The worst recently was a roots-country show *in Nashville* that was mixed like hip hop from the car next to me - all subwoofer, all the time. They don't even know how country music is supposed to sound in Nashville. On the other hand, I saw a band last week in Seattle where the guitarist's un-mic'd amp was 5 feet to his left, at knee level, pointed not at him but at the heads of the patrons. He could not have known how painfully loud it was, since it wasn't pointed in his direction. Rather than asking him to turn it down, the sound guy just jacked everything else up into distortion to try to compensate. I think it was a good band, but it was hard to tell through the pain.

I think "How does it sound?!" means about the same as "HOW'S EVERYBODY DOING?!" Just space filler, begging for a response, not a request for a critique of the sound tech's work. I don't ask either of those questions from the stage.
Posted by pox on March 26, 2014 at 10:09 AM · Report this

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