Sound Engineer

 

Okay, okay, before I even start, this article pertains to the real sound heroes of the world. We are not talking about amateurs, or the ones who “think” they’re professional sound guys or gals because they can throw up a couple of subs, sticks and tops and get a band ready to rock. This also does not pertain to the guys (or gals) who run the church band on Sunday mornings as a hobby. We are talking about the “golden ears” of the industry, those responsible for taking that terrible room or that piercing vocal and making it sound like butter. I’m talking about the engineers that are sought out by so many artists for their incredible sense of sound. To make this extra clear, this interview also pertains to the artists who make use of professional sound services on a regular basis and or those who don’t make regular use of their own front of house engineer.

Many of us on the stage have had varied experiences with sound companies or the people running the rig. Some experiences leave you basking in the glory of “ooh’s and ahh’s” because it was pure unadulterated sweetness. Others have left you praying someone would just get it over with already and knock you out with a beer bottle. When festival season rolls around we all hope and pray that when we arrive to plug in and do our “thing”, that the folks REALLY running the show REALLY care about how you sound. Let’s face it, the sound guy (or gal) can make you or break you. If you’re simply a shitty band… well, you’re shitty and there is only so much someone can do about your bass player who can’t seem to play in the pocket, or the vocalist who is consistently flat. I have decided to ask a real “golden ear” about their career and some issues artists deal with consistently and how he would handle certain situations from his perspective. He’s requested to stay anonymous but has toured with artists like Blues Traveler & Nelly Furtado and has worked the corporate circuit for top CEO’s who entrust him for sound perfection. His experience has been broad and has proclaimed to have been in every type of sound “situation” you can think of. Here is what we discussed…

How long have you been a pro sound engineer? “20 years”

How long has it taken you to get to the point you a felt truly confident about what you do? “Immediately—I knew right away that I was good at what I did. I have never questioned myself.”

As a professional, what is the first thing you do when you walk into a venue? “Honestly? Find the food— or I log onto Yelp to find the nearest food joint. In all seriousness, I look at the gear—more importantly, I find the house tech. I will know how brutal my day will be right away. If this guy is an idiot, I’ll be doing everything myself and relieving him of his duties for the duration of the evening.”

Do you care about the performers on the stage and how they sound? “100%— Essentially what I am doing in a nutshell is making everything louder. However, if the source isn’t a home run then I can’t hit a grand slam.”

What about the sound is most important to you? “Vocalists love me. Getting a vocal to sound like a vocal is the most important. The audience doesn’t go home humming the kick drum.”

What is your favorite thing about your profession? “I love to mix.. I love sound… I’m very passionate about it. Whether mixing a band for 30 drunken wedding guests or whether I’m mixing Nelly Furtado as an opener for U2 in front of 100,000 people, I had an immediate passion for this.”

What is your least favorite thing about your profession? “Human beings are terrible. Travel and the human beings… both terrible.”

What is the most difficult thing about your profession? “Relationships— This profession has more to do with people and how they perceive you. It’s people based success and you become successful through the relationships you build—- I also got lucky early on. There are a lot of engineers I could mix under the table that are a lot more successful than me, it’s all in who you know.”

What do you find frustrating about working with artists? “Artists needs to feel heard— if they feel heard, then they feel like they are being taken care of and they have a better performance. Many artists try to tell me how they like things to be done… and I listen. When I get off stage though, I do what I want and make them sound great. Often times they bring personal matters onto the stage with them, and those things can majorly affect their performances. Sometimes they will take it out on me, but I don’t take it personally.”

How do you deal with a horrible sound guy as an artist? “Well, that’s a PROBLEM, If the sound guy is under qualified then too bad for you. They may listen to a request if you’re a pretty chick and you get out your…. I mean, bat your eyelashes at them.”

“There are two groups of engineers out there. One group thinks it’s about THEMSELVES and the other group thinks it’s about the PERFORMER. Even though I have a huge ego… it’s not about MY ego, it’s about the PERFORMERS ego and making them feel and sound good. That has been the key to my success. The sound engineer needs to ALWAYS be there for the artist, not the other way around.”

So there you have it folks, from a self-proclaimed egotistical, very honest, and successful sound engineer. Your sound engineer should always put you first and listen to your needs. Bottom line is that their job is to make you sound AWESOME! If you simply have no choice but to work with someone unqualified… well, better luck next time!

Katie Robinette

Business Development & Mulitmedia Design at Talent Provider Network
She has been called "ubiquitous" and there could be no better word. Katie Robinette enjoys all aspects of the music business and likes to keep active in as many avenues as possible. This includes actively singing Jazz, Blues, & Mo-town to 80s Pop/Rock and Dance covers and actively works behind the scenes in the industry with the Talent Provider Network.

During the boy band era she sang and danced her way in front of Universal and Virgin Record Execs and performed in front of thousands for the famed Showtime at The Apollo.

Meanwhile, Katie discovered another love; the love of writing music. Katie attended the famed Musician Institute in Hollywood, California for Commercial Recording and finished out her college years at York College of Pennsylvania with her Bachelors in Music Industry & Recording Technology all while improving her vocal chops with diverse and innovative training in the Classical, Jazz Blues & Pop arenas.

Katie has been a member of outstanding corporate bands and entertainment entities from Philly to LA and Dallas to Chicago.

She is currently working on writing, recording & producing her first full-length solo album.