The tale of the territorial sound man

This was originally featured at churchproduction.com.

There’s a special disease that only techs carry. I covered this issue, in detail, in my Soundcheck book. It’s something I refer to as “TSS.” Territorial Soundman Syndrome.” It’s when I don’t really know what I am doing, but refuse to allow anyone else to touch my rig. (And, yes. Soundman is the perfect term. The female tech tends to be more open to learning new things.)

I encountered TSS on more occasions than I can ever write about. Not just in the churches, it’s like a plague.

One tech crew hired me to freelance a big show in Atlanta. This was a crew I had never worked with before, first gig with them. They sent me out with their lead tech on a big ballroom show in a hotel. It was his first gig using powered speakers. They had nice stacks of new QSC tops and subs. They were also using powered monitors. Their lead guy didn’t know anything about them.

I had to use all my negotiating skills to get him to adjust anything. He just plugged the rig in, and started mixing. No EQ to compensate for the room. No consideration for the crossover settings. He pretty much plugged it in, using the same setting from the last show. I wasn’t sure the guy could even hear. It was still ringing all the way through sound check. This was their lead tech.

Everyone has problems, from time to time. Everyone eventually mixes in that one magical room that defies logic. The one where it sounds just as bad, no matter how you adjust it. I have mixed in concrete wall gymnasiums before. I have been to lowest depths of auditory torture.

That wasn’t this room. This was a heavily carpeted hotel ball room, with a four piece band, running less than 95 decibels. He just wasn’t interested in allowing anyone else to touch that rig. Even if it meant making the band, and client, look bad.

I didn’t allow that to happen. I insisted that he get the room under control. Not by yelling or demanding, but by asking questions and being as diplomatic, as always. Either way, they never hired me again. I can only imagine what he told them about me.

Within the churches, I often had to mix on their house system. Most times, it wasn’t a problem. Sometimes, I had to endure a training session, with that tech who has suffered from TSS his whole life. Where he tells me how he does everything, expecting me to mix like he does. The guy who can’t explain why unused auxiliaries are being adjusted. The one who laid out his board closer to alphabetical order, than logical order. (Acoustic guitar on channel one. Bass on channel two. Choir on channel three.) Yes, seriously. I saw things like that.

I didn’t go in there and rearrange their world. But, I often explained how we do things in the professional world. How it made more sense to group the drums together, keep the choir mics in order, lay out vocal team members in the same order they stood onstage. Most of the time, when the techs were open to listen, I would also end up doing repairs on their system. There were plenty of times I went into a church, and solved some mystery that they had been struggling with for years.

However. The guys with TSS weren’t going to listen, anyway. They usually had the same problems after we left.

If you have a group coming to your church, consider the obvious fact that it isn’t their first performance. They didn’t wake up that morning, and decide to be a band. They didn’t just pull into your parking lot and decide to try to do a concert there. By the time a group has gotten to the point of any type of touring, they usually know what they are doing. Give them a little credit and respect.

If you get that occasional group, that shows up with attitudes and arrogance, deal with them. Remind them that they are guests. Explain to them how their volume levels need to stay within a certain range. Be as courteous as possible, but you don’t have to allow them to cause problems. Someone is in charge. If the tech or band is difficult, bring in someone who handles the checks. Most folks are more cooperative, when money is on the line.

There are some basics, to working with guest performers. Things you need to know. Things that they will assume you know.

Riders.
This is part of the contract that tells you want the band expects from you. You need it in your hands ASAP. Like, before anyone agrees to let them use the building. Read it and see what you are agreeing to do for them. It should spell out what you are getting yourself into. It’s also the first thing they are reaching for when there’s a conflict.

Stage plot.
This tells you how much stage space they need and how they want it set up. Most bands aren’t very happy about playing with that massive podium in front of them. Check the stage plot and see what needs to move, before they get there. It will also show you where to lay out extension cords and give you a head start on any lighting changes.

Input list.
Most groups will show up with their own rig. Some still travel light, using the house systems. If you read the rider, it will tell you this. If they want ten channels, try to give them ten channel that are sequential. If they need twenty four channels, you may need to plan ahead and arrange for an early sound check, to reset your board, before the next service.

Bringing in guest performers can be a great opportunity to learn new things. Most of those guys have been doing it their whole life. They carry abundant knowledge of production. Most are passionate about their work. they will gladly teach you what they have learned. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from them. A little humility goes a long way. You don’t learn anything new, by telling them how you have always done things.

Humility might be the only know cure for TSS.

2 thoughts on “The tale of the territorial sound man

  1. Even though I’m one of those female techs, I will say, never walk up and start messing with my board during an event without asking. My “co-volunteer” at church will come running in two minutes before the service and start fooling with what I’ve had tested and set up for at least 30 minutes. *urge to kill in the house of the Lord!*

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