On a memorable show, a gospel group told me not to worry about setting up mics on the drums for a special event in an average size room.
“The drums are plenty loud in here.” Their actual words to me.
I was not their regular sound guy. This was not a church service, it was some type of revival. They were serious.
I was honestly stunned. The band. The hired sound guy. The truckload of gear. All of that added up to a real show. However, they were willing to cut a corner that was not going to be cut on my watch.
Seriously. My classic rock childhood, heavy metal teen years, my choice to lean into techno industrial during the grunge years (don’t judge me) and blend-of-it-all adulthood could not process a concert with a dead channel one.
Let There Be Kick
Once we wrapped up sound check, they understood my logic. They also understood my rates. I didn’t work cheap and they were not used to paying a sound guy.
That gig produced several more, after my house mix rocked their world. It was a very satisfying day.
It was also an opportunity to coach a client into the world of professional production. They were thinking about being able to hear drums, I wanted to feel drums. They were expecting the audience to hear the music, I wanted the audience to experience the band.
It was a festival type stage. Five or six different groups rotated in and out while sharing some of the band members. There may have been four different drummers throughout the gig, and none of them wanted to give up the throne once channel one gave the room a pulse.
This Was Not My First Rodeo
In the old Steve Martin movie, My Blue Heaven, Rick Moranis, the FBI guy, gets onto Martin’s mafia character for trying to give him a tip. “I tip everybody,” he says. Then, he tells him something amazing. “It’s not tipping I believe in, it’s over tipping.” He made an impression on everyone by giving them much more than they expected.
The old line stands true. The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the extra. Under promise, over deliver. Business 101.
That bunch would have been perfectly satisfied to have a full PA system with good vocal mics, but we turned it into a concert. It hit hard and the crowd was all in from the first heartbeat on the first song.
I could have taken the easy road and gotten away with nothing but six vocal mics feeding the house and one common stage wash monitor mix, but I would not have been happy. They might have been fine with that, but only because they had never been coached on their options.
Don’t Take Advantage Of Ignorance
Coaching these groups and offering the extra effort can have an added effect.
A while back, I was able to interview the road crew for Garth Brooks. Dan Heins has been the front of house guy for Garth since 1989. They met during the very early days before anyone knew who Garth Brooks was. Back during the bar gig days. The two clicked and each saw the potential in the other.
That extra effort took a hired gun bar tech to the biggest stadium tours imaginable. Because he took care of an artist, a local sound guy made the big leagues.
I think most of us in this industry have similar ambitions. Find that rising star, that unsung artist. The next Dave Grohl or U2 or Beyoncé might be in your set list. Sooner or later, someone is going to give them their break if they have the talent.
You might be the cat they insist on dragging up the ladder with them. That is, if there is something exceptional about you, your skills and your attitude. If you took care of them and displayed a professional attitude.
But then again, they might be so self-absorbed that they never consider rewarding your efforts. You win some you lose some. I have worked with both types. That’s just the business.
I am pretty sure that I am not the only guy who mixed shows for up and coming superstars who brushed off everything I invested in them. It still sucks to hear their music sometimes, knowing I should have mixed that album or tour, but life goes on. We can’t dwell on the past and build a solid future.
Don’t let the possible downside, or blatant laziness, stop you from treating every gig like your next step towards becoming the best.
You rarely become the best in one big jump. You just have to be better than the next guy, and do it consistently.
An attitude of excellence, solid work ethic, and long-range vision might be all you really need.
This article originally appeared on ProSoundWeb.
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M. Erik Matlock is a self-professed recovering knucklehead with more than 500 articles and four books in print. He shares his hard-earned wisdom at ErikMatlock.com, ProSoundWeb.com and through his books, which are available at Amazon.