Maintaining a good relationship with the sound man at whatever venue you’re playing at is one surefire way to increase your odds of sounding good at your next show, and getting on his/her nerves or ignoring his advice is a good way to end up sounding like garbage.

The thing is, your sound man wants you to sound good. If you sound good it makes them look good, and if they look like they’re competent at what they do they’ll get more work. And of course if your band sounds good you’ll get more gigs and attract more fans.

The five tips I’m going to give you today are what I’ve picked up from working with the best sound man in my hometown, experiences I’ve had running small shows, and things I’ve picked up doing my own live performances.

1. Focus On What Can Be Removed From A Monitor Mix As Opposed To What Can Be Added To It

This is more of a habit that you need to get into more so than something you need to do all the time. Sometimes you will need more vocal or guitar in the monitor while still maintaining the volume of the other instruments. That’s perfectly fine, any competent sound man can make that happen for you.

However, it’s always better to lower the volume of something in your monitor mix as opposed to raising the volume of something else. For example, I performed in an acoustic trio for two or three years. I prefer to have a lot of vocal in my monitor. So I’d raise up the volume of my vocal over my guitar and the other vocalists in my band. Then someone else would need their vocal pumped up a bit. See the problem? Pretty soon the monitor is causing us feedback issues because everyone’s volume is pumped up as high as it can go.

Now that I’m a bit more experienced in live sound I know better. If I need to hear my vocals better I always cut my guitar first, then I raise the vocal if I’m still having a hard time hearing it. This helps my bandmates hear themselves, and it helps keep a lower stage volume overall.

2. Maintain a Reasonable Stage Volume

Speaking of stage volume, it’s always a good plan to keep your stage volume as low as you can while still being able to comfortably hear yourself. Instead of turning your amp up, ask a bandmate to turn his/her’s down. Otherwise, you and your bandmates will quickly end up getting into a volume war with each other.

The way this usually ends up happening is that the drummer is too loud so the guitarist turns up their amp, then the guitarist is drowning out the bassist so he or she has to turn up, then the vocalist can’t hear their monitor, etc. Before too long your band is going to be way louder than it needs to be, and odds are someone still won’t be able to hear themselves.

3. Tune Before You Sound Check

The most annoying part of being a sound man is constantly being bombarded by out of tune instruments. It’s like sitting through an elementary school band performance a couple of times a month. In order to do the job well, the sound man has to listen to you’re band play together to ensure that all the levels are where they’re supposed to be. So if you’re not all tuned up, we’re forced to listen to you play out of tune.

So do us a favor, and for the love of God tune your guitar before you get up on stage to sound check, don’t forget to tune your instrument to those of the other musicians in your band either. Some tuners are a bit off, and if you don’t check to make sure that you’re in tune with the other instruments in your band you may find that someone is a bit flat or sharp when compared to the rest of the band. In addition to making you sound pretty unpleasant it will also make you come off a bit amateurish.

4. Give The Sound Man A Chance To Mute The Channel Before You Unplug

So you ever notice that popping noise your amp makes when you unplug your guitar? Yeah, that’s a bad noise. We never want to hear that noise. That noise destroys equipment, and our equipment is very expensive.

So do us all a favor, make sure that we know you’re going to unplug your instrument before you do so. A gesture is fine. Telling us over the microphone that you’re about to unplug your guitar will also work.

5. Let Them Do Their Job!

Live sound on the scale most bands interact with really isn’t that complicated, but there are still a few tricks you pick up when you’re working with it all the time. It’s just like any other trade really. We all get better at a skill the more we practice it, gaining experience and efficiency at the tasks associated with it over time.

So stop acting like you know better than you’re sound man. Odds are they have a reason for what they’re doing. Feel free to tell us when you think you’re guitar is too quiet, or if you need some more vocal in your monitor. That’s perfectly fine, we want you to sound good.

Something that a lot of bands don’t seem to realize is that the sound you’re getting on the stage is not what the audience is hearing. Your sound will interact with the venue itself as well as the bodies of the people in it. We tweak it from our end based on what we’re compensating for. This can express itself in a variety of ways, some of which may sound a bit off from the stage. Just trust us.

Wrapping It All Up

If you follow the tips above your sound man is going to love you. It’s so rare to to find a band who’s willing to work with a sound man. We generally get treated as another piece of equipment, rather than the professionals that we generally are. That includes bands I’ve met who’ve gone on tour, and even those who have experienced some pretty widespread success.

As musicians we focus more on playing our instrument than we do on stagecraft. That’s fine, and really it should be that way. The problem lies in not developing the skills that will help you have a great show and willfully ignoring learning more about the nuts and bolts part of being a musician.

Just remember that there’s more to putting on a great show than being a great player. Trust in your sound man. And just as importantly, don’t forget to have fun!

What are your experiences with live performance? Have any horror stories or great experiences to share? If so, let us know in the comments section below!

by Mason Hoberg