How to deal with “TURN IT DOWN!” requests as the sound engineerMark Ellis
The tell tale signs are obvious. They’ve been sitting there for the first half of the show, constantly straining their neck to glance around at the mixing desk. They do this consistently every thirty seconds or so, before returning to face the band, occasionally muttering something to their partner.
Then, it happens. They sidle up to the desk, lean over it (usually with drink in hand, haphazardly sloshing its contents all over the EQ and FX knobs) and shout “turn it down!”.
There’s no “please”, “thank you” or softly-softly approach, just an abrupt instruction that you must, on pain of death, turn the volume down.
Your reaction as the sound engineer tasked with ensuring everyone has an enjoyable night, will be telling.
Your response will fall into one of two categories:
- You’ll nod, politely, and grant the disgruntled audience member his wish by reducing the levels appropriately.
- You’ll take one look at the back of the guy’s head as he walks back to his seat, flick him the opposite of a term of endearment with two of your fingers and continue, unabated. You might even turn it up.
The latter reaction is entirely understandable – you’re performing what is a tricky, challenging job at the best of times, therefore rude approaches of this nature simply aren’t welcome at all. However, if you’re able to react in a relatively positive fashion – you’ve achieved quite a feat and should congratulate yourself.
Responding in a positive fashion may not involve turning down the volume at all, but feeling empowered to do something other than swear and react childishly is a skill that takes time to learn.
Here’s how to deal with “turn it down!” requests at gigs.
Give the person some of your time
Listen to them (while retaining an eye on the band) and let them have their say. Don’t dismiss the complaint immediately – that’ll only lead to further problems.
Say “thanks” for being made aware of their concerns and that you’ll “take a look”. Smile, nod and return to your original position – you need do no more at this stage.
Judge the volume level for yourself
Have a listen (you know – the thing you’ve been doing all night). Is it too loud? Consider whether or not you’ve received similar complaints, and take a look around the room. Is anyone in obvious discomfort due to the volume or are they having a good time?
Go with your gut and experience. If it seems fine, it probably is.
Make a decision on adjustment, and stick to it
If you decide that everything is fine, don’t touch anything. On the other hand, if you’ve conceded that it is rather loud, drop a few DBs.
Whatever you decide to do, stick to the decision.
If they approach you again, make your stance clear (calmly)
If you decided against dropping the volume, there’s a strong chance the same person will return to your desk, and likely more angry than before.
When they do, make your stance clear in as calm a fashion as possible. Explain that you’re in charge of the sound and you’ve spent a great deal of time monitoring the levels. In your expert opinion, there is no need to drop the level.
Return to your position and carry on with your job.
If any further problems persist and you encounter additional ‘feedback’ from the person in question, make someone else aware (security, if you’re that lucky, or someone who can contact the event organiser or venue manager).
One thing is for sure – as a sound engineer, you’ll inevitably encounter this scenario several times in your career, so keep the above tips safely tucked away in your mind, just in case.