How to deal with a difficult band if you’re a sound engineer

How to deal with a difficult band if you’re a sound engineer

Angry singer

If you’re a sound engineer, you’ll know there are few sinking feelings worse than the one you get when when looking up from the mixing desk to see the lead singer, again, pointing to the heavens. “Make me louder,” they’re saying. “You’re already too loud,” you’re saying (to yourself, of course).

Providing live sound for a difficult band is a challenge most front of house engineers will experience at some stage. Dealt with incorrectly, it can cause running tensions all night that permeate throughout the event and result in a less than satisfactory time for all involved.

Artists, by their very nature, can be rather temperamental. That will never change, so, in this post, we’ve compiled 5 techniques for dealing with the next difficult band you’re given to work with.

1. Show some empathy

The ability to be empathetic is a wonderful human trait. If you step back and consider what the artist might be going through, their ranting and raving about the sound may start to make sense. In fact, you’re probably doing nothing wrong at all, but their nerves may be unfairly (and, often, uncontrollably) effecting the way they deal with you.

Before the gig, if you sense tensions rising, head them off at the pass by having a heart-to-heart with the band. Tell them you’re just as nervous as them and that, together, you can turn those nerves into a brilliant night, providing everyone cooperates and respects one another’s job.

2. Set ground rules

During soundcheck, lay down the sonic rules of the gig. Explain that there is only, at best, 10% headroom you can make use of if the volume needs increasing later on.

Tell them you’re in control and that you’ll probably have spotted issues before they do. With that in mind, kindly ask them to only request your attention if something is critically amiss and has been for more than a couple of songs.

3. Don’t honour every request

A common mistake sound engineers make under pressure from the band is to simply honour every request. That means vocals get pushed way too far above the overall mix, guitars become a wall of noise and the poor old drummer can no longer hear his click track.

You’re the expert when it comes to sound. If you keep getting requests to ‘turn me up!’, assess each one before doing anything. Are they right? No? Then, ignore them.

4. Half a half-time team talk

Communication is key when running sound for a band. There’s no way you’ll have a detailed conversation during the performance, so make a point of chatting to the band during the interval and treat it like a team talk. How is it for them? How is it for you? Let everyone give their side of the story and remind them again of the ground rules if they’re being broken.

5. Speak to the manager

If the band is big enough to have an experienced manager alongside them at the gig and if they are simply proving too difficult to work with, have a chat with their boss and tell them that you simply can’t do your job properly if the band doesn’t fall into line. Any band manager worth their salt will make sure their artists start doing just that.

Summary

Even the trickiest of bands can be tamed. The key to successes, as you’ll hopefully have noted while reading this post, is nothing more than good, old-fashioned common sense, honesty and the ability to stand up for one’s self.

If you think we’ve missed something and have your own tale of dealing with difficult artists while sound engineering, share your story in the comments below!

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