“Is That a Taylor?” by Clifford HarringtonPosted on June 15th, 2012 by Guest in Advice & Tips
One of the key reasons I got into working in live sound was frustration.
Years ago I had a relationship with a Violist who played in a major metropolitan orchestra. As a hobby she would play as a side musician with people she liked in local clubs and music festivals. Without exception, every Sound Person failed to get her instrument sounding anything like it really did. Keep in mind that we are talking about an instrument that cost as much as every other instrument on stage and the house Sound System combined in most cases.
Being ignorant at the time I suspected the sound systems were at fault or the stage equipment was lacking. I was to discover later that it was neither the systems nor the stage, but a lack of respect for, and understanding of, what makes an instrument unique.
Time after time I would watch during sound check as the same procedure was followed. The Sound Person would get all the DIs in place, set the mics, get all the cables put into a neat orderly configuration then promptly retreat to the sound booth and turn on the talk back mic. Whats missing there? Not once did I ever see a Sound Person ask to hear the individual instruments played up close, where the voicing of the instrument could be heard, before they were plugged in. Instead what I saw was instruments dialed in to a generic idea of how the Sound Person thought they should sound.
In several cases, it was clear that the Sound Person thought the viola was a violin, and cranked the EQs to try to make it sound like one.
Now after having run sound for several hundred shows I can say with some confidence that my approach is pretty uncommon, as I have worked with more than a couple Grammy Winners and countless nominees that have told me that they have never had a Sound Person ask to study their instruments specific sound before the sound check starts. You can imagine that the musician’s response has been positive in nearly every case, as most musicians spend endless hours stopping in music stores looking for that special instrument that has just the right qualities–or in many cases working with luthiers to build one.
Most of the skilled Sound People with whom I have spoken believe that sound work is a combination of science and art. The understanding of the science behind plying ones craft is critical, but the art starts with the respect of what others have put their hearts into before they come to us.
Written for Music Jobs by Clifford Harrington.