A sound tech’s primary duty is to assist the sound engineer and he has only one major responsibility, which is to be attentive. Load in and load out are second only to that primary responsibility.
There are many facets to being attentive. First and foremost a good sound tech will attend to the needs of the engineer. Being attentive means paying attention. The engineer should have no difficulty at all communicating with his tech. Some of the common means of communication that are used during shows are:
- Two-way radios or closed circuit comm. systems
- Cell phones
- Text messages
- Hand signals
- A nod of the head
A tech must follow his engineer’s lead and must constantly glance at the engineer to see if he needs something. The engineer of any show has a lot on his mind. There is a lot he has to be responsible for to achieve truly professional results. The engineer must focus on several things at once: the artists, the sound, and the audience. One thing he should not have to focus on is getting his tech’s attention. Anytime the engineer has difficulty communicating with his tech, the tech is failing to do his job. It is the responsibility of the tech to be attentive. The engineer should never have to leave his seat after the artists arrive. The sound tech must be attentive to the needs of the artists too. When the artists are setting up, it is the sound tech’s responsibility to provide the following:
- Hand each artist his or her cable and tell them, “This is for you,” or “You plug in here” for example.
- We are not to touch the artists’ equipment and they are not to touch ours (within reason of course.) We have to touch the drums to mic them, but we politely ask if that is okay and we make sure to ask if any of our mics are in the way of the drummer. Singers, obviously, will find it necessary to touch our microphones and that is okay too. But, it is the sound tech’s job to make all necessary adjustments to microphone stands to obtain the optimum placement for every artist. No artist should ever have to adjust a mic stand. Whenever that happens the sound tech is not doing his job. The artist should only have to focus on his instrument and his performance. Playing music is an emotional experience and if an artist becomes perturbed because he has to adjust his mic stand it will affect his emotions negatively and that will degrade his performance.
- The sound tech must adjust the monitors to suit the artists’ preferences. Sometimes they want them closer, or farther away, or turned this way or that. It is critical to keep the monitors out of the feedback zone, i.e. not pointing at microphones that might induce feedback.
Whenever the engineer leaves his seat to attend to those duties, the sound tech is failing to do his job. The engineer cannot focus on setting up the board, and the monitor mix, and the artists, and the audience if he has to do the tech’s job too. The most important job of the sound tech is to be attentive. Being attentive means more than attending to the needs of the engineer and the artists. Being attentive means attending the show and paying attention at all times. Listen for problems that may arise and alert the engineer of any concerns.
Look at the system. If there is a speaker that is off axis, the sound tech should notice something like that right away and correct it without hesitation. If an artist is trying to communicate something, the sound tech should be paying attention to that too. It is the engineer’s responsibility to understand those communications that come from the artists during a show, but, more importantly, it is the sound tech’s job to be attentive to the needs of the engineer and the artist. That might mean helping the engineer figure out what the artist is trying to communicate. Furthermore, if a microphone stand slips, or gets moved out of position or knocked over, the sound tech must correct that at once.
Sound techs always wear black. This is partly because they sometimes have to slip out on stage during a performance. Their black clothing reflects less light than any other color and therefore draws less attention to them than if they were dressed in fluorescent yellow for example. But it also tells the audience that he is not a member of the band. He is a sound tech and he is just doing what sound techs do. He is being attentive to the needs of the artist or the engineer, and he is doing it well.
Bottom line: if you don’t learn anything else from this article, then at least learn this one thing. A sound tech’s primary duty is to be attentive by paying attention at all times and attending to the needs of others for the sole objective of a flawless show.