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Dealing with the artist (in a performance venue)

“The artist is always late”

by Björgvin Benediktsson

There is considerable tact involved when dealing with an artist. Whether it be in a hectic live setting where everything is running late or recording sultry vocals in a cozy recording studio. If some of the below statements offend you engineer/artists remember that I also whine when my vocals sound bad.

The artist is always late

When I started mixing live concerts, underground bands were notorious for always being late. When I said the soundcheck would start at five, this usually meant the first bands showed up at around six. After a while I got used to this as I could use the empty time to set up and linecheck at a relaxed pace. It’s amazing what you can do in an hour if there is no stress involved.

So when the artists finally showed up I had everything set up perfectly without having to show up early to get everything done.

If you find yourselves in this kind of situation, take advantage of it.

Don’t get annoyed at the primadonna attitude of the artist, the artist will always be a special species and you will always have to treat him that way. But don’t let them get in the way of your job.

If you have free time because of the tardiness of an artist:

  • Use the extra time to line check,
  • Gaffertape the cables to the floor
  • Make sure the microphones are correctly positioned
  • Mark your mixer well so you can work fast when the soundcheck starts.
  • Any other thing you say that can be beneficial to the concert at hand.

The artist is always right

What I mean by this is that you should always do what the artists wants. Because in the end, it’s their concert or record and if they want it a certain way for them to be happy, make them happy. This could spiral out into pretty hard to swallow actions, like making the guitar sound terrible or putting things to the front that you think don’t belong there.

But if the artist is happy with what he ends up with, he will tell people about it in a positive way, and he will talk about you. And word of mouth travels far, and goes a long way in landing you that next gig.

Think about the artist’s needs

When mixing live concerts, you are basically working in the service industry, serving the artist’s needs. I’m not saying you should jump through hoops to get what he wants. But there are certain things you should be aware of when servingthe artist:

  • You should always be up to speed to the artists needs.
  • Try to make him comfortable on stage.
  • Bring extra cables, chairs to sit on, whatever that relates to your job.
  • The rule is: Make him comfortable and the gig will run smoothly.

If they complain do whatever to make them happy.

This one relates directly to the previous one. If they aren’t happy, you won’t get the desired performance out of them. Try to do whatever you can if they complain. Most of the time it’s about the monitor sound. A good tip is to sound-check the stage sound first. That way, if the monitors are spot on and the artist is happy, then you can concentrate on the FOH sound without having to go back and forth because the artist is always complaining he can’t hear his instrument. Being efficient reduces sound-check time and gives you more time if things go wrong.

If they ask for something impossible, and they won’t listen to reason, just say yes and then deal with it your own way.

There once was this girl singing with a band and they were rehearsing songs for an upcoming concert. The bass-player told me that she was struggling with some songs and asked that they lowered the key. The bass-player told her that they would do so and then played the song again in the same key. When asked, the girl responded that it felt much better and she could really grab those high notes now. So, when in an impossible situation, just say yes and do whatever sounds best.

Although some of these thoughts are a bit extreme and shouldn’t be taken seriously, sometimes these situations manifest themselves and you are forced to take appropriate measures. Given that my experience is mainly from mixing live concerts, a lot of these tidbits are taken from there.

There are probably thousands of stories out there regarding artist/engineer conflicts. If you have any related stories or similar things to tell, please do so in the comments.