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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.


15 Responses to “Dealing with the artist (in a performance venue)”

  1. Tam says:

    You couldn’t be more right. Most of these do translate to the studio as well!

  2. Björgvin says:

    Haha. That’s good to know, although in an ironic/sad kind of way.
    I’d imagine the studio musicians would be even worse, because they have more time than in the average live setting.

  3. Mark Steven says:

    Yes! This article is so true – and funny at the same time. I’m a freelance session and performance musician, and the “artist” is nearly always at least one of the above examples – I stand in my spot and chuckle to myself!

    Great article!

  4. bjorgvin says:

    Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. It’s fun to know I’m not the only one that thinks like this.

    Stay tuned for a similar article about creativity in the studio.


  5. david galien says:

    thoughts on this article and the comments: i am an artist meeself and i find the general primadonna badge this article suggests too simplyfying. i know, it is written with the tool of sarcasme to highlight a certain porblem within the musical performance community. on the one hand i have had my own share with sound technitians during live gigs. be it, they werew away from the mixing desk having a beer during performance and not even returning when OBVIOUSLY things went very wrong soundwise, or them just staring onto the oscilloscope while soundchecking, forgetting about their ears. again, just as i find the image depicted in your blog about the ‘artists’ is too much simplyfied, so is mine about the engeneering side. you said, and i quote: “…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….”

    writing music and sound, one is like painter, many with their unique sense of definition and mix of colours. we produce and perform emotion, and it is only possible if it becomes a team effort. and if the guitar were to be mixed into accoustic spaces an enngeneer finds scholasitcally ridiculous, simply look into pop history and see what unusual and often really weird accoustic setups made the charts…

    and finally, i believe that not only the engeneers are of the serving kind, but also the artists. unfortunately many artists seem to forget that they are serving as well and that the cheers of a crowd are a sum of individual cheers. imagine if, everytime you walk into a bakery there was applasue, because the shortbread there is so yummy. we are all serving each other in our unique ways. but also – only very few are mature enough not to fall for the illusion of huge acclaim.

    ps. sorry if the article seems to be a bit jumpy – english is not my mother tongue and i am not yet used to writing – so my trail of thoughts might bi a bit choppy at times.. 🙂

  6. Björgvin says:

    Guten Tag, David.
    Thank you for your comments, they are of great value to me. Although I am simplifying the “artist” stereotype, I am an artist myself and have caught myself in all of these positions. I am just saying that once in a while, you either encounter one of them or become them.

    Many of my best friends are musicians of some sort and although mostly professional, they can sometimes fall into these “traps”.

    At the same time, I am a live sound-tech, recording engineer and produce some of my friend’s material so I tend to know a little about how it is to be on both sides of the glass. I absolutely despise and loathe the sound-techs that think it is okay to drink during gigs, or just sit around indifferent of how bad the band is sounding live.

    So in a way, I agree with everything you said. But that doesn’t mean the things I said weren’t true, some of the time, for some of the artists.

    For unusual history, instrumentation and arrangement I recommend Beach Boys – Good Vibrations.

    Danke schön.

  7. Nathan Cory says:

    I thought you might find this story amusing…

    Years ago I was doing live sound for a cover band. Everyone was happy with the sound and all was good until they introduced a “lead guitar” player into the band.

    This guy was a typical show pony. He had a cordless system and he was constantly coming down off the stage to dance right at peoples tables, playing dicky lead on his knees and such. I don’t know if he ever realized just how silly he looked or that a lot of these people were embarrassed when he approached them.

    Anyway. The problem I had was that he constantly kept turning his volume up on stage. This was making it increasingly difficult to mix both foldback and FOH. The other members would start looking at me to let me know they couldn’t hear themselves and I was constantly having to spend too much time adjusting his channel. In the end the other band members started asking him to turn it down but he still kept turning it up. By the second gig with this guy i’d had enough…

    I completely turned his channel off 😉

    When he got down off stage (again) he noticed straight away and stormed over to me, giving me a blasting in the middle of the set.
    After the gig I explained what happened to the other band members and told them I wouldn’t be doing another gig for them as long as he was playing. The next week I got a call to say they had kicked him out.

    God it was good though to see this idiot acting like a wanna-be-rockstar with no FOH.

  8. Björgvin says:

    Nice. This is exactly the type of stuff I’m talking about.

    Thanks for the story.

  9. Andy says:

    I really liked this post, and I certainly don’t think that you mischaracterized musicians at all. Working with “artists” is always difficult, because despite the fact that there are probably a quarter-million Americans who can shred on a guitar (a conservative estimate), each one of them was the best at their highschool, and that’s what shapes egos.

    Although, I have to say, I prefer to work with a beer in my hand. To me, it’s one of the perks of the industry. Obviously, everyone has experienced the travesty of the drunken sound tech, but those bad apples don’t keep getting gigs for long.


  10. ryan says:

    ‘If they ask for something impossible, and they won’t listen to reason, just say yes and then deal with it your own way’
    this corresponds directly to a particular channel stripped named ‘DFA’, it is used in the situations when the artist, promoter or random drunk punter tells you do to something that you know is wrong. and if you haven’t guessed it (or heard of it)…
    DFA = does F*** all!

  11. SoundAnon says:

    As an artist and a sound technician, I agree completely with the article and I believe that the view of the artist is accurate. Another person commented on volume levels on stage, and he makes a very valid point. Especially in venues indoors, I have cut several lead guitar player’s channels(and a few keyboardists as well) because they insist that their amp goes to 11, so that is where it sounds the best. In these cases, I usually end up mixing everything else to it from what I hear at the soundboard, and then walking around the venue to hear it from inside.

    And I don’t think that drinking while teching is such a bad thing, but in serious moderation. I have seen techs lose their jobs because of their lack of said moderation.

    There are exceptions to all of these. Like artists who have stepped to the other side of the fence, and have been a live technician!

  12. Alex says:

    Absolutely right, I wish more engineers would think that way. I worked at a concert-venue for several years and witnessed 100s of soundchecks and liveshows. The most unprofessional band can sound great with a good engineer, while the best band’s perfomance will be ruined by grumpy, unmotivated sound-engineers with a lack of understanding and the wrong work-attitude. There’s way too many frustrated mixers out there who secretely think they should be on stage and not the guys they are mixing.

  13. John says:

    Great post,
    I have worked on both sides of the fence for many years, and at one stage or another found myself being either the troublesome artist or the slightly drunken sound tech. Fortunately I learned from these experiences and find myself pretty balanced and competent these days.
    Just being agreeable, in any situation, is good advice when making (or mixing) music. State your opinion, hear everyone else, make it work. Sometimes when I have been convinced I was right and I did not stick to my guns, I found that other people had great ideas that did not fit in my ‘box’. Almost everyone has something great to offer!
    Although when you’re reinforcing, you are responsible (only you). I’ve found that pretending to change levels, eqs and settings for artists often makes them happy 🙂 he he!

  14. Gerber says:

    i laughed really hard when i heard the comment about the artist always being late. people are people, you will have

    i believe that is a huge misconception, i was in a band for 10 years and we always did our best to be on time, studio wise and live performance wise every single time, the show either starts extremely late or we dealt with countless of wasted hours in the studio only to take the track back home and get it to sound better ourselves.

    we have even waited for all our engineers, they always are never at the studio before we were which is surprising from reading this article you blame the artist, honestly i dont care about blaming either, i just think this article is very has a very biased opinion towards both. i just find it kind of insulting in a sense being a part of a band who took business very seriously, every other band i knew was the same. the only time you saw bands who might be late was simply because they came from out of state other than that we have never been late because of our own doing.

    i honestly really dislike this entire article from a engineering and production stand point for views, production and performance tips are great but you literally make it seem like the artist is so annoying and hard to deal with. oddly every artist i know all does their own engineering, production and sets up their own live shows.

    the fact you go to such a great deal to differentiate the two kind of disturbs me, because everything can be said about a paid sound engineer that can be said about a picky artist.. honestly its extremely rare to find anyone now a days who doesnt do their own work on their projects in the most complete sense.

    a good tech wouldnt waste their time thinking about petty biased issues that only apply to people (not artists or engineers)and thats exactly what this is, these views apply to people individually not to the terms of every artist or engineer.

    its also this simple, it doesnt matter if what they ask is wrong, they are paying you. i for one never needed a technician to tell me what sounds good, thats why you bring a already worked on track to them (to possibly get better production value out of the work) in many cases thats all we paid for.

    i dont need some stuck up biased technician telling me right from wrong anyway paying someone to do what you want them to do is just that, even if it is irritating youre going to do it and personally the whole “If they ask for something impossible, and they won’t listen to reason, just say yes and then deal with it your own way.” i think thats complete crap, depending on the reason for visiting the studio in the first place to make an assumption like that is wrong in itself.

    if there is a will, there is a way. nothing is impossible. its just your usage of trying to make technicians sit on a higher pedestal than everyone else is ludicrous it really is, people come packed with crap in all shapes, colors, categories and sizes. making biased views towards both (ive learned the hard way) only holds you back in life. maybe you just dont care to see the hard way, from the article it mainly sounds like your way is the right way.

    the whole keep them happy thing just doesnt apply, again people are people, 9/10 times they arent inspired that much by some tech they run into just so happens to be nice. there is a whole slew of events that make a band perform good and i can promise you it has nothing to do with the venue, tech or whether they were treated nicely or not. yea its nice but every show there is someone else to deal with or a new problem. half the time bands cant even remember all the venues or clubs they play at anyway so again most these claim just arent that helpful.

    without all the biased nonsense, its a great article. so im sorry i felt insulted by your verbiage, but it was offensive in many senses of that right.

  15. Gerber says:

    sorry in advance for any spelling errors, got me fired up. im sure someone gets my point.

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