Generally, this would sound like a good thing if you’re a cheapskate or skint, but when an event organiser tells you this — after you’ve set up all your gear at a venue — it’s a bit disturbing.
Now, we all like a bit of professionalism when we do our jobs. That’s why contracts and the sort are set up right? Now in the music industry, or at least in our part of it, we also have these nasty little things called “technical riders” and “stage plans” — which really just comes down to what we need to perform a relatively decent show. (Hangover and mood depending of course.)
Getting into the finer details of what this “tech rider” consists of will just be wasting your time, as well as bore the daylights out of you. Just understand that it’s like someone asking you to make a meal without any ingredients.
Anyway, bound by contract and the like, we arrived at a new venue, fee agreed and ready to work. Not for the first time, there’s no sound company and no organiser.
Here comes the fun part.
We give our guns a workout by setting up. (Yes, we do still carry our own gear). Finally, the manager/owner/guy with a phone arrives. In my most appreciative tone of voice, I ask this young lad where the sound is. With a serious look of content, he points towards the two speakers in the corner that menacingly overlook the linoleum-square covered dance floor.
“And the microphones?” I ask politely.
“Oh, you need those as well?” “No, not really. We just turn our nipple-volume knobs up to 12 and bellow a couple of almighty notes that will easily be heard above live drums.” I didn’t say that, but now I think it might have been the best answer.
“Have you got a sound engineer here?” was what spilled out of my mouth after realising this guy had as much of an idea about this as my ex-magistrate father. Or me about fistballing.
“Oh yes!” he utters, again with great conviction. “He’ll be here in a bit. He owns an electric guitar and an amplifier and everything.”
“And he has microphones, stands and monitors?”
Not expecting the world, his answer (this time less convincing): “No. But a friend of mine owns a music shop not too far from here.”
“So you’re going to quickly pop in, at 19h30, and go spend in excess of 10k?”
Even less convincing: “Um, yes, but I’m sure he’ll give me a discount.”
So after a lengthy phone conversation, he climbs in his car and drives off with the promise of being back in a couple of minutes with all the equipment.
We didn’t stick around to wait for him to return. A swift packing and loading of gear ensued, followed by a couple of drinks on the band’s account (because we had already received the deposit for the show).
Some may argue — quite rightly — that by doing this we let our fans down. We would like to think, as was proved again in Johannesburg recently where people left the show because the sound was nothing short of horrifying, that we did ourselves justice.
When on stage, and you see familiar faces rather enjoying time at the bar, it becomes quite disconcerting. Our dedicated sound engineer unfortunately has to bear the grunt of it most of the time — even though his hands seem pretty blunt when there are no buttons/knobs/switches to fiddle around with to fix some of the issues.
We’re not the first, and definitely not the last, group that this has happened to. We hear dreadful stories like these on a regular basis.
I guess the bottom line is, that most of the time the sound is out of our hands and although we try our utmost to upgrade and keep our gear and level of professionalism up to scratch, many “promoters” and club owners out there don’t realise the long-term prospects of stepping to the plate. There are exceptions of course.