Jun-01-2000 ©2000 iBluegrass.com. All rights reserved.
By Ray Graeff
(TRANSLATION - QUIT YOUR BELLY ACHING)
There once was a Coyote out in Arizona. He was sitting on a cactus, howling his head off. Another Coyote came along and stopped, and studied the situation. After some thought, he said, 'What's the problem, Pal'? The howling Coyote said. 'I'm sitting on this cactus, and it hurts'. The second coyote said. 'Well, why don't you get up off it then'. First Coyote says. 'Are you crazy? Then I wouldn't have anything to howl about'.
Bluegrass people and humans, in general, are kinda like that, I guess. I'm going to make some suggestions about how to get up off it (your cactus and other assorted parts).
I'd like to talk directly, but not necessarily only, to all the fine bluegrass associations out there today. How does all this relate to a Soundman, scratch that...SOUNDPERSON? Sorry ladies. Well, it never fails, one of the biggest and most often complained about aspects of bluegrass festivals is the quality of the sound. Mostly, this is due to mis-information and simply not knowing. A few times it's due to not caring, but not usually. A sound person (got it right that time) wants to be respected as much as a fine mandolin player or banjoist for their abilities and they must have talent (heavy on the talent part) in their respective endeavors. I think you all agree that there are requirements in that regard for all of us. If we are going to do something as important as being in charge of determining how loud and how well adjusted the sound at a festival (or anywhere else) is concerned.
My point is (finally getting to it) is why do you see all these banjo, mandolin, bass, guitar workshops at festivals and other events, and no workshops for sound people? (it wouldn't hurt some musicians to attend them either). I did see a sound workshop for sound people at IBMA. Let's hear a big hand for those folks ! But, are we doing all we can to assure soundpeople are fully informed and properly trained to handle 'OUR SOUND'? I also call on performers to help support the effort to assure better sound people.... time to get up off your cactus, folks. Simply throwing the principles of the multi-mic sound system away and going to the lower quality 'one mic system' is not the answer.
Some suggestions: Sound equipment manufacturers love to sell equipment. It is simple to get a knowledgeable sound engineer from a major company to come tell about how sound and equipment works. If you will make a few phone calls, I'm sure you will locate a manufacturers representative to come to your next festival to give a workshop on sound. If that fails, I know there are good sound people at the larger music stores that would probably come. CALL 'EM....then put it on your showbill. I'll come, and I've been doing sound for years. You'd be surprised at the number of hungry-for-information people to be found at all the little country opry shows and church board operators that are interested in this topic.
Secondly, your own sound person. You may have to give them another $100.00 but so what? If your soundman declines, maybe he is not too sure about his own abilities, and it is time to be thinking about a different sound man. I don't believe there are that many trade secrets in sound that would prevent a good soundman from explaining how he does this or that. I have always been willing to share any information that I have, even to a competitor. There probably will come a time when I need help with a tough dog problem. Just think of yourself, if you have a great lick on a banjo or guitar, you are flattered when someone asks you how you did that. Soundpeople are no different.
HUGE MISCONCEPTION - - - A lot of folks think that a soundman is kinda a funny cat, because they generally won't stop and visit much while a show is going on, or they seem to be off in space somewhere when you ask 'em a question. Why is that? I have been caught up in those situations myself. A good soundman is so 'tuned in' to what is going on, on-stage that he becomes oblivious to all else. He is listening for the slightest hint of a squeal, or the tone of the bullfiddle, or the highs on the banjo, and he may only half hear what you are saying to him. This trait gives some the impression that he is a little (or a lot) on the weird side. It is a matter of priorities, his first concern is what's going on up on stage. Try talking to him when the show is over and you'll find a completely different person. Maybe we have to be a little weird to want to do what we do.
I've just returned from the Eminence, Missouri. festival and I heard some complaints about sound even there. Now, Danny Rhodes is one of the finest soundmen in the business, but he is not going to continuously chase musicians on the fader. What does that mean? It means the soundman has to keep one finger on the volume slider of a musician that WILL NOT do his part in keeping the sound consistent. One time this offender will be eight inches from the mic and the next time, he'll be brushing his lips against it. And who gets the blame... the soundman.. It is high time that musicians learned that they must work a sound system just like they do their instrument, and the distance and placement of a microphone in relation to your instrument or your lips is as important as how well you play a lead break. Come on folks, if you are a super picker or singer, but don't know how to work a mic you just as well stay out under the trees. These people are always the ones that gripe the most about the sound, too. I'm not saying there are not marginal sound people, I'm just saying that you MUST do your part, and if you are continuously complaining about sound, you better be asking some other performer what SELF is doing. As long as there are large crowds and the need for sound re-enforcement, the need to be proficient at working a sound system will exist. If you're gonna run with the big dogs, you better learn how to clear the fence when you jump, or you're gonna hurt yourself. Thanks for visitin' with me...
End of article.
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