Do Bands Travel with Their Own Sound Engineer?


Have you ever been to a concert and saw a guy (or gal) running the sound? Have you ever wondered how they got there and if they travel with the band? Well, this is a question I get a lot being a sound engineer myself.

Do bands travel with their own sound engineer? Yes, most professional bands typically hire 1 or 2 sound engineers for mixing FOH (front-of-house) and monitors. However, amateur bands cannot typically afford to do this until they have better established themselves in the industry.

So, how does a sound engineer get hired by a band? What exactly is the sound engineer’s job when traveling with said band? Well, keep reading to find out!

What Does a Sound Engineer Do With the Band?

What a sound engineer does specifically with a band can vary depending on the level at which the band is performing and who else the band has hired. But there are a few responsibilities that usually always fall upon the sound engineer.

Mix Front-of-House

Mixing FOH is one of the first reasons a band will hire a sound engineer. Mixing FOH means that you are controlling the sound of the band that the people in front of the PA system will hear. These controls include everything, but are not limited to; EQ (equalization), compression, gating, effects, balance, volume, etc…

Most bands have had their fair share of bad sound experiences. For this reason, mixing FOH is typically one of the most important jobs in the eyes of the band because they are placing their trust in the engineer to make it sound as good as possible to the audience, the ones they are there for in the first place.

Mix Monitors

Depending on the level of performances the band is doing, the responsibility of mixing monitors can either fall on FOH engineer, or an additional engineer. This is typically the second sound engineer a band will hire.

Mixing monitors for a band means that you are controlling what each member of the band hears individually and separately from the FOH mix. This helps each member of the band hear only what he/she needs to hear.

This is also a very important job in the eyes of a band because what they hear will directly affect how well they perform. And how well they perform will affect how much the audience likes them.

The same controls are used here as in the FOH mix; EQ (equalization), compression, gating, effects, balance, volume, etc..

Advance Show Details

The last primary job of a sound engineer traveling with a band is advancing the technical needs for each show. This is often in conjunction with a tour manager.

As a sound engineer traveling with a band, here are some technical needs that often need advancing:

  • Backline – Backline is all the musical equipment the band doesn’t travel with and needs the venue to provide.
  • Stage Plot and Input List – The stage plot and input list tell the venue how they should arrange the stage and all the microphone and instrument channels they will need.
  • Sound System – Advancing the details of the sound system ensures the sound engineer(s) are familiar with the equipment and know how to properly prepare themselves and the band for it.

How Do Sound Engineers Get Hired By Bands?

This is a question that many aspiring sound engineers ask. And honestly, the answer is not so simple. There are many ways in which a sound engineer can end up on the road with a band.

Friendships

Being friends with a band can land you in the passenger seat of their bus. It is not uncommon for an unknown band to have their friend come along to be a roadie and do sound for them as well.

Sometimes, this turns into a life-long relationship where both the band and the friend excel in their positions and begin to carve out their place in the industry.

It’s not common that this partnership lasts for their entire career, but it has certainly acted as a catapult for many into the world of live sound.

A Band Liked Your Mix

Not all sound engineers work with a specific band. Many of them work for production companies and have various jobs with that company. Two of those jobs include running FOH and/or monitors for bands who don’t have their own sound engineer.

This situation has many times led to bands hiring the sound engineer on duty for that show.

If you’ve been in this industry for any amount of time, you’ve probably experienced some good sound and some… well, not so good sound – but that’s a different conversation for a different time.

Most bands have also experienced this. And because of this, in a band’s career, they will begin to keep their eyes and ears open for a potential engineer they can bring on the road with them. And many times that interaction happens at a show where the band was impressed by the sound and will inquire about the sound engineer’s availability.

Reputation and Word-of-Mouth

Another way many sound engineers find their way into the life of a band is through their reputation and word-of-mouth.

Live sound engineering is a very competitive industry. So, those who go above and beyond to perfect their skills are more likely to get noticed and appreciated by other professionals in the industry.

Doing a good job and forming a good reputation for your work and work ethic can easily result in repeat hires and returning clients. Over time, your name will become known to others through word-of-mouth and the calls will start coming!

Part of this though is supplemented by good people skills, which is what we’ll talk about next.

Networking

Networking is not just for artists, but also for the techies. In large respect, the live sound industry has a lot to do with whom you know.

Being good at the job is obviously very important, but it’s not just being good that gets you a job. Making yourself and your availability known to those around you is just as important, if not more.

Most successful engineers in the industry have learned the importance of networking with other engineers and artists. And many job opportunities will come when you least expect it because of a drop-out or no-show of the original engineer.

This is when an artist or engineer will say something to the tune of, “Hey, do you remember that one guy (or gal)? Call them up and see if they’re available”. And that’s when your time networking really pays off.

Is It a Full-Time Job?

There are many job commitment types for live sound engineers. This is because the music industry is rapidly changing and the bands themselves perform on wildly different levels and have wildly different schedules. Here are the most common commitment types for sound engineers to bands:

  • Full-Time – This one is probably the least common out of all the commitment types, however not unheard of. It is what it sounds like, full time. This is a year round commitment. This is for bands who tour year round with minimal breaks for family or recording.
  • Part-Time – This is the second to least common commitment type. And again, is what it sounds like. This is a year round commitment, but probably supplemented by other work on the side.
  • Show-by-Show – This is a more common commitment situation for sound engineers. If a band knows an engineer close to an area they will be performing, it is likely they will call him/her and ask them to mix the show.
  • Contract – When you see a band with a sound engineer, this is the most common type of commitment. A contract works on a tour-by-tour basis. For example – a band may have a tour coming up in which they have 25 shows. In this case they would call their preferred sound engineer and ask them to commit to the tour for that amount of shows. They would then work out the details and sign a contract.

Conclusion

As you can see, hiring a sound engineer can be very important to the development of a band. They are often hired when a band gains traction in the industry and sound quality becomes more important. There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how a sound engineer is found and hired, but there are steps you can take in the right direction which are bound put you in an “in-demand” situation eventually.

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