Drummers VS Soundmen

This post is inspired by more internet discussions, this time on the seemingly endless battle between drummers and soundmen. It seems every drummer has their story about evil soundmen wanting to modify their drum heads with tape and/or a razor blade, in order to get a better sound while miked. I'm sure that there are as many stories that soundmen tell about drummers and how stubborn they are when it comes to getting a good sound out of their drums through the sound system. So what's it all about?

Like most drummers, I've had my run ins with a few soundmen, but I've always tried to look at how to work with them in any given situation. So let's look at a few Don'ts & Do's:

DON'T immediately think of any soundman (or woman) as being stupid. A lot of them have studied as hard and as much as you, and they also take pride in doing their job just like you.

DO treat them with the same respect that you want to be treated with.

OK, I'll admit that I've come up against some soundmen who really didn't know much about what they were doing, and who's idea of mixing things was to just turn everything up and throw some reverb on it. But for everyone who didn't really have a clue, there are a majority of people who do know what they are doing and do it well.

DON'T cop an attitude and start arguing with the soundman. Also, never start calling them names, or calling them stupid, dumb, etc. Remember that your music is in their hands and ears, and you want them to produce the best sound possible for your audience.

DO introduce yourself and be professional. If you have a specific sound you want, discuss it with them (especially if you use a bass drum with no hole in the front head). Rather than getting all, I'm the drummer and I know what's best for me, be willing to listen to their ideas and suggestions.

I don't use a typical rock drum sound/tuning, so I've often been a bit of a puzzle for some sound guys. I usually don't have a hole in either bass drum head and also minimal muffling, so my bass drum rings a bit, giving a sound that's more boom than thud. I also tend to tune my toms higher than a lot of rock drummers, so again, the sound isn't a typical boing or boom.

If I'm playing percussion or solo, I use my horizontal bass drum, which has no muffling and lots of boom. This can really throw a sound guy into a panic. But I always talk to them about the what & how of what I do. I've been in so many different rooms and situations, that I have some idea of what works both mic and sound wise.

DON'T ignore/refuse advise from the sound guy.

DO realize that if they are professional, they want you to sound great too! After all, they don't want the audience to think that they suck at their job.

It's one thing if you are in a big enough band to travel around with your own sound guy, but that's rare. Most often, you will end up using the house sound guy. This is a case of where you need to put some trust in them and their ears. Again, if they are professional, they know their room. After mixing every night in the same space, they often know what works and what doesn't. They can also hear things out front that you can't hear on stage (surprise, the house sound usually sounds nothing like what you hear sitting on your drums). So if they want to add a little bit of muffling to a drum, they are wanting to do it to get a better sound out front, not to just boss you around. Maybe that rack tom has a frequency that rings through the sound system and needs to be tamed. A little trust in their expertise can go along way.

Another important aspect of making friends with the soundman is return engagements at the same venue. Things will run much smoother, and your sound will be easier to get, if you haven't been a complete jerk on your previous visit. Kindness costs noting and gets you much further than anything else.

OK, sometimes you come up to a situation where no matter how much you discuss/bargain/negotiate, you just can't seem to reach any sort of mutual understanding. What then? First, keep your cool. Second, be firm in your needs, but don't be a jerk about it. Stay professional, do the gig, and move on.

What can you do to help your situation as a drummer? The best thing would be to learn all you can about mics, mixing, and sound systems. Take a course on sound. If you have a friend who is a soundman, see if you can hang out with them, ask questions, and observe what they do. The more you know, the more you can speak their language and talk to them on their level.

And most of all, don't forget to thank the soundman at the end of the night. Maybe buy them a drink. Just saying thanks goes a long way in the music biz.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


  1. I wish I'd read this before the gig I played this summer - it was one of those razor blade experiences.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Tam Tam vs Gong

What to Look for When Buying a Gong

Music Notation for Gongs