How to make friends with a Sacto sound guy

Rule No 1.: Don't talk crap about the sound guy during your set

photo by Morgan Anderson/MADrums Media

Matt Thomas first became interested in audio engineering as a sophomore in high school. These days, the 29-year-old plays guitar in FallRise and has been running sound at The Boardwalk since August 2013. Thomas (pictured at left) took time to share with SN&R about what life’s like behind the sound board and offered pointers on the best—and worst—ways to work with the person working the dials.

Is this a full-time job?

Working in audio rarely provides a steady paycheck. Like many trades, it’s a job-by-job basis. I am very fortunate in this case to have [it] as a full-time job. … I am also a performer in two bands and I have a personal life, so I do need to take my occasional days off. So I have good months and not-so-good months. But the bottom line is that I can finally say that after 12 years of work, I’m supporting myself and others as an audio engineer.

Typical day?

On a show day, I will wake up around 9 a.m. and either rest with no work, or I will head to my studio for a practice session or FallRise rehearsal. I am at the club by 3 p.m. for load-ins and setup. Setup for a show takes a good four hours if you do it properly. Shows start around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. and go as late as midnight. Once the show is done, it’s about an hour of cleanup and tear-down. I get home by 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and start over the next day.

The Boardwalk sometimes has shows with 10 local bands on a bill. Is that a logistical nightmare?

It can be a nightmare if there is no planning ahead. Often, lineups like that tend to be metal or hip-hop. Some of those metal bands will share gear. That helps me so there isn’t as much moving of equipment and microphones. Hip-hop shows can have a lot of acts by nature, but there is usually no equipment involved.

In a venue like The Boardwalk or Ace Of Spades, it can be quite useless to fully sound-check the middle bands because everything changes around before you get back to that band—let alone the fact I typically only have 15 minutes to strike a whole band, load up the next, and set mics and line-check them just so they can start on time. I usually dial in the mix during the first song or two.

You’re a musician and a sound guy. As a musician, how do you make friends with a sound guy?

Definitely make sure you are on the same page. Check in with him first thing after management when you arrive. Make sure he doesn’t need something specific from you. Each sound guy has their own routine and you cannot take the liberty of just walking in a club and throwing your gear around like it’s your own personal club and moving things and grabbing things like it’s your own gear. To me, it is quite disrespectful.

Quickest way to piss off a sound guy?

Oh boy, I could write a novel on this, but I will stick with the basics: Not showing up on time. Not showing up with equipment (or all of it). Not having a song set prepared. Not having your set length prepared or memorized. Changing your amp volume mid-set. Dropping my microphones to the ground or spinning my microphones around. Throwing water around stage on my monitors, mics, stage box and even my amps.

Slowly wrapping up each and every cable, pulling off every cymbal, packing everything into its case, and slowly unload off the stage—this one is a serious pet peeve of mine. You are not welcome to take your time. It’s not only disrespectful to me, it’s disrespectful to the other bands that don’t want to play at midnight.

Lastly, don’t bad-mouth your sound guy on stage. It is a universal thing for a large number of venues that if you do bad mouth your sound guy on stage, he can turn you off. … I have not done that to anyone yet, but I’ve been pushed close.