You Waited Until NOW To Complain?

Posted on May 20th, 2015   No Comments

takeanumberwebIt’s happened to me more than once. I’ve worked a show where I thought I was being polite, accommodating, and helpful. A band goes up on deck and plays their set. They seem to be having a fine time on stage. After they’re finished, someone from the group approaches me.

“Dude, I couldn’t hear myself/ the singer/ anything up there.”

…and I’m standing there, thinking, “Why are you telling me this now? It doesn’t help you or me to tell me this now. Why did you suffer through your entire set, with me standing here behind this mixing console the whole time, and say nothing?”

Performance Notes

I do get the concept of receiving “notes” after a show. I started this long, strange trip in live production at the metaphorical bus-stop known as high-school theater. After a performance, the director would go over what happened and communicate the changes that needed to happen for the next night.

In a sense, complaints were mostly held until the end of the show. (Yes, we had a working comm system, but you can’t work out everything in realtime.) Holding the discussion of those issues until after everything was over was appropriate, because a play or musical isn’t a rock show and midstream communication is a different creature. Delaying the complaints was also appropriate because we were engaged in an iterative process. The next night, we would be running the same production, but with the requested tweaks implemented. Then we’d do it all again.

But that’s not how a lot of music gigs are. They’re NOT iterative, where each night is built upon the previous. They’re one-offs, and that means that course corrections have to happen as quickly and completely as possible. We’re probably not going to do the same show tomorrow, and further, the problem with your show might not actually be a “systemic” flaw in how productions are handled by the venue or the crew. It’s very possible that the encountered pitfall was specific to your set. Waiting until after your slot to talk about your problem may very well not be making things better for anyone.

Take A Number

Another thing that I (unfortunately) get is that some audio humans are just crap to work with. There are sound practitioners out there who have three states of being: Drunk, surly, and both at once. There are board-ops who practice set-and-forget to the degree that they set the mixing console to where they think it should be, then walk away, and then forget to come back. There are dudes and dudettes who are sure they know better than you about literally everything, and who will snap at you for the merest suggestion that something might not be right.

In short, I completely understand that you may have had a LOT of experiences that mirror the illustration up there: Where the registration of a complaint caused a violent, unpleasant reaction.

I’m sorry about that.

Let me encourage you to take each individual audio human as…just that. An individual. If you’ve clearly established that a sound operator is unreceptive to your needs, then you can just grit your teeth and get on with life. However, when presented with a new operator, I urge you to try again. It’s entirely possible that you’re now working with someone who is interested in making your show meet your needs – but you do have to ask. Especially if one person is running FOH and monitor world, it can be really difficult for them to have any functional idea of what any individual player is experiencing on deck.

I also encourage you to be polite. On my own site, I wrote a whole article about how to be “demanding” in regards to your show. One of the major points is that you can ask for quite a bit (and maybe even get it) if you’re nice. If you initiate conflict and defensiveness where none was before, well, the source of the problem isn’t the audio human.

But the wider point is, ACT NOW. Waiting until after your set is over to register a problem, even in the name of politeness, is futile. If you can’t catch the eye or otherwise flag down the tech, then get someone with an open mic to talk to them. At the end of a song, take a minute to suss out your issue. You might be able to get a direct fix for what’s ailing you, and even if not, making folks aware that something’s wrong might net you an indirect solution.

Unless you have incontrovertible proof that asking for help will not work, please do (politely) find a way to speak up. Let’s get things fixed for you when it will actually do some good – right now, in other words.

Danny Maland
smallvenuesurvivalist.com

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