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Climbing The Sound Mountain, Part 6: The Big Time
Our fictionalized - but instructional - series on making it in the sound reinforcement business continues
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Go here to read the entire Sound Mountain Series.

For a long time now, Ben hadn’t thought about his early days in the business at Jack’s. Eighteen months ago, he’d been picked up for his first major tour as a systems engineer, after working a regional festival. His experience with AC distro, grounding and making panels and stringers had proven valuable.

The veteran touring guys from the national act recognized Ben’s skills and attitude by the end of the first day at the festival and suggested he talk to their tour manager.

During his second national tour, Ben made it known that he was interested in running monitors by talking up the band’s hand-picked Scottish monitor engineer, Steve Jones. Steve took a liking to Ben and by the middle of the tour, he was almost considered Steve’s backup guy.

It didn’t hurt that Ben had done monitors for some of the local acts years ago while he was still at Jack’s. Even though it was fairly high-pressure work, he liked it because it got him closer to the band and ultimately closer to mixing front of house.

Ben applied his time-worn approach to learning monitors, and Steve was a patient teacher. At least with Ben he was. Steve had dealt with dozens of aspiring monitor engineers over his career, and had come to learn that most simply weren’t cut out for it.

First, the job can be a pressure cooker. But probably more importantly to Steve, some people simply didn’t “get it.” Ben was the exception because he usually didn’t need to be told anything twice. Not only that, but he seemed to understand the fundamentals behind what Steve was showing him. For someone who wasn’t Scottish, Steve thought, Ben was all right.

What probably mattered even more was how the band and management viewed Ben. Their singer was known to be an ass, especially if he wasn’t getting what he wanted in the monitors.

But Ben seemed to handle everything in stride - it was almost as if he was calmer under pressure than when not. And this cool approach definitely appealed to the band. Steve commented to Ben about it in a half-joking way during setup for a show on the tour: “I’ve been noticing that you seem to handle monitors pretty well, especially under the gun. Anything I should know about? Some kind of new designer drugs or something?” Ben just smiled and shook his head. It was a nice nod of approval from someone who could help him get to the next stage in his career.

Toward the end of the tour, Steve asked Ben if he wanted to run the desk for that night’s show, although it was more of a statement than a question. Lighting a cigarette as he drifted way, Steve added that he’d “be right over there in case you need anything,” pointing vaguely back stage.

Ben knew this was it, everything he had worked for to this point in his career, but it felt natural. All of the training, Steve’s coaching, and the relationships he’d developed with the band and the crew took away any jitters he might have felt. He stepped up behind the console and surveyed the stage. Sound check was in 15 minutes.

Everything seemed solid. Line check was routine except for one microphone line with a dropped leg that needed swapping out. Then the backline techs took the stage and played a couple of the band’s songs before the singer came out and sang a bit to check his ear mix.

Ben was feeling the groove and maybe even enjoying himself. Before he knew it, sound check was over and everyone was heading to catering for dinner. He was surprised when the singer motioned for him to approach his table, and felt a twinge of nervousness since this guy could sometimes be volatile, but it seemed to be a friendly move. He sat down with his plate of food just as the singer said “so, Steve’s got you doing monitors now, huh? I didn’t realize it until I looked over there and it wasn’t his grinning mug floating over the console. By then, sound check was almost over and I gotta say - I didn’t hear any problems.”

Ben smiled as he figured this was probably as close to a compliment as anyone was going to get from this guy.

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