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Counterintuitive But True: The Art Of Being Invisible To Get Noticed

Live audio crews at their best are like efficient ninjas: they all wear black, you never know they were there, and when the job is perfectly executed, they disappear silently into the night.

By Ales Stefancic July 15, 2019

Everyone wants to get ahead in their line of work. It’s how we’ve been raised, it’s what life coaches, motivators, influencers, social and mass media are telling us – if we’re not bettering our careers and making new opportunities for ourselves, then we’re not even stagnating but are rather being left behind. So we all keep pushing for the next big tour, bigger band, bigger production – oh – and better gear.

However, the funny thing about the live audio business is that although being proactive when finding work is desirable, sticking out when you’re doing your job might actually be counterproductive.

Who’s Behind The Board?

Let’s start with the most obvious circumstance: if our work causes people to actually notice the sound, we’re in trouble. With front of house mixing, our sacred calling is to be the invisible bond between the stage and the audience. We’re there to provide the illusion that what’s being created on stage is magically brought to the ears of the listeners and is exactly what the artist intended.

The moment we do something that breaks the illusion, we get noticed. Forget the obvious suspects like feedback, even an improper choice of a reverb can sometimes ruin the experience. As soon as the majority of the crowd is bothered by our artistic choices, we’ve lost the game.

Here’s the bad news: there will always be people who will comment on the sound, no matter how well you think you did on a given night. After all, humans tend to be very personal and subjective when it comes to perceiving sound.

But here’s the good news: the vast majority of the audience will have a much lower standard of what constitutes a “good sound” than we do. Working in this field, most of us have been programmed for years to dissect, analyze, compare, and judge what we hear to the last molecule of air that hits our eardrums. We obsess over that second tom that just doesn’t sit well or that delay cue on the vocal that we maybe missed.

And we absolutely should, because that’s our job. But for the rest of the audience, the stakes are much lower than that, meaning that they usually react only to severe anomalies rather than to the minutia we obsess about.

Thus our primary objective in this scenario is not to have people turn their heads in our direction. Sometimes it can’t be helped – the artist will do something they shouldn’t or the gear is just not there to match the needs. But for everything else, making sure nobody knows how you look at the end of the gig should be the mission statement.

Who’s On The Team?

An even more important aspect of invisibility that can further or hinder our career path is standing out on the production team with bad behavior. You never want to be the person that’s arriving late to a call and be singled out for that. You don’t want to be the one that has to constantly borrow gear or accessories to do the job. And you definitely don’t want to be the grumpiest apple of the bunch all the time.

It’s best to always strive to be a part of the team and not stand out in any negative way. Be considered a valuable member – once someone starts becoming visible by taking shortcuts or being unprepared, that “visibility” usually warrants a missed call back.

It might sound counterintuitive to not try and stand out in front of bosses, clients, organizers and so on, but the goal is to make things happen either before someone even asks or without much fanfare when the request comes in. I think there’s a reason that we all wear generic black on stage as our work uniform of choice. It not only hides our presence from the crowd but also signifies our ultimate modus operandi: consistently striving, extremely hard, to conceal our work from everyone.

If I don’t see a cable on the stage, someone has done their job well. If guitars appear at the exact moment they’re needed as if by some Harry Potter magic, someone is being a professional. If an artist never asks for a monitor correction during a gig, it’s another win for the stealthy team. And ultimately, that’s always what we should be aiming for.

Anyone seeking recognition and praise in this business might want to reconsider their career options, because live audio crews at their best are like efficient ninjas: they all wear black, you never know they were there, and when the job is perfectly executed, they disappear silently into the night.

People will never know what obstacles we have to overcome to set up a show, and they never should. That’s why being invisible can is usually our best option in getting ahead.


About Ales

Ales Stefancic
Ales Stefancic

   
Ales Stefancic has served for more than 20 years as a FOH/monitoring engineer, in addition to being a technical director and mix engineer for the band Siddharta. Based in Slovenia, Europe, he's also a musician and project studio owner. Go to gainmedialab.com for more of his articles and a roster of upcoming online courses.
https://gainmedialab.com/

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Erik Brown says

": the vast majority of the audience will have a much lower standard of what constitutes a “good sound” than we do."

that's so true to remember. there is a live sound guy at a venue in town that hires a lot of "local bands". and the sound guy is always stressed out! he tries to micromanage every aspect to compensate for the lack of experience on the bands part and it makes it so sterile and not fun.

Paul Mazo says

I've said for years that when the sound is good, it's written up as a "Good Event" and when the sound is bad, it's always written up as "Bad Sound". We seldom get credit for doing a good job...it's just expected. We're better heard and not seen...the last thing we want is for people to turn their heads with that "WTF" look, staring at FOH!

Gary Fannell says

I couldn't agree more, I have been out of the live sound industry for more than two decades having moved to the corporate installation market. The same holds true here although we have traded our black T's in for much brighter and neater attire.
Live Sound/Video and corporate AV integration engineers all have the no-see-um trade marks, the want our clients and audience to have the best experience our technologies can provide.

Rocco Powers says

Excellent article!! Being responsible for FOH is a daunting task. Countless things can and will go wrong, and it's live with no do-overs. I was responsible for FOH for a 3 piece band that played small gigs in Bergen County. Every night was a new experience with new challenges. So many truths were detailed in this article. I absolutely loved being responsible for FOH. Between working FOH and the excitement of a live band was such an adrenaline rush... all night. I looked forward to every gig and sweated out weather we were going to have any problems I couldn't magically resolve.
Loved the article and the insight you revealed in the article.
Thanks,
Rocco

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