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Hunting Gremlins: What’s Old Becomes New Again

A veteran live sound pro provides the view from the stage side...

By Gary Gand June 20, 2018

Image courtesy of gornostai_nastya

Much pro audio industry humor revolves around techs versus musicians. By their very nature, techs are knowledgeable problem solvers.

The flip side of this nature are musicians who “don’t let knowledge get in the way” of their artistic pursuit. Hence the endless put downs:

“Can you read music? Not enough to hurt my playing.”

“What do you throw a drowning guitarist? His amp.”

“Why did the drummer leave his sticks on the dashboard? So he can park in the handicap zone.”

And on and on.

Musicians aren’t clever enough to think up tech jokes, so it remains a one-sided affair. But to be fair, without musicians, techs would have nobody to work for (or pick on). Therefore one needs the other (and vice versa).

Where I come in is I’m that rare breed of musician and mix engineer. I decided early on in my music career (age 10) that I’d better pay attention and figure out what all those knobs do or I would be forever at the mercy of stage hands, janitors, and AV geeks to make sure the mic was on, didn’t feed back, shock me to death, or sound like a bullhorn. This would most certainly obliterate my “unusual amount of talent and artistic creativity” – some music critic’s quote, not mine.

The author slinging his axe prior to getting behind the console for a gig at the Superdome in New Orleans.

I became so adept at the tech side that when I decided to retire from my night gig as guitar gunslinger in my mid 20s, it wasn’t long before former band mates started calling me up to run sound for them. This quickly led to building my own loudspeakers in the garage and then going on the road with some popular bands of the day, such as rockabilly rebel Commander Cody (“Hot Rod Lincoln”), new country star Emmy Lou Harris, and Nashville singer songwriter Larry Gatlin, to name a few favorites.

After 30 years or so, instead of taking up golf, I decided to get back to playing in a rock band. (Your fingers never forget.) With the “equipment revolution” in full rage, I could get all of the sounds and portability that we lacked in the early 1970s. No more lugging around a Marshall stack, a pair of Altec A7s, a 200-pound rack of power amps and effects, and a piano (or Hammond B3). We’ve now been playing for several years, covering all of the old terrain from clubs to concert halls, outdoor fests to opening slots with national headliners.

Old Is New

And in this process, I’ve become the musician we all dread: the guy in the band who thinks he knows about sound. I’m the grouchy old dude who has seen it all and tells the local sound company what I want, the way I want it, and I’ve got the road bacon to prove that I’m right.

The reason I’m laying this out is that I’m going to tread ever so heavily on a sacred stretch of ground that has been detoured around for the past few decades. I’ll probably make some of you mad, but for the greater good. The primary focus is being in the band and dealing with newer (less experienced) and/or “attitudinal” sound people.

When I started mixing in the early 1970s, there were already plenty of “seasoned pros” in this industry. These were cats that had been doing it for as long as five years and thought they knew a lot. My neck hairs used to stand up when these folks would come at me with their crazy ideas.

I was the “new kind of tech” who knew about bi-amping, hypercardioid mics, graphic equalizers and a whole slew of (then) new technology – very much like the young people of today, who have digital everything, are ISP and MIDI savvy, and can text with one hand while drinking coffee (or Red Bull) with the other.

So with all of this technology, knowledge, and super-duper gear, why do I run into the same old basic issues that have been around since the first sound tech unrolled the first snake? Because just like the common cold, the same gremlins haunt our industry to this day.

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About Gary

Gary Gand
Gary Gand

President, Gand Music & Sound
Gary has been designing and mixing sound for 40 years and is president of Gand Concert Sound, Elk Grove Village IL., just west of Chicago.


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