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Silly Human Tricks: Tales Of “Interesting” Interactions During Live Performances

When the talent taunts the sound crew on live TV, drops mics, and trashes the stage during the show, what else can we call them?

By M. Erik Matlock June 29, 2018

Several years ago, I witnessed a most unusual and amusing spectacle. With all due respect to David Letterman, I call these epic and memorable moments silly human tricks. In this one, a well-known performer took the stage, fumbled with his guitar, and began berating the sound crew… on live TV.

To the audience it may have looked like a technical problem, but not to me.

My guess is that the performer arrived late, as evidenced by his hurried manner entering the spotlight. His shiny black guitar was covered with the telltale signs of being unprepared, with the spotlight showing every fingerprint and smudge from at least one previous show in excruciatingly vivid detail.

The rushed tuning and lack of signal aggravated whatever was happening with him, to the point that he openly antagonized the tech team, standing there playing with the guitar while talking smack about the sound. It wasn’t until a stagehand sauntered across the stage and handed him a new battery that he finally moved on.

If you’ve spent much time at all in this business, you’ve likely experienced similar foolishness from the stage. You may have also entertained thoughts of retribution (hopefully without actually acting on them).

With respect to the situation in question, I turned to my wife and explained a possible scenario if I were the one at the mix position. I told her how it’s possible to patch in an effects processor, drop the actual guitar signal from the performer’s monitor mix and instead feed him a pitch-shifted signal that makes him question his tuning all night. Don’t mess with the sound crew.

There’s another phenomenon that began happening on stages around the same time: the mic drop. I don’t remember who did it first or why, but I do remember an artist I was working with mentioning it as a great idea for a show closer. It was a conversation I felt obligated to interrupt.

“Are we using your wireless mic or mine? Wait, you don’t have one. So here’s the deal… as usual, I will mix this show like it’s the most important event of my life. But if that brand-new wireless transmitter hits the floor, you owe me a new mic. Build that into your budget before adding it to the set.”

We were on good terms and he trusted my judgment as well as my conviction. The drop never happened. He couldn’t afford a new mic every night, so the idea was abandoned. Had I continued to work steadily in live show tech, it would have been added to my contract for everyone.

I’ll wrap it up with one more fun story. There was one particular festival that finally broke me, after which I confidently refused a thousand-dollar day rate to mix any more festivals of this type. That’s not a typo.

The festival in question included several well-known acts and could easily have landed me in jail if not for a sense of professionalism that kept me on the right side of rational thought. The headliner was late. No sound check, just a walk-on with generously applied profanity and then someone screaming at me to turn up his monitor mix.

In defiance of all laws of physics, I attempted to push his windscreen-clutching, guttural-screaming vocals to new limits in my rig. When the stage manager yelled for even more, I could only point at the firestorm of flashing red LED lights on my rack, saying, “Those are limiters. That’s all you get.”

He wasn’t happy with that answer and neither was the headliner, even though it’s likely we were pushing 120-plus dB. And in response to the “inadequate” stage volume that had masked every other noise in the universe, he went full toddler, kicking wedges and knocking mic stands over… during the show. Then (you guessed it) he couldn’t hear himself at all. I guess that showed me.

The other acts on this festival’s bill were pretty much the same thing, and yes, it was a bad enough (or perhaps I should say silly enough) experience to resign from that particular corner of the industry. However, on the plus side, even they didn’t drop my mics.

Feel free to add your own tales of “silliness” in the comments…


About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
   
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent a number of years as a church production staff member and Media Director, and as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team. Visit ErikMatlock.com to read more.
http://erikmatlock.com

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