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Standing Your Ground: Upholding The Responsibility Of Being Truthful With Clients

Lessons from front of house on Lily Tomlin's “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” tour in 1988.

By Bob McCarthy January 3, 2019

The Buck Stops Here

The lesson for me was to stand my ground in factual matters, especially those where others count on me to be knowledgeable, even in the face of a very uncomfortable situation. Ms. Tomlin is an artist, not an acoustician. She, like so many others, depends upon us to interpret their artistic perspective into the realities of the physical, mechanical, acoustical, electrical world in which we’re (hopefully) the experts.

By stopping the insanity, I traded a moment of discomfort for a continuing relationship built on mutual respect. If you know it to be true, say it – diplomatically and appropriately, of course, and things will sort themselves out. If the truth is not palatable to others then so be it, and we can all move on from there.

The rest of the run proceeded without incident. We continued our daily sound checks but for some reason or other the lighting designer and the various managers found themselves busy with other matters, leaving us alone to analyze the sound. Funny that!

But the tension was quite high when we moved into the next theater, since this new system would require a fresh round of sound checking. Lily came to the stage and began her routine and then complained that the venue was too hot and she needed to take off the sweatshirt she was wearing. In doing so she revealed the custom shirt she’d commissioned for the occasion, which read: “Do these speakers cross over at 800 Hz?”

The tension transformed to full laughter as this joke closed the book on the longstanding issue of the magic crossover, and I knew with absolute certainty that my decision to stand my ground had been the right one.

Lily Tomlin and Mark Johnson of Meyer Sound backstage at the Eisenhower Theater in Washington DC. Note that she’s wearing the sweatshirt reading, “Do these speakers cross over at 800 Hz?” (Not available in stores!)

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About Bob

Bob McCarthy
Bob McCarthy

Director of System Optimization, Meyer Sound
Bob has been designing and tuning sound systems for over 30 years. The third edition of his book Sound Systems: Design and Optimization is available from Focal Press. He lives in NYC and is the director of system optimization for Meyer Sound.
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