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When Is A House Gig Not A House Gig?

Long story short, the gig that was supposed to be a minimum of two nights per week turns out to be more like two nights per month

By Dave Dermont March 25, 2009

My gig as house sound man at the country bar just ended after a little over a year. The thing is, it never really started.

The first few weeks went fine. The soft opening went very well. Crowds during the grand opening weekend were huge. There was a very nice system installed in the bar. (Two EV MTL-1 subs with two EV QRx 212/75 tops per side, all driven with plenty of QSC power, house console was a Midas Venice 32, and plenty of outboard gear.)

But one band, who has a member that fancies himself as the owner of a production company, and likes to peel the paint off the walls of every venue he plays in, told the woman who books the bands for the venue that they just have to use their own sound system. How else could they be sure they have the ability to peel the paint off the walls?

Now, I have no problem with a band bringing in their own system. Even if the band’s attempt to look like a big, fancy, extra special outfit actually makes them look bush league. Hey, it’s one date on the calendar each month.

The problems arise, however, when this practice makes the person booking the talent start thinking that the house PA system is now optional, and offers to increase the band’s pay if they supply their own sound.

Long story short, the gig that was supposed to be a minimum of two nights per week turns out to be more like two nights per month – the original deal included middle-of-the-week things like Karaoke and line dancing nights at no charge since the room was providing eight or ten nights of work for two guys every month.

Once weekend bookings started going away, an attempt was made to salvage the situation by lowering the system rental price and only having one guy to do the gig. The attempt failed, and the new system at the new club that everyone was so excited about turned into free storage space for the gear, with an occasional gig thrown in.

This is not a good way to make a return on the investment.

Things began to spiral downward. The place cuts back its hours, gets rid of the head chef, and hires a new manager.

The new manager, who does not know the arrangement between the sound company and the venue owners, tells new bands booked into the club that the club has a sound system, and gigs are done with the system being used for free. Everything becomes a jumbled mess of miscommunication.

It becomes clear that this club installation has gone terribly wrong, and needs to be pulled out. 

While the sound company is making room in an already cramped warehouse for the gear, they get a phone call about a new club opening up, which just happens to need a system installed to support live acts three nights a week, at minimum.

It’s like magic.

The house gig that never was is a house gig again.


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tracy garner says

As an entertainer that generally uses a larger sound system in terms of boxes than you spec'd, I would have been one of the guys that would have opted to not have the in-house sound - even if it came as part of the free package at the club. I don't even have a band. I primarily use a PA system to DJ with and if a band wants to use my sound system, I price that along with my DJ service.

The guy with the PA alons usually loses out in your scenario.

PA+Band+DJ all hired by the club owner separately is generally more than PA+band+dj when the band or DJ have a comparable system.

More often than not, the system you spec'd out is totally within reach to be purchased and maintained by any band or DJ. Even more often, bands and DJ's are working out entire promotion packages with clubs where the club is not even responsible for the security or advertisement. The band and the DJ is now pretty much self-sufficient in terms of the whole entertainment package.

I'm not surprised that you find yourself squeezed out at that particular club.

Andrew Harris says

comment on story - putting a PA into a venue that does shows other than live music is a tricky one, as there's so much room for it to turn into this ‘it's just a jam/karaoke/DJ/comedy night so we don't need a sound guy for that night'. You had an especially tricky situation in that the venue didn't purchase the system so they weren't liable for repairs if stuff blew up and they decided to deny any involvement.  Until I read this story the ability to lock out the mutes on crossovers with a PC seemed kinda stupid, but having read it I'd do it in a heartbeat in this situation - lesson learned, thanks!

comment on comment - I don't think we're talking about the same level of production, a live country band takes a lot more expertise and fidelity than a DJ in a 100-200 person room, and a live music venue is a lot different than a pub that brings in a DJ on Friday night

Tracy Garner says

I totally understand and agree about the level of production needed for various venues. I'm pointing out the value proposition for the sound guy in the market you are trying to serve. I see this all over the place at venues that hold under 1000 people. Most decent bands bring their own competent sound guy. He may be the guitarist that has a wireless rig or he ma y be the keyboard player. He can walk out into FOH and tweak the system and leave the FOH mixer backstage. They may even have IEM and are totally familiar with their own sound. These guys play together enough that they know what they want to sound like - and its pretty good. Additionally, they often have the same quality system you brought in - often nicer than what you spec above. They may even have enough of a following that they work for the door only. The club pays for the ID checker and the band brings in their own cashier for the door. Then,the guys who helped move the equipment in often double as security. So where does that leave the traditional sound man? If the soundman doesn't have something other than sound, they get squeezed out of the market at this level.

Andrew Harris says

you're absolutely right, a pro sound man should definitely ignore the types of gigs you do and stick to mixing the calibre of band who would laugh at the suggestion that the guitar player also do sound

I'm kinda done with this conversation, thanks for the story Dave, taught me a valuable lesson about keeping control of my gear.

Tracy Garner says

I'm sure that most of the people who read this blog are more than "just the sound man". My guess is in order to be a good sound guy, most are probably a decent electricians, good carpenters, accountants, automotive technicians, and maybe a few are even musicians. We bring all of these great skills with us in order to be considered well-rounded production folks. In today's market, I don't know many who "just run sound" or "just run lights" in these small live music venues. When I see a sound company that only does sound, it has been one-nighters brought in for feature acts with A system riders.

tracy says

I know bands in your situation. When you get booked in larger rooms, hire a sound man. You might take the opportunity to gain a few pointers from the sound company about what pieces you might want to purchase next. Many sound companies have great deals on used gear too. If you believe you were only missing a few pieces of gear, you could rent it for that night. You could also reach out to other bands that play that spot and ask if they would be willing to do sound for your band in that venue.

Kurt says

I'm not a sound guy, just a musician. My three piece played a large pub this weekend and there was no house p.a. so we brought ours. The vocal p.a. sounded fine, but the amps were weak and they were cranked. My band mates think I'm a being to critical in saying it sounded like crap! and we should of just turned down and played songs that made sense for our limited gear. The manager said we needed to work on our sound. No Shit! Any suggestions or moral support?

Amy DeVoge says

LOL…...funny story and funny comments.

whomper says

didn't you get a signed contract ???

Dale Bernier says

This is a great read and something more bar owners and bands should pay attention to. I am a musician but I also work for a sound studio in Montreal. My friend’s band has had all kinds of problems with house PA systems. They have lost fans because the sound was so bad. I think a good set up and a smart sound-man is essential to keeping music and any performance at a certain standard.

While I have seen problems with some house PA systems, I don’t think bands should be able to bring in system that they like. There should be some rules as to what the standard is. If bar or any venue has a professional sound man on hand they should be the one that make the decisions on what sound specifications should be used.

I only agree with using your own equipment if the venue is not set up properly with sound-man on site. Too many bands are trying to take control of the process and should just leave it to the professionals. My studio specializes in mixing and designing sound for advertising and feature films, please check out our work here and please comment.



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