Good News for “Sound Guys” Everywhere

I’ve got good news for “sound guys” everywhere. Even if you’re not a “sound guy,” you might want to pay attention. But, first, let me explain what I’m talking about.

In my experience as a pastor and speaker, “sound guy” is virtually a technical term for the person who oversees the audio for a lecture or concert or similar presentation. Yes, I know that “sound guy” might seem sexist since there are plenty of female audio techs. But I have heard women refer to themselves ironically as the “sound guy.” And I’ve never heard “sound gal” or “sound girl.” If you don’t like “sound guy,” you can always go with the generic “sound tech” or “sound person.”

A "sound guy" hard at work. Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/.

At any rate, “sound guys” are almost always under-valued. In fact, they’re often ignored completely until something goes wrong. Then they are the recipients of all measure of scorn: “Why can’t the sound guy ever get it right?” “What’s wrong with the stupid sound guy?” Etc. etc. etc.

To be sure, there are some folks out there running sound who haven’t been well-trained. Others might not have the “ears” for the job. I once worked with a “sound guy” who was literally hard of hearing. No wonder he tended to turn up the volume too much. Human error is always possible when it comes to audio tech, especially when set ups are complicated.  But, in my experience, even the most talented “sound guys” face unforeseen problems. When they set things up and do a sound check, everything is prefect. But, when the show starts or the sermon begins, the audio demons get to work.

Last night’s Academy Award show was no exception. The sound problems were legion (or, perhaps caused by Legion). First, the orchestra was so loud that it was difficult to hear the lyrics of Billy Crystal’s opening number. And when people came forward to receive their awards, the music overwhelmed the voiceover that explained who received what award for what activity.

About half-way through the program, the too-loud-music problem was fixed. But it was replaced by tinny feedback. It seemed as if the sound was so loud that it was just about to get shrieking feedback from the speakers. You could hear what people were saying, but with an obnoxious electronic echo. That problem continued throughout the rest of the evening.

This morning, I did a Google search to make sure what I heard was widespread and not just limited to my own ears or television set. Indeed, people were Tweeting their complaints all during the Oscar show. It was a worldwide phenomenon.

So, why did I call this post “Good News for ‘Sound Guys’ Everywhere”? I supposed I could just as well have entitled it “Bad News for ‘Sound Guys’ Everywhere.” But here’s my point. Last night’s program was viewed by several hundred million people throughout the world, perhaps even by a billion. It is one of the biggest deals on television. No doubt the sound equipment was top notch (even in the Chapter 11 Kodak Theatre). And no doubt the “sound guys” were the best in the business. Yet, even with the top people using the top equipment, the sound quality was still a mess. If you’re a perfectionist “sound guy,” I suppose this is bad news. It suggests that no matter what you do, you’ll never get it quite right. But, if you’re a “sound guy” who is tired of feeling as if you’re a failure every time something goes wrong, if you’re doing your best and still stumble over unforeseen problems, then take heart! No matter how hard you try and how well you do, there will always be problems of one sort or another. And, much of the time, these will not be your fault. They often have to do with technical flaws that you could not predict. Sound equipment, even the best stuff, is touchy and unforgiving.

If you work with “sound guys,” or if you listen to what they produce – and that’s most of us – let the case of the 2012 Academy Awards program be a reminder to regard your “sound guys” with grace. Even if sound equipment is not forgiving, at least those of us who benefit from it can be.

  • Evan

    Mark,

    “Sound guys” are like offensive linemen in Football. The only time they get mentioned is when something goes wrong. When they do their job well, somebody else gets all the attention.

    Evan

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.vandagriff Ben Vandagriff

    Very nice Mark !

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Ben.

  • Anonymous

    So true.


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