Back in February 2001, I was referred to a web page titled, " First, We Kill All the Soundmen ". So this guy hates sound engineers. His page allowed for others to make comments and there were plenty of immature responses on both sides of the issue. Here's what I have to say about the subject.
I've worked all sides of this question. I've played trumpet in everything, including rock bands, symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, dixieland bands, and my favorite, swing big band. I've been a big band leader and *KNOW* what a pain in the ass prima donna musicians can be. I've also designed and built any number of loudspeakers for both pro sound and audiophile hi-fi applications. I've run sound for a variety of stage productions and have done location recording for classical and jazz performances.
You get self-absorbed idiots in every profession. All those guitar player jokes are true! But some of the things I've seen soundmen do really have called for correction with a Louisville Slugger upside the head. I remember a couple of years ago seeing Chris Calloway in front of a terrific big band in San Francisco at Bimbo's. The stupid shit soundman had the bass drum so fucking loud that you literally couldn't hear anything else. You've got John Handy, who's a world class tenor player up there blowing as loud as he could, and you could barely hear what he was doing.
I remember the only time I saw Bill Evans play. It was at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Here you've got a 9' grand piano, in a trio format with bass and drums. Now tell me why in fuck you've got to mike the piano? They had this mike in the piano and played everything through fibreglas Community Light and Sound horns. Of course it sounded like total shit, not that the soundman knew or cared. For something like that, you don't do ANY sound reinforcement. You're in an acoustically designed concert hall where they present orchestral performances. The room is designed to carry sound acoustically. A piano is a LOUD instrument. You just let the musicians balance themselves acoustically. They've been doing that in symphonies for centuries now. Who needs a tin-eared rock 'n roll soundman?
I remember another performance in Zellerbach where Gil Evans came out with some of the best players out of New York - Lew Soloff, George Adams, etc. All night all you could hear was drums and guitar. There were 10 of the best horns players on the planet and you couldn't hear them. It was criminal.
I remember one time in Zellerbach when the great reed player, Phil Woods was playing with his quartet. He pulled the mikes away from himself and the rest of the band, much to the dismay of the soundman. He played clarinet acoustically in a hall that had more than 2000 people. No, it was't loud, but it was clear and infinitely more beautiful than any soundman could possibly produce.
No sound system ever sounds as good as the instrument itself. Every soundman should realize that while, in certain situations, they are a necessary evil, there's nothing they can ever do to make an instrument sound better than it does without a mike. Sound reinforcement is only what the label says it is - *reinforcement*. The best sound check is where the soundman listens (what a concept!) to the band with no sound running, and then just works to make everything sound the same, only loud enough for the hall.
The bass drum does NOT need to THUMP over every tune! The point of musical performance is to hear the melody. It's a shame that's a foreign concept to so many soundmen.
So grow up people! There are plenty of idiots on both sides of the mike. Fortunately there are plenty of good people on both sides as well.