There is an old saying about mothers that says, "The hand the rocks the cradle rules the world." Those of us who work on the operator side of the mixing console are pretty well known for having healthy egos so, of course, we changed it to "the hand that turns the suck knob rules the world."
OK, more explanation needed…
Some of you may be old enough to remember a comic strip called "The Far Side." Oh, wait. Comic strips. More explanation. There used to be these things called newspapers and magazines. They were made of paper and had ink on them and people read them. And there were these drawings with funny captions and they were called comics. OK, moving forward…
There was a great strip by a guy named Gary Larson called "The Far Side". Larson retired more than a decade ago and one reason was so he could pursue his passion for playing jazz guitar, which is kinda cool. So there is one famous sketch which has a guy behind a sound board with his hand on a knob labeled "Suck." Hit the button called "Suck Cartoon" on the left to see it. (in fact, there is a whole Web site named after the cartoon called TheSuckKnob.com. It appears semi-dead but it is still there.)
So, while Larson's cartoon was likely meant to poke fun at sound engineers, it has come to symbolize the power the person running sound has over YOUR performance. We have said over and over that you never want to piss off the sound guy. Unless he is the venue owner's idiot nephew (which happens) or otherwise totally unqualified, then he has likely been around the music business since before you ever picked up a guitar or drumstick or mic or whatever. And he (or she, we use the term soundguy as a non-gender-specific thing) probably knows better than you do what works in terms of audio in that particular room. And, you would be doing yourself and your band and your fans a big favor by listening to him (or her).
And sometimes that is not easy. Soundguys--including yours truly--can be a little cranky. And sometimes they have a really good reason for it. Unless you have done it, you have no idea how thankless a job it can be. As I am typing this, I just got back from seeing a friend on tour with a classic rock band. He arrived in Las Vegas about 4 hours before the show at which time he had to make sure the gear got on the stage and was working, and then he had to soundcheck the band and then do a show and then clean up after and then he talked with me until almost midnight. He had a "lobby call" (the time the band and crew all meet in the hotel lobby to leave for the next gig) at 4AM. Then three flights, a 45 minute drive and two shows in South Dakota. And, he was gracious and nice and worked well with the local crew. Some guys are not so cool.
But check out this quote from punk legend Henry Rollins, he actually told his own band members the following about dealing with the show's crew.
"Listen to the stage manager and get on stage when they tell you to.
No one has time for the rock star bullshit.
None of the techs backstage care if you're David Bowie or the milkman.
When you act like a jerk, they are completely unimpressed with the
infantile display that you might think comes with your dubious status.
They were there hours before you building the stage,
and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down.
They should get your salary, and you should get theirs."
Pretty brutal. And true.
OK, two last things. First a short illustrative story about not listening to the sound guy. About 10 years ago I was subbing for the regular sound guy in a club. It was a weird room. Shallow and long with the stage on one of the long walls (worst possible place). The decor theme was a lot of chrome and mirrors. (Maybe the worst possible materials when it comes to sound.) The back of the stage was all mirrors as was the opposing wall. (In answer to the obvious, yes, it was designed as a strip club. But at this point in it's history, it was hosting rock bands.)
There were three bands on the bill that night. I knew nothing about any of them (not an unusual situation for soundguys). But I took one look at the room and went to talk to each of the bands. I explained the situation. It was a very reflective room and could get out of control easily. I gently explained to them that it was in everyone's best interest to keep stage volume as low as possible. The first band totally blew me off. In fact if I remember right, the drummer said something like "F%$# it. I play loud," and walked away. Their performance was a nightmare. The sound level coming off the stage was so high that it was impossible for me to get the vocals above the band without sending the system into screaming feedback. Lucky for everyone, the other two bands heard those guys, figured maybe I knew what I was talking about and turned down. They sounded pretty good.
Finally. The "Suck Knob" is not a myth. While there is no knob labeled "Suck" on any console, there are classic stories that circulate among soundguys about taking revenge on bands who acted like dickheads. A little bit of delay or pitch shift applied to the band's monitors at the right time can make the best band in the world fall apart. Not that I or anyone I know have ever, or would ever, do such thing. But in theory…
There are several stories in this edition of the Live2Play eZine about working with sound crews. Read them. Take the advice given. Remember that the person running that console can use his or her knowledge to help you sound great. Or they can let you be your own worst enemy. Which of those things happens depends in large part on YOUR attitude and ability to deal with the audio crew as professionally as you know how.
Cuz, you may not be able to see it, but the Suck knob is always just a few inches away.
The Hand That Turns the Suck Knob…
By Bill Evans