In my work as a music director, I still find myself surprised to meet front of house sound engineers who are so used to being treated like a purely technical person. Yes, I am referring to the man or woman that normally sits behind this huge mixing console at the back of the auditorium who engineers the sound for the show’s audience.
To be honest with you, I don’t really get that. I mean, I understand that within the organisational structures of a theatre, it may make sense to treat the sound department as a technical department. But for me, it really doesn’t stop there!
In productions that use amplification for the cast and the orchestra or band, the sound department really is the link between every sound generated by the actors, singers & musicians on the one side, and the audience on the other. No matter how beautifully the performers or musicians play or sing, if the sound guy doesn’t deal with it properly, the audience will not like what they hear. And in many cases the audience will not differentiate between sound guy and artist when they don’t. And really, don’t expect them to. One thing I have learned is that the sound guy is probably my most important ally when I tried to get the show to sound great!
Many people working in sound departments have a very technical background. That makes sense, really. But there most certainly is more to a good sound engineer than maths, physics and user manuals!
Sound department and Music Director – a team
I admit it. at some point, I used to consider the sound department the bottleneck between the music on stage and in the orchestra pit (and nowadays, also behind the stage) and the audience. Now I know better. I know that the work of a good sound engineer does not finish with pushing a fader. He or she gets equally frustrated as myself when certain things in a show don’t work out as expected. He or she is also aware when someone on stage or in the pit does not have his or her best day. And he or she is trying to deal with all those things, too. With different tools than the music director. But that’s great, because I don’t need a second music director behind the desk, I am looking for someone to support me trying to get the show to sound as good as possible.
That’s in my view why we call them the sound guys.