What is your background in front of house?
I started out playing guitar in bands. A lot of
techs start out that way. Being a tech was a
backup plan for my “rock star” goal, and I fell
I love with it and never looked back. I believe
that to be a tech, you either have it in you or
Tell us about Sick Puppies’ equipment, setup
and signal chain.
Shim [Shimon Moore, guitar] has a cool setup.
He uses a Gibson ES-335, two Marshall 4x12
cabs with Marshall heads, and a Dual Super Lead
100-watt head going stereo through all the pedals.
I’m mic’ing the guitar twice for stereo imaging.
He also uses a boost pedal. Emma [Anzai,
bass] has two 8x10 cabs, with one as a sub and
one full range, for a lot of low end and good
stage volume. I mic her 8x10 with a Shure Beta
52 and a direct line out of an Avalon U5 DI. It’s
a standard, good-sounding DI. I blend the signal
between that and an onstage mic for good
top and low end, and clarity. I use a Beta 58 for
Shim’s vocal and a Beta 87A for Emma’s vocal. I
have Shure SM 57s on the guitars. They’ve been
around forever; they’re workhorse mics and they
sound great. At the board I’m using a Digidesign
VENUE Profile console, and it sounds great. It
has everything from compression to effects all
built in. It’s an awesome console. I’ve been using
a compressor plug-in called Smack!. I put it on
the stereo bus to tighten it up.
What happens when the crowd comes in and
changes the balance?
The console has individual channels, so we can
mix down. No matter the size of the venue or
the crowd, you’re always going to have reflective
surfaces: hardwood or cement. The crowd
always changes the sound, usually for the better
because they soak up the room reverb and
tighten up the room. The more you do this,
the more comfortable you get with the situation,
and no matter how much you do this,
there’s always going to be a technical problem
at some point. It’s a fact of life and it happens
to everybody. With experience, you learn to be
calm, focused, and you know what needs to be
done in the shortest amount of time. There’s no
second-guessing. You just make it happen. You
know how to pull channels up on the fly. You
have 15 minutes to do a set change and line
checks. You get comfortable.
How does size of venue affect sound?
Stage volume is really important. A lot of guitarists
think they have to be on 11 for their guitar
to sound good. That was in the old days. Now
there’s a sweet spot you can get to with volume,
but you don’t need to be as loud as you can. In
a smaller room, you can get good levels onstage
and not kill the people in the front row. It can be
too loud even without a PA. In smaller venues,
guitarists should use lower stage volume and
make it up in the monitors so they don’t injure
people with their guitar signals. That actually
makes the band’s overall mix much better.
How much of your job is technical expertise,
and how much is knowing and understanding
Technical knowledge is a big part because it
definitely changes the way you do a mix, and
you have to know how to EQ everything. But
if you’re mixing a band you’ve never heard of
and don’t know their sound, it might make you
want to add, for example, a lot of attack to a
kick, like a metal band. If it’s country, that’s not
going to work. Knowing the dynamics of when
to get loud, the mic techniques—a lot of little
things you might think aren’t really important
Do you control the entire mix?
It’s all in my hands. The band has a Yamaha 01V
onstage for in-ear monitors, so they have monitor
control. They also use wedges.
What does it take for a front of house engineer
to earn the trust of his band?
It takes being with them long enough, and talking
with them after the shows. They hear things
from onstage that you don’t. There’s a level of
comfort that can only be reached with time.
You also get feedback from the fans, who say,
“It sounded great,” or “This is too loud.” That
In some rooms, every band sounds horrible.
The audience walks out complaining that
the band “needs a new sound guy.” It all
falls on you.
Yes, in some places it does, because a lot of
times the sound of the actual room is the last
thing that club owners think about. They have
concrete or tin walls and roofing, or they didn’t
spend a lot on a PA. That’s always the last thing
they think about, ironically. You work with terrible
PAs and the worst possible rooms. I’ve
toured for eight years, and there’s almost never
a perfect situation. Most clubs don’t sound
good. You have to work through it and learn
tricks along the way. You do your best, but
there’s only so much you can do with the potential
of the room you’re working with.
What does it take to be a good front of
That’s a really good question. I think knowing
sometimes when less is more, knowing that it’s
not always about adding. It’s about subtracting
what you don’t want, for example, stage volume:
knowing when to back down and balance
instead of turning up. Also, having a good gain
structure. We just did nine shows in a row, and
on our off day today, we’re doing an acoustic
show and then driving 700 miles to the next
city. There are no sick days, insurance or 401ks
on tour. You’d make better money and have
more benefits working at Home Depot. You
really have to love this to do this.