The hours are long, the work is hard, days off are rare and family time is limited. You live in a rolling submarine for months at a stretch, in close proximity to a dozen other guys, eat whatever the catering room prepares—and you can forget about sick leave or benefits. In this economy, chances are you’re also pulling double duty as tour manager. You’re the front of house engineer: the alpha and omega of what the band sounds like onstage. There’s a lot more to FOH than knowing when to turn up or how to run the signal chain. Knowing how to control the mix is key, but you also need people skills and grace under pressure— because there will always be pressure. Five front of house engineers, mixing for five very different artists, spoke to Premier Guitar about the rewards of the gig, the challenges they face, why they do it and what it takes, professionally and personally, to be the best.
Doug Nightwine is tour manager and front
of house engineer for Shinedown, and a
respected veteran in his field. Joining him
is his longtime colleague, guitar tech Galen
Henson. The two met 12 years ago when
Nightwine was Joe Satriani’s tour manager
and Henson was Satriani’s rhythm guitarist.
Shinedown is currently performing in arenas
and theaters, playing two-hour
shows on a
Kevin Padilla is front of house engineer
for Sick Puppies and Hurt, with whom Sick
Puppies shared a summer co-headlining
When Hurt went on break, Padilla joined Sick
Puppies. “It worked out perfectly,” he says.
“I went from one tour bus to the next.” Since
he began his music career as a guitarist,
Padilla understands the instrument’s place in
the mix, which is crucial in this case because
there are only three musicians onstage and
every note has to count.
Shawn Hammer is front of house engineer
and tour manager for Adelitas Way, whose
debut was produced by Johnny K.
With two guitarists coming from two different
schools of rock, Hammer—whose resume
includes a year and a half as drum and monitor
tech for 10 Years—has the challenge of
separation and balance on both sides of the
stage, in both arenas and clubs.
Billy Kirk is front of house engineer for
Blackberry Smoke, a two-guitar
rock/bluegrass/blues band that Dann Huff
saw playing in a club and decided to produce
before they even had a record deal.
Kirk also has a background in monitors,
and has worked with Patti LaBelle for the
past 11 years, in addition to stints with
Eric Benet and Vanessa Williams. When we
caught up with Kirk, Blackberry Smoke was
on tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and preparing
for a stunning 22-date
their own in Europe.
Hugh Johnson is in his 21st year as front of
house engineer for Vince Gill and is Gill’s
production manager. Johnson also taught Live
Sound Reinforcement at Belmont University
in Nashville. An English major/Broadcasting
minor from East Carolina University in
Greenville, NC, Johnson credits “the school of
hard knocks” for his music industry education.
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