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 Nightwineis 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 three-nights-on, one-night-off schedule.

Kevin Padillais front of house engineer for Sick Puppies and Hurt, with whom Sick Puppies shared a summer co-headlining tour. 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 Hammeris front of house engineer and tour manager for Adelitas Way, whose selftitled 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 Kirkis front of house engineer for Blackberry Smoke, a two-guitar country/ 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 back-to-back run of their own in Europe.

Hugh Johnsonis 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.