Sound engineers are the people who good clubs employ to work in the DJ booth alongside the DJs, to ensure the sound system is tuned as sweetly as possible and to help with technical matters as DJs play their sets and switch equipment. Frankly, they’re also there to protect the club’s gear against abuse.
You need to understand where these guys are coming from, and to keep them onside, if you’re to have any kind of DJ career. And that’s what today’s post is about. If you’ve never played in a venue with a sound engineer before, or you aren’t sure where they’re coming from when you do work with them – read on!
Why getting this right matters
Why is keeping on the right side of your sound engineer so vital? Well, treat them well and they can be a fierce ally in getting great sound out to the dancefloor. Do the wrong things and they can (and often have no choice but to) make you sound awful. They can be your friend or your foe – and which they are to you can depend on whether you’re part of the problem, or part of the solution…
So here’s what sound engineers wish you’d do in the DJ booth. Some big, some small – all important. Play by these rules and your dancefloor, the sound engineer, and you, will all have a better night.
- Keep out of the red – This is the most important thing of all. Those red meters are there for a reason. Turn things down if you see them light up. Part of the sound engineer’s job is to protect the club’s gear, and that includes the PA system. If you push it too loud and don’t turn it down when asked, your sound engineer may give up on you and turn the whole PA down or increase the “compression” settings, both of which will make your sets sound quieter and worse however “loud” you think you’ve got it. So don’t make it so he has to ask you to turn down – and make sure you do so immediately if asked!
- Carry a spare headphone adaptor – You know that little screw-on bit that turns your headphones from a large to a small plug? It is a great idea to carry a second one around with you, in addition to the one attached to your headphones right now. You never know when you may whip your headphones out and suddenly realise you took the adaptor off to listen to your iPod and left it somewhere else, or lent it to someone at your last gig – and your sound engineer won’t thank you for asking him to hunt for another one at the last minute.
- Don’t have a personal “party in your head” – Your job as a DJ is to keep your eyes and ears on the job at all times – and that means the dancefloor and the booth. It is not to turn your headphones up to 10 and have a personal party in your head, ignoring what’s going on around you for the majority of the time. Such behaviour is sure to make your sound engineer twitchy, because that means he has to watch the floor on your behalf, and he also knows that soon enough the excessive volume in your ears is going to numb your hearing and lead to the inevitable upwards creep of the levels, violating rule 1
- Remember to return anything you borrow – Sometimes you will need to ask a favour of your sound engineer; maybe you do need that headphone adaptor, or maybe one of your RCA cables is damaged, or even you need to borrow a Traktor or Serato timecode CD because one of yours is playing up. Most sound engineers are used to such requests and can usually help, but always make sure you let them have anything you borrow back when your set is finished
- Always be polite, calm and cooperative – It can be nerve-wracking DJing in front of an audience, especially when things go wrong as they do from time to time. But panicking, being rude and ignoring advice from your sound engineer is always going to be counter-productive. He know the DJ booth where you’re playing far better than you do, and so treating him with respect and listening to him is always going to get you further than “losing it” in a crisis
Being a reliable, trustworthy pair of hands is important if you want to make it as a DJ, because having good music and mixing skills is not enough. Make people like you by being considerate, professional and adaptable, and you’ll win friends. It may only be the sound engineer you impress, but he will without doubt tell the venue owner or promoter how much he liked working with you – and word gets around about such DJs.
Have you worked with a sound engineer in the DJ booth who’s really helped you to make the most of the gear and so play a better DJ set? Are you a sound engineer who’s worked with DJs who are wonderful to work with… or not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.