There's an Internet-famous quote from punk legend/spoken word artist/writer/thick-neck owner Henry Rollins about sound techs that culminates with, "They were there hours before you, building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave, tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs." Indeed, the oft-overlooked yet vital members of any stage show, sound guys and gals, are just about the only people without whom a show could not run. Some go to school for it, while others have an innate knack. Some are musicians, and others just love the idea of working with music. The one thing they all share is that they work tirelessly to create impressive feats of audio engineering for far less money than the average performer, and they do so with very little appreciation. Well, no more, because we're highlighting three local sound engineers who do a kick-ass job at all times.
People like Jacy Oliver of Potion Productions. You might know him better as a member of metal bands Fallen Hope and CassoVita, but Oliver has spent years cultivating a customer base for production work and performing sound duties at live shows.
"I'm helplessly attracted to the raw power of sound," he says, "the unique energy that occurs when a particular song is performed on a particular day for a particular audience."
Oliver says that it's easy for a sound tech to feel underappreciated, but moments of gratitude from bands that enjoyed his work make it all worth it. Still, he has advice for anyone who performs live:
"Really, what it's all about is making the musicians feel their music is in good hands…but seriously, thank your sound guy."
Or take Augustine Ortiz of audio company Kronos Creative. Ortiz is a musician, promoter, producer/engineer and all-around rad guy, and he has worked hard to build a reputation as a dependable and talented sound tech.
"Like a lot of things, I got into it out of necessity, [and] early on it was a great opportunity to learn and work with mentors," Ortiz says. "Being a person who thrives under stress, I enjoy it."
Ortiz describes live audio production as a completely different beast than studio recording and thinks of himself as more of a "guerrilla-style" sound guy. Still, his ethics speak for themselves, and he encourages any young folk interested in breaking into the biz to remember that "the most important thing is to care about what you are doing and work as a team with the talent to make you all successful."
Ultimately, however, there is no finer example of a local sound tech who loves what he does than James Lutz at Warehouse 21 (full disclosure: I work at W21 but will not promote any event in these pages). Lutz works innumerable hours, both tending to the live performances and calibrating the world-class equipment in his off time to keep it running optimally. In a word, the effort he expends is bonkers.
"I was first introduced to live sound at Warehouse 21 in 2011, when I had an internship that gave me the opportunity to shadow the techs doing shows," Lutz says. "Eventually, I had lessons with Jacy Oliver that led to a certification to work as a solo tech for concerts there, [and] in that first year, I really fell in love with it."
Lutz also works as a producer for Warehouse 21's Eli Farmer Recording Studio and produces Ground Zero, the teen center's bimonthly radio production. One might think that so much work would come with the occasional gripe, but Lutz holds no negative feelings.
"When the artist is onstage, there's a lot of pressure, and it's no surprise that once in a while, they might get frustrated, but I've been really blown away by the overwhelmingly positive interactions with artists," he says. "They're always glad to know the guy at the board is on their side, and if music is the emotional language, being in a position where I can facilitate the communication from artist to listener is extremely rewarding."
As for those who would follow him in the world of tech, Lutz offers this simple advice: "Loud doesn't mean better."
Words to live by.