What goes into being a great tech that engineers request or want to work with? The third in a series of articles on system techs and their advice on what it takes to be a great tech.
Christina Moon has been working in the industry for over sixteen years and works with some of the biggest alternative acts today. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Death Cab for Cutie, Cat Power, LCD Sound System, AFI, and Interpol. When touring with production Christina uses Eighth Day Sound and has toured with her tech Eric McCallister for over eight years and six bands. Eric has worked for Eighth Day Sound for sixteen years.
Christina and Eric are currently on tour Death Cab for Cutie
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Questions from SoundGirls.Org Members
When people ask what I do, I never know what to say because there are so many terms that can describe what abilities and knowledge I have, including real world experience. Everything I’ve learned about sound and signal processing and electronics etc. would easily make me by definition a “system tech”. But does that mean I should consider myself a sound engineer and technician?
Eric: You can be both an engineer and a technician. On some gigs, you set up the gear then do the mixing. Other gigs you show up and just mix or just tech the gig for another engineer.
What type of equipment do you use for room measurement? Mics, computer programs, audio interfaces, things of that nature.
Eric: For room measurement I use Smaart, a USB mic pre, and an Earthworks microphone.
Christina: I don’t use any of that
What have you worked with in the past and how does it compare to what you use and how you do your job now?
Christina: I would work with whatever was provided me in the past, but now I am fortunate enough to carry the rig I want. It’s nice to know what you’re getting yourself into every day. At least, as far as the gear is concerned. It gives you the freedom to worry about the surprises the venue or band will provide.
What sort of ear training should be done to help in tuning monitors?
Christina: Knowing your frequencies is a must. Of course, there are tools out there that can do that for you, but I feel like you should know without the help.
Have there been any helpful books or training courses that you would recommend?
Christina: Back when I was starting out there was something called Golden Ears that I used to play with. There’s probably something more current online.
Eric: The Sound Reinforcement Handbook has been around for awhile and has loads of useful information.
What are the job duties of a stage tech vs. a monitor tech?
Christina: A stage tech will handle getting the sub snakes out, build stands, get mics together and wire the stage. A monitor tech will help build monitor world, place wedges, some will get frequencies together, and make sure the monitor engineer is comfortable
Eric: A FOH tech usually is in charge of how the sound system is set up. A Mon tech is in charge of all the monitor gear. On smaller tours, a system tech could perform all of these duties. On a bigger tour, a system tech could just be flying the PA.
You are currently on tour with Death Cab as their ME, do you carry production? If so what company are you using? Do you have a dedicated tech?
Christina: I do carry production and I use Eighth Day Sound. I also have a dedicated tech – Eric
What equipment are using?
Christina: Avid Profile, Big Ben, Sennheiser G3’s, PWS Combiner, D&B M4’s, D12 Amps
How do you prioritize your job duties and tech duties?
Christina: The number of techs we have out depends on if we are carrying PA. If that’s the case, there will be three techs. When we are only carrying a monitor rig and control, my tech takes care of everything. FOH and I are pretty hands on when this is the case. We build our worlds and let the tech handle tying in, running the snake and wiring the stage.
Teching for a FOH or Monitor Engineer requires a certain set of skills. What do you feel are the important skills your Monitor Tech should possess?
Christina: Troubleshooting is the most important skill the tech should possess. When something isn’t working right, I need to feel confident that my tech will sort it out in a timely fashion, so I can keep the band moving forward.
Eric: It’s all about getting along with people, of course doing your job is a must.
FOH and Monitor Techs are often required to help the engineer achieve their vision and goals. How can a Tech help the engineer see their vision come to fruition?
Christina: I feel like techs have more access to new gear and tools to help you achieve your goal. A lot of solutions have come from brainstorming with my tech and them saying, “ have you heard about this…”
Eric: Getting the gear set up and in working order is the first step. Then standing by to help if you are needed.
Engineers and Techs that have worked together for several tours or years often compliment each other have complete trust in each other and work together as a team. What do you feel is needed to gain confidence and trust in your tech?
Christina: I think time is the only way to get that place. You need to go through some sh** together to build that trust. My tech Eric knows me really well. It’s nice when you don’t have to talk anymore, not that I don’t like talking to him.
Eric: Just being honest, if some piece of gear is not working or missing. Tell them the truth, don’t beat around the bush.
Some engineers rely solely on their techs to set up and tune the rig each day, others are very hands on and involved in every stage of setting up. What do you expect from your tech?
Christina: I expect my tech to handle the nuts and bolts of the setup, but I like to do my own tuning, etc. At the end of the day I’m responsible for what it sounds like.
Eric: You just need to have a conversation with the engineer before the tour starts, ask what your duties are.
Sometimes your tech might have less experience than you – the engineer and vice versa the tech having more experience than the engineer. How do you navigate around this – as let’s face it training someone on the job is not always optimum?
Christina: Yeah, it definitely is not optimum. I only hope that they are a fast learner and a good listener. Otherwise, they usually end up going home or never being asked back. Unfortunately.
Eric: Being patient can help, show them how to do it without being overbearing.
What can a tech do to become irreplaceable?
Christina: Get along with me 🙂
Eric: Just do your job well.
How important is it for FOH and Stage to be working together?
Christina: Very important. I’m always asking FOH to help out by ducking frequencies for me. If I’m carrying wedges, I’ll do the same. You’re sonically meshed together; you need to be a team.
Eric: You should know what is going on in all departments. It will help with any trouble shooting problems.
As systems become more technically advanced, how necessary is it to have training or to be certified on the different systems?
Christina: I think it’s important to know as much as you can. Especially, if you are responsible for maintaining the system. Most console and speaker manufacturers offer training that you should take advantage of.
Eric: Getting trained on the sound system you are flying in the air is always helpful. Taking a class in Smaart will help you learn the program better.
Working in a festival situation what do you feel is important?
Christina: I rely on my tech to incorporate my system with the festival’s audio and stage setup. If I’m carrying everything, then it’s an easy day. They only need to tie in power. Other days I may only have an in-ear rack with me, so I rely on them more to handle the stage and patching, and I’ll get myself sorted in monitor world.
Eric: Being organized, that helps when you need to get things done quickly.
What equipment and tools do you feel that every monitor tech needs to know how to use?
Christina: I feel like my monitor tech needs to have a decent understanding of the gear I’m using and a voltage meter. Read manuals if you’re not familiar with something. So boring
Eric: A multi meter is the number one tool so that you can meter the power. If the power is not correct, you can really damage equipment.
What state should the system be in when the engineer walks in? Ready to mix on, ready to EQ, etc.?
Eric: It all depends on the engineer, some want to tune the system themselves and others just want to mix.
Eric you have spent a considerable amount of time working as a Tech for some good engineers that expect a lot from their techs. Can you briefly tell us what you have learned from them?
Eric: Everyday I learn something new from the engineers. Just by watching them, I can be a better engineer.
Often the techs are responsible to both the wishes of production and the engineer and often the two desires do not mesh. How do you maneuver around this and make both camps happy?
Eric: Sometimes you are caught in the middle, don’t choose sides, tell all the facts.
What are the hidden job duties of the FOH/MON Tech? Or should be?
Eric: Being a good listener.