“The house guy is responsible for the system and is there to help out the visiting engineer, who is the one who actually mixes the band. “
Alejandro Iragorri—Front of House Engineer
Alejandro, thank you so much for talking with us today. So you’re out running sound for The Head & The Heart but what I really want to talk to you about is your work as a sound guy at various venues in Seattle back in the day. Is it true that you used to work at the Showbox & the Crocodile? Didn’t you also work at the Moore theater? We’d love to hear about those experiences…
I’ve worked at the Showbox for five years now. I’ve learned a lot from working there and seeing the many bands and crew pass through. I’ve gotten to work in venues of different sizes, from small clubs like the Crocodile, to larger venues like the Showbox and the Moore theater. Its cool because you get exposed to so many different kinds of music and situations and you learn to be versatile. I basically started off as an unpaid intern at small clubs in Seattle and worked my way up.
I’d really like to talk more about what it means to be a club sound guy. Do you mind if we start from the very beginning? I want to know how it all works. How many sound guys work at any given club?
At larger venues there are always two sound people — a front of house engineer and a monitor engineer. They are there to operate the system and assist any traveling engineers. It’s important to note that if there is a separate monitor console, there are always two techs on hand.
In smaller venues (usually under 500 cap) the monitors are usually run from the front of house board, so there is only one house engineer.
OK. So typically, how many days do you work? What’s a shift look like?
It all depends. As far as how many days a week, it depends on the time of year. Bands tend to tour a lot in the spring and fall, so those times are busiest (especially the fall). The summer time slows down a little for clubs since bands are playing more festivals and outdoor gigs. Winter is the slowest time of the year.
If a band is carrying a lot of production with them, load in is usually around noon or 1pm. This allows for time to load in and set up lights, consoles, etc., and sound check. If the band isn’t carrying any production, load in can be later, around 4pm if doors are at 7 or 8pm.
Usually bands that can afford to carry production with them are playing larger venues, so those days tend to happen more at places like the Showbox or the Moore. At small clubs like the Croc the load in time is usually 5pm.
What do the bands expect from the house guys?
I think bands want a house guy who is competent, friendly and sober. A good attitude goes a long way.
What about when a band tours with their own sound guy? How’s that work? Is it ever awkward? Or is it more of a shared responsibility kind of thing?
When a band brings their own sound people, it is the house sound people’s job to assist them in setting up for the show and acting more as a ‘system tech’ than a mixer. The house guy is responsible for the system and is there to help out the visiting engineer, who is the one who actually mixes the band. In larger venues, practically every band that comes though has their own engineers, whereas in smaller clubs, the house guy usually winds up mixing most of the bands too. Since I’ve worked as both a touring and house engineer, I can relate and try to be the house guy I would like to encounter on the road, and vice versa.
What if a band isn’t familiar with your audio set up? Does that ever happen?
Usually, the band themselves are not aware of what the venue’s audio set up is. If a band is traveling with engineers, it’s their job to get a hold of the venues and find out what equipment they have and make sure their needs can be met.
What about if a band has strange requests? And actually, is using in-ears a strange request for clubs that don’t have their own in-ear systems?
It’s very rare for venues to have their own in-ear systems. In my experience, it’s something that is almost exclusively provided by the band. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever worked a show were the band asked the venue to provide in-ear systems.
Why do you think that there aren’t more in-ear systems as house gear? Is there a belief that you have to be at a certain level before you start using in-ears?
I think that because in ear mixes tend to be more complex than wedge mixes, bands either have to have their own engineers who know what they want, or have some sort of self-mix situation were they have a mixer on stage and can control their own monitor mix.
I think bands usually do have to be at a certain level to use in-ears, but I think it has more to due with the fact that it is quite an investment to start using them. If you factor in the cost of each IEM plus the cost of renting or purchasing transmitters, it can be out of reach for a lot of bands that are on a tighter budget.
If price wasn’t an issue, is there anything else? Is it a familiarity thing?
Like I mentioned above, when bands are using in-ears, they pretty much always have a monitor engineer or a self mix set up. In-ear mixes tend to be a lot more complex than wedge mixes. That’s because the molds seal you off from outside noise, so musicians usually end up asking for a lot more in their in ears than they would ask for out of a wedge. For this reason, it usually takes longer to dial in IEM mixes than it does to dial in wedge mixes. If you left it up to a different house engineer to dial it in every night, sound check would take forever! I think that’s just the nature of the beast.
Are there places — like organizations or online forums — where club engineers congregate and share/ trade secrets. I mean, how do you learn what you don’t know when you’re coming up?
I rarely spend time on online forums so I’m not the best person to ask, but I have found some good online resources such as prosoundweb.com. But the best way to learn is simply by doing it and learning ‘on the job’. That’s why most people start of as interns at venues or sound companies and learn from practical experience and from talking and working with more experienced engineers.
So here’s another misconception that I think that I have. I always hear about engineers that cut their teeth as house guys and then eventually get picked up to go on tour. And once they are on the road, they never look back. Is that true? Is running house sound just a stepping stone to something else or is it a career in and of itself?
That’s not really a misconception. Most touring engineers do start off working in clubs before beginning their touring careers. A lot of them, including myself, still work at clubs when they’re home and not touring. You can make it a career in and of itself if you want to. There are also other career paths in live sound, such as working for a PA company, doing sound for theater, corporate events and A/V work, etc. If you don’t want to tour, those are some of the options for work that are available.
What about the cash? What can a good house engineer earn typically?
It can depend on the size of the venue and what city your in. You can expect to make anywhere between $100- $250 depending on were you work.
Ah. That makes sense. You think you’ll ever go back to running venues or do you love touring?
I do love touring but I still work at venues when I’m home, just not as often as I used to.
And with that, we’ll see you out on the road. Many thanks. Your expertise and insights are greatly appreciated.
Alejandro Iragorri is a live sound engineer living in Seattle, WA. He has worked as a house engineer at venues around Seattle and toured internationally with bands such as Holy F*ck, Menomena and Dengue Fever and is currently on the road with The Head and the Heart.
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for the Ultimate Ears UE University