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Nobody's name is "hey sound guy"

Hands on a soundboard at a live music vene
Madeleine Charis King
Gabe Scheid controls levels on the mixing board at xBk, a music venue in Des Moines.

Dessa spoke these wise words during a poetic interlude in 2022 at her Music University concert. We asked a "sound guy,” Gabe Scheid, who is the production manager at xBk in Des Moines, to write about what a show looks like from the mixing console, and to offer some advice for bands.

It’s my job to work with artists to deliver the best possible live music experience. That’s it. Pretty simple. But there’s a lot that goes into producing a top-tier performance, and though some of those skills are music industry specific, perhaps not as many as you might think.

Each gig starts in my email inbox, communicating with the band weeks ahead of the show to add to my growing collection of stage plots and input lists. The stage plot tells me how many members there are and where they’ll be positioned on stage. A few of my favorite examples have included hand-drawn stick figures, too many bee emojis, and the instruction, “I just need to be really loud; I don’t care if there’s feedback in the monitor.” Input lists get a bit more specific; they tell me exactly how many microphones and DIs (direct input boxes) are needed. Part of my job is reviewing these ahead of time, and the other part is acknowledging four out of five times their needs day-of-show are different from what they sent me, so BE FLEXIBLE.

Next is load-in, followed by soundcheck. Now, being a musician myself, I understand that most artists are of the sensitive persuasion. And the stresses of being on the road, surviving on gas station pizza and sleeping on friends’ futons wears away at even the most intrepid person’s patience and empathy. I make it a point to greet everyone with a warm welcome to establish a comfortable environment. Is it an Iowa nice thing, or just a good way to human? We’ll never know.

I head back to the mixing console at FOH (front of house) and hop on the “God mic” (a microphone used by tech crew to address people on stage). We do a line check (checking each instrument one at a time to confirm the signal path is correct), then the band plays for a bit to make monitor level adjustments and get used to the space.

Then finally comes the show.

Sound engineers: we make the world sound good. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by since xBk opened to compliment the production. Sometimes teching a show can feel like a thankless job because of the adage, “if I do my job right no one should notice me.”

For bands just starting to gig or for folks looking for some of my two cents, here’s some advice from the FOH:

Don’t play too loud.

Being a successful performer means knowing what a given situation needs and responding appropriately. That means please no more 8x12 100 watt Marshall stacks inside 250 capacity rooms. Please. I’ve had several veteran musicians play our stage and witnessed firsthand the detriment of too much loud music over a lifetime. You only get one pair of ears so use them wisely; your fans will thank you, too.

Just use clear language and be honest about what you need.

So many artists start with, “Sorry but could I get a little…” when they want something different in their monitor mix, and I’ve found myself telling them to stop apologizing when they need something. The artist/sound person relationship is not adversarial. We’re on the same team here!

Where do I get some food before the show?

Gursha Ethiopian Grill has become a staff and artist favorite in the neighborhood. If you’ve never tried injera before you’re missing out. Also, Kitchen Spaces a few doors down is really cool. They rent out their building to local chefs so the menu is constantly shifting (shout out to Dumpling House!). Honestly, the neighborhood has been exploding with good food recently. Whether you want a slice, a burger, tacos, or Mediterranean, you can find it.

Bands I discovered this year that are must listens:

Katy Guillen & The Drive, Plumero, Post Animal, The Browning, Chastity Brown, Haley Heyndrickx

Gabe Scheid
Gabe received his M.M. in Jazz Performance degree from the University of Northern Colorado in May of 2015, after completing his B.A. in Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Iowa in May of 2013.Currently living in Ames, Iowa, Gabe performs and teaches lessons in the greater Des Moines area. He co-founded Motide Music with electronic musician/producer Jeremy Franklin. Together they perform as a duo under the Station 1 Record Label and function as producers for Des Moines spoken-word/hip-hop artist Andre Davis. In early 2020 Gabe became the Production Manager at Des Moines's music venue xBk Live, where he gets to work with local, regional and national acts.