Many of us have been to one of those shows that left us with complete disappointment and have made such comments of, "Damn! That band
sucked!" Occasionally, you will see two shows involving the same band that make you have conflicting thoughts of, "Why did they suck this time? They were awesome last time I saw them." I recently went to a concert with a dear friend of mine, Brandy, and about one minute into the set, she looked over at me and made the comment, "This really sucks!" Her and I both knew the reason why it sounded so terrible, but I looked around the venue to notice many audience members had this complete look of disappointment and frustration that they wasted their hard earned money on such a terrible experience.
This experience begged the question with me, do we as audience viewers all know when to blame the band or blame the sound guy for such an awful show. As a recording engineer who has a little experience running live sound, I wish I could say that we do not make mistakes or all have good ears, but that would be a complete lie. The sound guy or sound company running a show has just as big, if not a bigger part to play in what you are hearing than the band does and can single-handily mess the band up causing the whole show to fall apart.
At this show in particular, there was a few things that happened that allowed me to know exactly who was at fault, and it was the sound company. The band sounded like one big jumbled mess like driving through a road construction crew. One thing that I could notice through this disaster was a a crackling noise coming from at least one, probably more, cables shortening out. Without getting into specifics, the speakers were all high quality, but what I was hearing was anything but high quality. There was absolutely no compression, so there was a big "emptiness" of a sound, but also lacked any kind of punch, which caused the band to sound dull on top of everything else. Did the band suck? I really don't know to be honest, as I could not get past the terrible sounds coming out of the speakers. I did, however, look to the back of the venue to see the head sound engineer standing there with his arms crossed either admitting failure or he really did think it sounded great.
Through my experiences as a musician playing on stage, I have had instances that left me completely frustrated with the sound guy. I have played a few shows where there were no stage monitors. Let me repeat that, there were NO stage monitors and NO way for a drummer (myself) to hear anything the rest of the band was playing. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I looked like an incompetent musician and the whole band sounded awful. The rest of the band and I spent the entire set altering our timing to try to match each other the best that we could. The only way I knew where the beat was in the song was to watch the guitarist's hand strum and hope it was where I needed to be. I felt completely embarrassed after these experiences that nearly made me put the sticks up for good and not look back.