Tales from the techs

Local audio techs give A&E the lowdown on mixing sound.

Sound technician Chris Frymire sets up the stage for a band sound check on Saturday afternoon at the Cedar Cultural Center on West Bank.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Sound technician Chris Frymire sets up the stage for a band sound check on Saturday afternoon at the Cedar Cultural Center on West Bank.

Emily Eveland

At 5 p.m. last Thursday, hoards of teenagers with liquid eyeliner whiskers painted on their cheeks waited in line at Cabooze to take pictures with Blood on the Dance Floor’s purple-haired frontman, Dahvie Vanity.

On stage, Vanity belched and yelled, “I need water and a blowjob please.” The sea of Myspace teens shrieked.

For Mike Ronkainen, Cabooze’s front of house engineer and production manager, it was just another day on the job.

“I don’t have to like it to mix it,” he said.

Welcome to the world of sound engineers, the invisible miracle workers. A&E spoke with three of the city’s best.

 

Mike Ronkainen, Cabooze

Ronkainen has been with Cabooze since 1987. A&E talked to him the night before his seven-week tour as front of house engineer for Jonny Lang, who he’s worked with for sixteen years.

What do you think makes a good sound tech?

I mean, I guess in my line, most of them come from being a musician. Oddly enough, most of the really good sound guys were at one time drummers. It seems to be a common thread.

Besides that, it’s a work ethic. It’s a lot of hard work. There’s nothing glamorous about it and if there is, you’re not doing it right. It’s not really a great job unless you like music.

What keeps you going?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s addicting. It’s really hard to get out of.

I knew one guy who got out, but the only way he could do it was to disappear. It’s Hotel California.

At this point, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna go back to school? No.

What makes a band good to work with?

Well, I guess the least amount of ego possible. There’s bands that play really well onstage and they almost mix themselves. And then there’s bands that really play terribly together. You never know who you’re working with. I mixed Phish here twenty years ago to a hundred people.

Has anything like that happened recently?

Not super recently, although honestly, I don’t pay much attention to current music at this point. I listen to talk radio in my car.

How do you feel about this type of music?

No thanks. On the same hand, a lot of these kids are really nice. It just makes me feel old. I guess you try and find whatever the good is in whatever’s there.

I sometimes scratch my head and go, “Why the hell would you do this?” But then I think yeah, well, that’s what my dad said to me in the 70s.

What are some of your craziest stories from working here?

I remember a zillion years ago, there was a metal band that’s still popular today. We showed up at 11 in the morning to load in and it turns out their guitar player and the bass player got in a fight in their RV and the guitar player’s lip was literally hanging off of his face. We immediately sent him to the hospital and they sewed him and put him back together and they did the show.

I don’t know. Too many drug things. I remember finding a lot of crack tins in the basement after George Clinton played here.

 

 

Chris Frymire, the Cedar Cultural Center

Chris Frymire has worked as the production manager and front of house engineer at the Cedar Cultural Center for 24 years. He’s also the vice president of Grammy Award-winning Red House Records.

What’s it like working by yourself?

I love it. I’m kind of a control freak anyways. I think most sound guys are.

What’s it like working with different bands?

For the most part, they’re great people to work with.

If you’re looking for interesting stories, there was one group who played so loud they melted the crossovers in the PA and completely fried it.

Do you play music?

Yeah, I played a trombone in high school and I play a little tin whistle once in a while. Everyone plays acoustic guitar, of course. But, you know, I really play the mixing board more than anything else.

What’s it like to work on a mixing board?             

It’s kind of the electronic version of being a conductor in reverse, so to speak. The band is really supposed to be driving the dynamics of the show but often we’re the ones making the decision as to how that comes out.

Each style, each genre, has its own sound and you’ve got to respect that in what we do. They each have their own distinct sound palette.

 

 

Ross Nueske, 7th Street Entry

Ross Nueske is the 7th Street Entry’s stage manager. Nueske, with some help from others, juggles scheduling, hospitality, audio mixing, equipment loading and lighting. 

What’s it like having so many roles?

It’s a small venue — it’s really not that necessary to have multiple people doing things. It actually just makes things more complicated. I have direct eye contact with the musicians. I don’t have to have somebody else mixing their in-ear monitors.

What are some of your craziest stories?

The Japanese punk bands are fun to work with but they’re pretty close to being the craziest. They’re super loud and the crowd goes nuts. There was one Japanese band whose bass player was hanging on the rafters by his feet.

What makes a good sound tech?

Being on time, being motivated to work — or, how do I say that? Being hungry to work and not expecting a whole lot out of it. Being able to problem solve and think on your feet. You don’t have a lot of time to make something work. And it doesn’t hurt to be nice.

Have you had any experiences that have positively altered your perception of a band?

Yes! The singer from Fall Out Boy — I can’t stand Fall Out Boy — I worked one of his shows and the dude stayed afterwards to sign autographs for all his fans who stayed around. You never see that. If I was a rock star, I wouldn’t do that.