A little-known fact about me is that I nearly burned out as a software engineer. I took a year off and recuperated by studying something very different: audio engineering.
Towards the end of the diploma, we were given the assignment of performing the mixing for a live music event. My lab partner, Blaise, and I were assigned to a gig for a first-time band called Satan’s Laundry. I thought this was ideal because they wouldn’t have had the luxury of a “real” audio engineer mixing for them, so I might be able to meet their non-existent expectations.
Blaise and I arrived at the dingy pub at 10pm and wound our way down to the basement where the stage was set. The manager, a greasy publican with thin, combed back hair, pointed us to the sound desk which was nestled in a small, boxed-off room adjacent to the stage. A large, glassless window had been cut out of the wall and we could see directly onto the stage, in line with the musicians. If our audio engineering didn’t work out, we would be able to fall back on a career selling hot dogs through the opening.
Blaise was several years younger than I and struggled to make ends meet. He asked the manager about payment and was told curtly $50 at the end of the night. I thought this was great, and claiming “professional audio engineer” on my CV, as well as having beer and cab money for the effort.
We were left alone to set up. Looking at the unfamiliar soundboard, we had no idea what we were doing. We took stock of the equipment and ran the cables and set up microphones where we thought they might be needed. We set preliminary levels on the mixing desk and waited for the band to arrive for sound check.
Satan’s Laundry arrived looking like they had spent the summer in a tattoo parlour. The singer had long greasy hair and a goatee. The bass and guitar players were both skinheads with bullrings in their noses and some well-cultivated ear gauges. The drummer was an angry ball of muscle with hair flying everywhere and an exception to the “no shirt, no shoes, no entry” dress code. His eyes darted suspiciously at every object in the room.
Like most headbangers I’ve met, they were polite and friendly despite their outward appearances and inner traumas.
The band set up and we tweaked the cabling and performed a sound check. We knew it was to their satisfaction by the demeanor of their grunts. It became apparent that the drummer’s hair looked the way it did because the singer would walk behind the platform and scream/sing (it’s a matter of opinion on which way you land on this) in the drummer’s face. As the patrons started filtering in, Satan’s Laundry slipped over to the bar to consume bourbon and mingle with their friends.
11pm rolled round and the club owner summoned the band to the stage. Blaise and I looked at each other with nervous smiles. This was it, show time!