When Relationships Meet the Bruce Springsteen Work Ethic

Photoblog:  Another Day, Another Rehearsal

I had an interesting realization last week. I was sitting in my car at Sonic eating lunch and listening to my board mix from rehearsal the day before. I was listening to the band thinking about how blessed I am to get to work with the guys I get to work with, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of music. You see, I don’t work with singers, drummers, keyboardists and guitarists on stage. I work with folks named Todd and Danny and Reid and Scott and Pat and Matt and Ryan and Chrystina and Seth and Chris and Richard and Karyn and on and on and on and on. They’re not players. They’re people.

Now I’ve been a Springsteen fan for just about as long as I’ve been tinkering with this thing called audio. In high school I was a bit over the top on this and ended up reading a lot of interviews and articles on the Boss. As a result, Springsteen had a pretty big influence on what I do and how I approach things. Something I read a long time ago that I still hold on to is how he approaches his shows. He used to say in interviews that every night there was at least one kid in the house who had saved and saved and saved for this one show, and this one show would be the only concert that kid would see that year. So Bruce makes sure that he and his band give that kid the show of his life. This isn’t so far off from what I do every week.

Every Sunday there is probably someone in the room who is there for the first time. Maybe they followed the crazy traffic. Maybe a friend of theirs has been inviting them for a long time. Whatever it is that motivated them to be in the room, my reality is this could be the only time what I do might have an impact on that person. So I try and do everything I can to make sure the audio experience will be impactful. Of course, keeping this up every week isn’t always easy.

So as I was eating my lunch, something else hit me: relationships. Lots of folks talk about how important it is for church sound guys to develop relationships with musicians; I’ve certainly done my fair share. However, I think there is often an inherent flaw in most of those sales pitches on why you should develop relationships with musicians. A lot of times it’s sold so that you can talk to musicians when you need something from them. This makes it all about us and not really about the musicians. And while there are definite working advantages to having good relationships with your musicians, I think going at it from that angle is almost antithetical to who we are and what we’re really doing. If creating the relationship turns into something where it becomes all about us, that motivation behind things can border on manipulation. Some relationship, eh? But I’ve got something else to think about when it comes to relationships.

As I was listening to the board mix and thinking about things I wanted to pull out in the mix when the lights go down, for some reason I started thinking about “why” I wanted the night we were rehearsing for to rock. It had nothing to do with the people coming. I started thinking about it, and it hit me that I wanted it to sound great for a very simple reason: because I want these people that I care about to sound great when they are on stage. It struck me that if you care about the people who are on stage, you will do whatever you can so they come across in the best way possible to whoever is listening. It doesn’t matter if the room is full or there’s one other person there, you make them sound great because you care about them. Sitting there eating lunch it hit me that maybe this might be a more powerful motivating factor than the Bruce Springsteen Work Ethic and combining the two could be quite potent.

So maybe this weekend or next weekend or whenever you sit behind a console again, don’t mix just because you’re trying to do a good job. Mix because you care. And if you don’t care right now, maybe think about how much easier it would be to do what you do if you did know those folks on the platform and did care. Maybe think about just saying “hello” or “how’s it going?” or “that little thing you’re doing in the chorus is cool” and see where things go. Maybe follow the example of my associate audio director and carry a box of bottled water out on stage and pass it out to everybody. It’s one thing to push faders for strangers. It’s something else when you’re GIVING it all for someone you care about.

David Stagl

2 Responses to “When Relationships Meet the Bruce Springsteen Work Ethic

  • Great thoughts, Dave. Very well said. It really is a whole different ballgame when you have genuine, real relationships with musicians and vocalists (and with other members on the technical team, for that matter). It ceases to become getting what we want from them and morphs into a true partnership to create the best experience possible. Thanks for brining this up!

  • Bryan
    14 years ago

    This is so true! When I first started running sound here at the church that I am at now, it was for a bunch of strangers. Now, as I have gotten to know them, played football with some of them, just hung out with some of them, it is easier to run the board b/c I do know them and know their hearts. I know that they are giving it their all, and I truly do want them to sound the best that they can.

    However, it is easy to slip into that mode of mixing because I want to not look bad. Having that relationship with the people on stage for my benefit. But that is truly the opposite of who we are supposed to be. I hate it when I see other sound techs who obviously don’t care about the PERSON on stage, but I sometimes fall into that. Thanks for the reminder that the musicians and vocalists are people!