It’s not merely a profession, it’s a lifestyle. Chris Mock is a sound engineer living in Cologne, Germany; when he is not on the road – that is. Currently on tour with Kopek, he managed to fit in a brief Skype interview into his hectic schedule to talk about getting into music, life on the road, making it in the business and beyond.
How did you get into music? Where does your sound tech career start?
“I played in many bands and projects throughout the years, everything from punk rock to jazz. Then I’d been caught between university and music and didn’t know what to do until I found out that it was possible to study sound engineering. That was the day when everything changed. I didn’t want to be the star on stage anymore, but the one who made it all possible: record music and have bad-ass sounds at concerts. So I studied sound engineering and received Bachelor of Recording Arts degree; which is a cool description, if you ask me! Anyway, now I’m a sound engineer.”
Could you name some of the bands you worked with so far?
“Life of Agony, Helmet, Mina Caputo (formerly known as Keith Caputo), Walk off the Earth, Ignite, MXPX Allstars, Eternal Tango, Kopek, Jupiter Jones, Broilers, Die Happy and many others.”
“I think there are two different types of sound engineers out there. There is the ‘tech guy’ who is really into the theoretical part of the job, knows every detail of every new sound desk that is on the market, calculates complicated systems of equations in his head etc. The other type is the ‘musical’ sound engineer who is really into music, maybe plays in a band. Those guys work together with the artist, more creatively.
I am there to help the artist get the best sound possible. I have to think like a musician, understand what the singer wants to communicate with the lyrics. With this understanding I am able to intensify the music that is played on stage. For example: If the artist plays a very fast and aggressive song I don’t use any reverb on the vocals to make the audience feel like the singer is very ‘in-your-face’. If the artist plays a ballad I use reverb and delays to make it sound bigger – as if the audience were in the middle, part of the song themselves, this way they can experience the song as much as possible.”
What is your typical ‘tour day’ like?
“Depends, if we travel in a van we usually stay in hotels for the night, wake up in the morning, have breakfast and set off. If we travel on a nightliner we go to bed after the show and drive to the next stop of the tour overnight.
When people think about Rock & Roll and touring they picture living on a bus. Well, sleeping on a bus is pretty cool. Everybody has their own bunk, it’s not the biggest, but still. A lot depends on the driver and the condition of the roads. Oh, and yes, there is a toilet on the bus! But only for the small business. There is usually everything you need to survive: fridge, a sink, coffee machine, microwave and so on.
When we arrive there is usually some time to have breakfast and take a shower. Then we load the gear in from the bus into the venue and we start setting it up on stage. On big tours, however, there are a lot people to take care of this. There would be a backline guy who is responsible for setting up the backline, and also a guitar- bass- and drum tech to take care of those instruments, put new strings on, clean and tune them.
I usually start with talking to the local sound engineer to find out everything about the venue, like the PA system, the acoustics and anything else that is important. Then I set up my desk if I brought my own, or I start working on the in-house desk. If the backline is set up already, I position the mics on stage and plug all the cables.
After everything set up we do a line check which means we check every instrument and microphone and change EQ settings if necessary. After line check the band does a soundcheck so I can change the last details on the sound and the bands can change their monitor sound if they need to. Then we usually have dinner. There are often interviews taking place between dinner and show time, but there is also some time to take a break. Then we all wait for the show to start and hope that everything works out well.
After the show when everything is packed into cases, we start loading out right away. When the trailer is loaded we usually have a drink, some people take a shower, the tour manager does the settlements with the promoters, the band takes care of the fans, and someone has to count the merchandise money of the day, too. Then we leave the venue, go to bed and wake up in the next city to do the same thing again. Again and again. But every day is totally different, that‘s why this job is so amazing!”
“I try to get healthy and tasty food, take long showers, sleep, stay in bed for hours, read, or watch a movie. Of course, if we are in an interesting city I want to discover it and take a walk around the area and meet friends who live there. In Paris, for example, I always visit this one restaurant a friend took me to last year. The food is delicious and they make the best cake ever! Playing frisbee is also a good thing to do on a day off. If the area is nice I sometimes go for a run. But usually I do that on working days if I find one hour during the day.”
What is the most challenging (and rewarding) about being on the road for weeks on end? What is most difficult about it?
“As you can imagine spending over 200 days a year on the road, not much time is left to be at home, see friends; spend time with girlfriend/boyfriend etc. A real challenge is keeping in touch with friends. Actually, you can tell pretty fast who is a true friend… Same goes for relationships. I think the problem is less about keeping in touch or having a working relationship while you are touring and more about meeting someone you really like but then having no time at all to get to know each other.
On the one hand this sounds difficult and it requires an effort, but on the other hand life on the road gives you so much that I would never want to miss out on it! You get the chance to travel around the world, visit a lot of countries and cities, experience other cultures, taste delicious and strange food, meet people and make new friends from all over the world! I am sure I won’t live this life forever but as long as I am able and willing to be on the road I will do it. I can’t imagine anything better now.”
“Festival season is always the best season of the year, meeting all your tour buddies again you made over the years – plus, it’s warm and just a great time. But as a sound engineer I prefer the former. You usually have much more time to do soundcheck at a club than at a festival. I also think it is another experience to play a club show because you are much closer to the audience and it has a whole different vibe.”
You are a freelance sound engineer, but also offer services of tour management, backlining, monitor engineering. What are some of the steps that you have to take to get your business off the ground to end up working with such big bands?
“When I started as a sound engineer, I offered my services for a couple of Euros to small local bands, helped them with their sound on stage. I recorded bands at the university; I did a lot of sound design for student movies and gained a lot of experience. But most of all, I made a lot of contacts during that time. Having contacts is the most important thing in this job because it is the only thing that can land you a job. Everybody says networking is important, but in our business it is crucial.
Next, I started working as a sound engineer at a venue and met even more people, bands, artists, other sound engineers and tour managers. I went to shows, festivals and parties to meet people from record companies, bookers, promoters and all kinds of people working in the business. Just to meet them, tell them my name and what I do and give them a business card. It’s simple, but the important thing was the fact that they read my name on a piece of paper.
Then I got my first big job as a sound engineer for a band that played big festivals and tours throughout Germany and with that name on the list I started to work for other bands. This was my way. It took me at least three years to build a network that actually works fine now. But it was a lot of work!”
“It’s November and I only have one tour for next year. In this business you can’t predict what’s coming next; sometimes tours come up one month before they start. Sometimes you don’t know if you can pay your rent next month.
The future? As soon as I don’t feel like doing it anymore, I will find something else. Or if I start to lose my sense of hearing. (Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen…) Or, if I meet the girl of my dreams and want to settle down, have kids and a dog, I think at that point I will have to find a solution to be able to tour less. But until then…”
November 8, 2012.