Whenever there's a UDD show, you can be sure to spot their live sound engineer Sho Hikino running around the venue before taking his spot behind the mixer in the tech booth. For almost four years now, Hikino has been working with the 'Stolen' act all around the world, joining them in places like Canada, U.S.A., Japan, and Singapore to give their audiences the best concert experience they can offer.
Bandwagon caught up with Hikino to discuss what it takes to make a good band sound great live, how a show's venue affects the overall sound, and what it's like working with UDD.
What does it take to be a live sound engineer?
There are many factors and qualities to consider to be a live sound engineer, but I'll try to summarize everything as much as I can. Here we go: You have to know the equipment you're using like the back of your hand and know at least the basics of mixing (gain staging, EQ, compression, gates, etc.). You should also be able to make fast decisions and have critical problem solving skills when troubleshooting, and of course, if not great ears, then have good ears.
One of the most important things I learned is to have excellent communication skills and consider how you treat and deal with everyone working behind the scenes. You have to be assertive, know music theory (that's big plus!), have love and passion for music, and it wouldn't hurt to have studio sound engineer experience, too.
There are many more things I can mention, but I guess if you have all these, then you're good to go.
What are the things considered to make a good band sound great live?
In my case, I personally know the music of the band I work with; everything single detail they do on stage when they perform, every note and beat they usually do live, their antics and whatnot. I think I'm part of the band—but not onstage—so this helps me mix "on-the-fly" better. When I say on-the-fly, I mean you don't just leave the faders or settings on the console as is for the whole duration of the show or set. You adjust accordingly, whether it's to put up or pull down the fader, adjust EQ settings, add live effects such as delays or reverb. This is how I usually do things, and this is what I believe that makes a great band sound even greater live.
You got to give the audience the best audio quality experience they can have. Of course you need LOTS of experience to be able to do this, and it takes time considering not all shows have the same equipment every time. Different mixers, speakers, amps, drum kits—everything.
The thrill of mixing live is different from studio mixing. You only have one chance to mix once the show starts, so the better you are in your craft, the better the band or show sounds live. This also trains your ears and mind in reading the flow of the set and the whole program flow of the event, too. Everyone, especially the audience who mostly don't really know what happens backstage, will have a better experience. Even the greatest bands will sound bad if the sound engineer doesn't do their job right.
In what ways does a concert’s location/venue contribute to the success or failure of the show sound-wise?
Every venue has different acoustics and this matters a lot to make a show sound great, for example a basketball gym, auditorium, arena type venue to name a few, has lots of reverb in it and you can't take that out fully and sometimes due to the architectural design, the acoustics of the place, you could end up with this really muddy sound live, so you have to rely on strategic placements of main speakers, front fill speakers, side main speakers, other delay speakers, and subs to even out this problem.
Some sound system suppliers and their respective sound technicians usually have precision tools, and other equipment to fix this problem. I believe every sound system supplier should standardize this. If all works well, the show will sound great and you can breathe deeply and just celebrate and enjoy with everyone.
How did you get your start in live sound engineering?
Long story short, I started as a studio engineer as my day job under an audio-post production house for advertising. Carlos [Tañada], UDD's guitarist, was one of my work mates in the office and he got me to do gigs with them and eventually things started to fall into place and here I am.
What is it like working with UDD?
Work-wise, UDD isn't a plug n' play type of a band. Everyone in the band is very meticulous with the sound they want to hear from their respective instruments and equipment, and as their live sound engineer, you have to fulfill those needs. They are very professional when it comes to how they sound, their position on stage, lighting, what comes out of the LED wall, if provided, to name a few.
What are things you have to do before the actual show?
In our case, once I confirm that the show is pushing through, I do several things: (1) I call the sound system suppliers for the show weeks or days ahead, to check on main equipment, back-line, mixer, patch-list, and other technical concerns. (2) Confirm the sound check time with the suppliers/organizers, and (3) negotiate if there are technical concerns.
On the day of the show, there's of course, soundcheck—I won't discuss this here as this might take another article to explain everything (laughs)—double-check, triple-check, lots and lots of waiting, then we have to re-setup instruments and equipment—depending on the situation and program flow of the show right before the show—coordinate with organizers, stage directors, and make sure everything is working right before they go up the stage and do their thing.
Can you share advice to aspiring engineers on how to get started and what they should do to give the audience the best live experience?
First off, please refer to all the qualities and things I previously mentioned (laughs). You need to attend shows and meet people to learn about the scene and industry in both the music and business side of it, on and off the stage. Don't be shy and ask around. Learn what you can from other professional live sound engineers and learn how to communicate well. You shouldn't let negative emotions drive you when you deal with clients, organizers, sound system staff or crew no matter how bad the situation is. Don't add fuel to the fire.
Of course, you have to be professional and treat everyone nicely and with respect regardless of their position or stature—this is one thing I always tell people who ask me for tips. You also shouldn't bad mouth anyone from the industry. The industry is not as big as you think. You don't want others to do that to you too, so let those who bad-mouth others bring themselves down on their own, be humble. Never forget to give credit where credit is due. You should also apologize when you make a mistake or did something wrong. Own up to them and solve them the best possible way you could.
This line of work may not have high financial gains for everyone, but if you have the love and passion for the work and the craft, it won't feel like work, it feels like you're just playing. Just enjoy the journey of being a live sound engineer and you're good to go!
Sho Hikino will be in Singapore this August with his instrumental band AOUI, together with their labelmates Maude and UDD at Timbre+ on August 25 (Sunday). Tickets are available for 100 SGD (VIP) and 60 SGD (Regular). For tickets and inquiries, text Requiem Rising at 8468-7155 or 9836-7120. RSVP to the show here.