You’ve heard it before: “everything’s the sound guy’s fault.” or “hey, sound guy!” It’s common practice to refer to an audio engineer as the sound guy, but maybe it’s time for a change.
I’m not criticizing people who use the phrase – I love sites like worship sound guy and soundguys.com. There’s nothing wrong with the phrase itself, but over time it’s become the norm and a few problems have emerged.
It’s not dignifying
It’s subtle, but the term “sound guy” eventually leads to audio engineers not being treated like actual people, and that’s not okay. “Sound guy” is an excuse to not get to know the person behind the mixer. It’s demeaning to call someone by their title and not by their name, especially when this person is working to make you sound great.
I remember once being at an outdoor concert in Dallas and during one of the breaks, the MC came up to give some announcements. He began by yelling, “hey sound guy, can you turn on some music?” I was standing right by FOH and got to see the engineer’s reaction – he didn’t appreciate it.
Here’s the real problem with the phrase: it’s less about what is said and is more about the way it’s said. Most of the time when someone yells “hey sound guy!” to an audio engineer, there’s a connotation of “I’m more important than you and you’re here to do whatever I say.”
Calling someone by their title and not their name is demeaning. We must take time to learn the names of our audio engineers instead of yelling their title when we need something from them.
It’s not always a guy
Using the phrase “sound guy” promotes an unnecessary gender gap. Girls can run audio too. Some of the best audio engineers I know are women. Not many women work in areas of production. That’s changing, but it is still by far a male-dominated industry. There’s no reason women can’t serve in production.
One small reason there aren’t women working in audio is because they don’t see other women working in audio. It doesn’t register in their mind that they could also run sound because in our minds, people who run sound are men. It’s not an evil thing to call someone a sound guy, but the phrase creates the assumption this is a guys-only club, and it’s not.
We want and need to have more women working in live audio. If coming up with a new name can make a difference, it’s definitely worth the change.
It paints the wrong picture of what it takes to run live audio
Like I mentioned in the first section – “sound guy” creates this idea that audio engineers only exist to do whatever you need them to do. In a way this is true, we do exist to serve and enhance other art, but our work has much more value than that. “Sound guy” doesn’t give credit to the art and craft of audio.
A true audio artist isn’t just pushing faders and pressing buttons. He or she is taking multiple inputs and mixing them together to create a beautiful sonic experience. He or she is working closely with multiple band members, speakers and other talent to make a seamless and beautiful work of art. Not everyone can do that. Audio is a lifelong pursuit that involves years of ear training and a deep understanding of how audio works. The phrase sound guy doesn’t paint the full picture.
A new name
I’ve always been told not to make comments on something unless you have a solution. So instead of just talking about getting rid of the name, I’d like to propose a new name: Audio Production Artist.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, production techs are more than technicians, they’re technical artists. The name audio production artist is much more dignifying, doesn’t create any sort of gender connotation, and reminds the world audio engineers are artists. It’s only a title change, but it helps reorient people’s minds to the art audio truly is.
So to my fellow audio production artists, start introducing yourself as one. People haven’t heard the title before, so you may get strange reactions, but it might even open up conversation for you to talk more about your passion for audio.
To my non-audio friends, catch yourself when you say “sound guy” and try to replace it with audio production artist. And when you’re working with an audio production artist, take time to learn his or her name and to thank them for their service and art.
Over time, culture will start to see audio engineers less as servants who only exist to make things louder, and instead see them for the audio production artists they truly are.