According to Adam Brimeyer’s best guess, he’s run sound for something like 2,000 live shows over a span of about a decade. Brimeyer has manned the board for rock legends, local heroes and just about everything in between. Most of those shows occurred at DG’s Tap House, a venerable rock club in downtown Ames, but he’s worked in outdoor and festival settings as well.
He’s also an accomplished guitarist in his own right, shredding for acts like Electric Jury and Drunk N Disorderly among others.
So if you’re looking for an expert on live sound, particularly as it pertains to Iowa rock music, Adam Brimeyer’s credentials are unimpeachable. I caught up with Adam for a beer and a chat recently at London Underground and picked his brain on live sound, his experiences in the music industry and how he wishes every band approached sound check.
Read on for a glimpse into the sound booth. Just don’t spill your beer on the board.
Origins of a sound engineer
Brimeyer grew up in Maquoketa, Iowa, where he cut his teeth on Black Sabbath and played guitar in garage bands before moving to Ames in 2002 to study physics at Iowa State University. Around then, Brimeyer joined a band that also included Dennis Haislip, owner of Alexander Recording Kompany, an Ames-based recording studio. Brimeyer picked up the basics of audio engineering from Haislip and started filling in both at DG’s and Headliner’s, a Campustown club that closed its doors years ago. DG’s offered Brimeyer a steady job in 2008, which he held until 2017. Nowadays, he does the booking and handles some of the live sound for Gas Lamp in Des Moines.
Brimeyer stressed the “wild west” nature of the live sound industry. He said there are few accepted standards or regulations in the profession, meaning young sound engineers should take every available opportunity to make connections and learn from more established engineers. Acts like Leftover Salmon and Railroad Earth would bring their own audio engineers on the road with them. When they’d play DG’s, Brimeyer said he jumped at the chance to watch them in action and ask questions.
The unpredictable nature of the live music industry also comes with some pitfalls, including a decided lack of security, he said.
“You’re only as good as the last show you ran,” he said.
To his credit, Brimeyer has run sound for some excellent shows. He points to Meat Puppets, who played at DG’s for the 2013 Maximum Ames Music Festival, as one of the highlights of his sound engineering career. The band, perhaps best known for appearing on Nirvana’s famed MTV Unplugged in New York release, has produced several decade’s worth of idiosyncratic rock that mixes alternative with roots and psychedelia. Brimeyer said he grew up listening to Meat Puppets and was delighted to learn the band members were gracious, down to Earth and easy to work with that magical night in September 2013.
“Imagine taking your heroes off the pedestal and just hanging out with them,” Brimeyer said.
But for every transcendent musical experience with someone like Meat Puppets, Brimeyer can tell just as many horror stories. He recounted the time a certain EDM artist played DG’s and required Brimeyer to show up at 9 a.m. to load in audio and lightning equipment and then stay until 5 a.m. the following morning to load everything out after the show. That might not have been so bad if the artist hadn’t pushed the volume to disastrous levels during the show. Brimeyer asked the tour manager to pass a note to the artist to get him to lower the volume, but the note went ignored.
“He starts playing and we’re running all of his stuff through DG’s board,” Brimeyer said. “And he just takes his DJ rig and cranks it all the way, and it just redlines the input channels 100 percent. Nothing we can do, and it sounds awful, just crunched.”
Brimeyer said the show wrecked every tweeter in DG’s PA system, and the artist didn’t even apologize. Instead, the artist spent the rest of the night avoiding Brimeyer at all cost.
(Author’s note: Brimeyer, without hesitation, named the EDM act in question here. We’ve decided to withhold the name out of an abundance of caution. If you ever see Adam, he’ll most likely be happy to tell you the name of the artist, along with several other choice words.)
The perfect soundcheck
The soundcheck is a critical component of any smoothly run rock show. Get it right, and everyone – from the audience to the performers to the sound engineer – enjoys the show. But, when done poorly, it can devolve into a frustrating mess, particularly if it’s happening while the audience is already seated and watching.
Brimeyer stressed the importance of punctuality and communication for a successful soundcheck. He urged bands to follow the schedule for loading in, setting up and loading out. Once a band is onstage and ready to soundcheck, he said musicians should follow the sound engineer’s instructions and resist the temptation to noodle away mindlessly on their instruments.
“You’re not there to play ‘Free Bird.’ You’re not there to jam out,” he said.
Once each musician has had a chance to check the levels on their instruments, Brimeyer recommended every band identify a single song as the go-to for soundchecks. The soundcheck song shouldn’t be something the band intends to play during their regular set, and it should be kept short, ideally less than a minute. Brimeyer said the soundcheck song simply allows the musicians to make sure everything is working and that they’re comfortable onstage. Once that’s settled, there’s no need to keep playing, no matter how righteous that new Fender Twin sounds.
And, if a musician discovers they’re not comfortable with something, soundcheck is the time to iron that out, Brimeyer said. If you don’t communicate your needs to the sound engineer, then the problem won’t get solved.
“The one pet peeve of every sound guy, and it’s probably universal, is when someone complains about not having enough of something in the monitor but they never told you once they wanted it,” Brimeyer said with an exasperated chuckle.
Bottom line, a good rock show usually needs some functional audio gear, and few people on this planet have the necessary skills to make the best use of that equipment. So here’s to Adam and sound engineers everywhere. You make rock ‘n’ roll work. And I’d like to extend a personal apology to every sound engineer I’ve ever worked with for all the times I interrupted soundcheck with my incessant guitar noodling.