Bruce Reiter, Sound Engineer and Production Manager (R. O. C. U.)
By Liam Klenk
Bruce Reiter is a sound engineer who also works as a tour manager and production manager. For the last eleven years he has worked for the Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch. Bruce shares his experiences in an industry he loves with us. He speaks about staying healthy on tour. About the importance of kindness in the music industry. About how we can learn from each other. And about how we have a responsibility to speak up if we see or hear things which are discriminating. Stand up for each other.
Here is Bruce Reiter in his own words:
Since 2010, I’ve worked for the Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch.
It’s been a wonderful experience. I met them on their first tour. At the time, I mixed for another band called Dragon Force. Five Finger was opening up and that’s how I met them.
With Five Finger I usually work 6 months a year, then I have 6 months off. So, in the beginning of this pandemic, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. Working a few months from home was normal. However, after a while, I began to feel the shutdown, too.
Since 2000, we live in our home in Atlanta, Georgia. When I’m off tour, we spend a lot of time traveling. My wife and I love to go to Chicago. To visit museums and art galleries.
I love going to shows. We go to concerts on our own time, too. We actually buy our tickets. Because we don’t want to rely on guest lists and stuff. There is this band called The Greyhounds which we love. We buy their records, vinyl, etc.
The last bit of traveling I did before lockdown was when I went out to Las Vegas after we had two tours cancelled, to tear down the audio gear and send it back to the audio company. I’ve been home ever since.
Thankfully, I’ve found some studio work to do. I have the good fortune of having an Avid S6L mixing console with a Protools system at home.
I spend a lot of time practicing mixing the Five Finger Death Punch show and experimenting with new mixing methods to improve the sound of the live show using what is referred to as virtual sound check.
When it came to live sound, up until the early 2000s, you’d just mix the show and it was good or bad. Then you moved on to the next gig.
Then we went digital and they came up with virtual sound check. I am using pro tools to play back the show through a mixing console and choose all the sounds, the effects processing, and the vibe of the band.
Having that ability to do a virtual sound check changed the way live sound engineers work. The lines between live sound and studio sound are blurring.
Virtual sound check translates perfectly to an actual concert. It’s very important to have a good systems technician who understands how to deploy the speaker system in the most balanced way. So that every seat gets an equal volume level.
A lot of people are experimenting with immersive sound systems now. Most concerts will have a stereo sound system and fill for the sides and rear of the arena. For the seats in the bad sections.
I personally have not used immersive sound systems yet, but I’m following the technology. It’s important to always keep up with the latest and greatest.
You can still use your older equipment. But at some point you’ll be faced with having to use the latest equipment. Then, if you can just do it with no fuss, it’ll be easier for you to keep your job than for others who haven’t kept up with technology.
We used to have mentors. You’d find whoever was the best and available to you. They’d teach you what they knew. Eventually, you’d need more knowledge, and you’d find someone else. You just kept on learning like that with people teaching you through experience.
Nowadays, a young person can go to school and mix a band at school. And there is a lot of educational material available on YouTube.
Finding jobs in the music industry is a challenge. Everyone asks how to get in.
I think the best way for engineers, technicians, lighting techs, sound guitar techs, etc. is to start off at local clubs. Go there. Volunteer. Do whatever they can. Get their face known. Basically, just keep on meeting people and build relationships.
One of the most important things: It is very important for people to be kind in this industry.
Especially in the 80ies and 90ies when I just started out, a lot of touring people and band people were quite arrogant and unhelpful towards those wanting to learn. It was really uncomfortable. People would make it so difficult to get a foot on the ground.
Now it’s a different environment. We go on tour and we make sure that the bands get everything they need to do their show… lighting and staging, the time, the equipment… all they need.
We’ll make sure the opening bands have communicated with the audio companies to have all their details sorted out as well.
We’re just helpful to people on tour. We don’t make them wait. We’re punctual.
A lot of the time, we’re in intense situations. We work twelve to eighteen hours per day. Then, afterwards, we get on the same tour bus together. Everyone is tired and pissed off. You have to let go of animosities which may happen then. When you see other people being tense, help them relax. Help diffuse situations.
Everyone should be a leader to a certain extent. Whether they are in the lowest or highest positions. They should just help foster a kind environment.
For example, I remember twenty years ago, a situation when a sound technician sand-bagged me during sound check. He only allowed me six channels, no effects channels. I found myself in a no-win situation because the sound wouldn’t be good no matter what I did.
Twenty years later, I saw him again. I remembered him immediately. I showed him the console, helped him set up. And told him he could use my equipment. I was as nice to him as I am with everyone.
He didn’t recall our first meeting twenty years earlier when he was the headliner and I wasn’t. He didn’t remember how unnecessarily harsh he had been.
It’s a small business. If you are an asshole, you’ll have limited opportunities. Because people just don’t want to be around that. That goes for any kind of backstage environment, be it theatre, concerts, or tours.
Asking questions of experts is important. Every tour I’ve been on I seek out an expert, just shadow them and see how they get their results. I take on whatever is useful for me to make my skillset stronger.
Sometimes it’s the opening band that’s just a beginner or sometimes it’s a seasoned professional from whom I can learn something.
What else… I’m a musician. When I was seventeen or eighteen, I realized that I could make more money mixing sound. I never stopped playing but I stopped playing with dreams of being a rock star. Now, during the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of time making noise at home which has been fun.
Outside of touring I practice martial arts. This turned out to be one of the things that gave me a re-introduction to the band I’ve been with these last ten years.
As I mentioned earlier, I met them on their first tour. They put on a good show. A couple years later, I was on tour with Dragon Force. The guitar player Herman and I both practice martial arts. We set up mats in an air-conditioned tent in the morning. They would let us practice in there for a couple of hours. And Zoltan the guitar player of Five Finger Death Punch came over. He had the same number of mats. So, we had double the space. We exercised together, got to know each other. Stayed in touch for the next couple of years. And it finally worked out that I went on tour with them as their sound engineer.
I think I am in a really fortunate position with this band. For a lot of the Heavy Metal tours, I am the only black guy on tour, and it’s funny because there are subtle things that people sometimes say that they don’t think of as not being acceptable.
For example, at one time I was on stage positioning microphones on the drum kit, so the sound was perfect. Some stagehands swept up confetti. They were chatting and one of them expressed how glad he was that they had a rock hand instead of this ‘negro (it was a hard R.) music’. He went on and kept repeating that.
I stopped and thought it’s so uncomfortable to have to hear that. There are very few places and moments where and when a person has control of their environment. Being the production manager there, I did have the control to remove that person from the environment.
Sometimes this stuff is annoying to hear. But I always overpower it instead of letting it overpower me.
Another example: In Florida they reminded me during a phone call they didn’t allow non-whites (he used the “N” word) in their club. They assumed I was white because of my vernacular.
Then I got there and met them in person. “Hey, I am Bruce, the tour manager.” And the guy realized he had talked to me on the phone and just back tracked. You could see he was embarrassed. And he was like, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
But I am a kind person. So back to that…
I think people in our industry should encourage people who they hear saying things like that to stop it. Stop it from happening.
On one tour we had a lot of females. Normally, when people see a venue tech backstage, they’ll say, “Hey tech, I need this or that.” But when the female counterpart walks up, they ask, “Who are you? Are you a groupie?” That is such an annoying thing to endure for my female tour colleagues. We can speak up then. Alert the speaker to how insensitive and discriminating his words are.
Overall, I love touring. Although it has changed a lot over the years.
In the early Nineties, I remember a band called The Poster Children. They toured in a van. It was the band and me. They would play in a bar or a warehouse before the show, in small Punk Rock places.
Then they’d ask around, “Hey, does anyone have a place where we can crash?” Because back then they didn’t make any money. I made 20 or 30 dollars a day on my first tour with them.
But the magic of that time of touring versus now as a more seasoned veteran, if you will, was meeting people, going to their houses.
Sometimes, it was a bunch of Punk Rock kids with a keg and a loud stereo. Sometimes, it was a wealthy kid with people who had a washer and dryer and the mom made us pancakes in the morning.
We experienced the country in a van. Now we are shuttled from hotel to airport, to parking lot, to parking lot. If you don’t choose to go out for a walk in your free time, you’ll never see anything other than a hotel, a parking lot, and a venue.
On your day off set your alarm to 9am. Go out and see the city. Go to wherever is city center. See the sights.
A couple of the people who I’ve toured with on Five Finger have toured for years. And they said they’d never done anything other than order room service on their day off. Now they do more.
I love reading. Everyone should read a book. Find a book when you’re on tour. Take it with you wherever you go and read it.
Back to the martial arts thing. That’s something that’s great for mental balance & self-defence. It’s good for keeping your mind stress-free on the road when you’re in suitable environments.
Maybe you’re in a venue where there is a park nearby. I enjoy practicing Tai Chi Chuan in all the places I travel to. And I meet with other people who practice the same sports.
With the pandemic, one thing that’s important is that you gotta enjoy doing all the stuff you do. Your work alone does not define you as a human being. You have to have things that bring you joy as well outside of work, outside of touring.
When it comes to shows, you are only as good as your last show. Do each show as if it is your last. Enjoy it. Love it. Take pride in it.
My last one before Covid19 was in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2020. One of the best shows the band played during that whole tour.
Sometimes people have different opinions of what ‘good’ is. People don’t see eye to eye. Instead of being mad about it, just take it as a learning experience.
With touring you learn to trouble shoot fast. You just go down the list. It might take someone 5 minutes where maybe you’ll only need 30 sec. That’s where mentorship is important too. You help bring them up to a standard.
Professionalism is in letting the artist know that you’re not gonna fail. Having this extreme confidence is important. The artists need to know the people they have put in place can rock it, no matter what happens.
With Five Finger Death Punch, we have had a lot of people employed over the years. I am fortunate to be the one who has been with them the longest. And I am very much looking forward to getting back to touring with them soon.