A soundman is tasked with making a live concert sound like a recording, whether the stage environment is an open space in a rainstorm or a room the size of a walk-in closet. Kris Poulin is the soundman for San Diego–based indie-rock band Pinback.
Like many sound engineers touring with recording artists, Poulin got his start mixing bands in clubs and studios and earned his reputation by word-of-mouth.
“In the beginning, you work as hard as you can, even if it’s a band you can’t stand or there are difficult people to work with,” says Poulin, who has manned the mixing board for Pinback since 2004.
“Then it snowballs... I have toured with Black Heart Procession, the Album Leaf, and I’ve been a part of pretty much anything related to [Pinback’s] Rob and Zach.”
Poulin has mixed Pinback in every sort of acoustic setting, from the outdoor Cactus Festival, an event that attracts thousands to Belgium annually, to the historic Spreckels Theatre downtown. His job requires a study of every song and the ability to hear beyond melody, beat, and lyrics.
“The primary thing is to listen for problems with specific frequencies,” Poulin says. “Obviously, feeding back, but to a lesser degree, a loss in frequency ranges. I’ve heard Pinback hundreds of times, so it’s programmed into me, almost like muscle memory.”
There is no room for error in a live setting. Poulin must keep sound quality consistent, despite everything from low ceilings and high winds to a lack of electrical outlets. If concert sound is compromised, audience members have been known to seek out the soundman for punishment. Like a gig in New York that haunts Poulin to this day.
“There was something wrong with the house system that led to intermittent drop-outs throughout the show,” says Poulin. “Between myself and the three technicians who worked at this club every day, we could not find the problem. One audience member was so upset that she came up to the mixing board and punched me between the shoulder blades. She gave it everything she had because it kinda hurt.”
Pinback will kick off its summer tour June 11 at the Casbah.