Chris Clanton, who's been running sound at the Windjammer for nearly four years, began a sound tech career out of necessity.
"I was in a band in high school in '86 or '87," Clanton says. "We bought a PA and had to learn how to use it. We'd point the PA at ourselves in our rehearsal space, and we'd adjust it over months of rehearsal. So by the time we were ready to go play somewhere, we were pretty much dialed in. We'd roll in, plug it all in, and set it up the same way. We'd ask people if it sounded OK, and pretty much every time they told us we sounded perfect."
The band didn't last, but the soundboard training led Clanton to a job with NBS Media Systems, and after a five-year stint with them, he was ready to go out on his own. "We did sound for the Windjammer, Cumberland's, the first Music Farm on East Bay, and the new one," he says. "After I quit NBS, I was just renting out my own PA and travelling around with bands."
Clanton was between gigs four years ago when he ran into Windjammer co-owner Bobby Ross, and Ross presented him with an offer he couldn't refuse. "I'd known Bobby since the early '90s, and he asked what I was doing." The rest is history.
In his time running sound, Clanton has learned what works and what doesn't, and he has a straight-ahead theory about what makes a band sound great. "I like to make it as simple as possible," he says. "I see so many sound guys that come in and I'll have to, not babysit, but be there for them if they need anything. Usually they're great, but some of them want to make it harder than it has to be. It's kind of like, 'Keep it simple, stupid.' As long as a band has a stage volume that's not too loud, or they don't sing a foot away from the microphones, stupid things like that, it ought to be pretty easy. If the PA is EQ'd [equalized] well, that's 90 percent of it right there. If the monitors are EQ'd well, it's just a matter of finding the right volume, unless it's like a really big band that's bringing in their own lights and their own monitor rig."
It's a philosophy that reflects Clanton's no-nonsense perspective. Some sound techs like to be as prepared as possible before a band loads in. Clanton says that it really doesn't matter. "It's gonna be kick drum, snare, rack tom, floor tom, bass, guitar, guitar, maybe a keyboard, and three, or four vocals," he says, matter-of-factly. "Unless there's a horn section involved, then it becomes more of a challenge because you have so many open mics onstage that the whole stage has become a microphone. That's the only time it gets a little bit annoying, but I've got the room dialed in."
That's right — Clanton regards his home venue the same way musicians regard their instruments: It's a matter of tuning. "It takes time and experience," he says. "You have to be able to pick out frequencies that other people don't even notice. I tuned that room with little tiny micro-adjustments here and there for a couple of years until I was really happy with it. I can have a room sounding 98-percent perfect in an hour, probably, but getting from 98 to 99.9, that takes a year (laughs)."