Being a sound engineer can be a tough line of work. They're the first ones in at every show, the last ones out. And if everything goes smoothly, they won't be noticed. "It's almost like Game of Thrones: The Night's Watch," jokes Music Farm sound engineer Mike Rogers. Despite comparing live sound engineering to a group of fantasy warriors that have a short life span and don't get much admiration, Rogers loves every second of his job.
As he puts it, it's in his blood. Even as a toddler he couldn't stay away from the soundboard at his local church and took every opportunity to play with it.
Years later, Rogers began his career in music at the age of 20 when he helped a friend, Beth Graham, start a music venue called the Sumter Collective. Because it was a small venue, Rogers was forced to show his range by doing sound engineering, promoting, and managing.
From there, he became the bass player and backing vocalist for rock band All Get Out in late 2006. The group toured extensively when he was with them. He got his first taste of the technical side of things out of necessity for the band's future. "Since we were broke and we couldn't afford guitar techs, couldn't afford to get our stuff sent off and fixed all the time, because we were pretty hard on gear, I had to learn how to fix it," Rogers says. "I've always liked taking apart electronics and putting them back together." That interest in all-things electronic paid off for him when he was asked by another Music Farm sound guy to do monitors for a Wiz Khalifa show. It was a sold-out show, but Rogers survived the stress and weed fumes to find a new avenue for pursuing music.
Since then, Rogers has thrived in his regular spot at the Music Farm and an occasional side venue, like the Charleston Music Hall. "My goal is to make people comfortable and to make people happy," he says. "At the end of the day, if everyone is smiling, then I've had a good day."
The real fun of Rogers' job comes when he needs a bit of creativity to make that good day happen. "A lot of people do it mix by-the-numbers," he says. "And some guys don't put the effort into it."
Rogers' average day requires him to know the basics: what microphone to use, where to put it, and the ins and outs of the equipment. But when he gets behind the soundboard, he tries to go a few steps beyond by working with the artist to accentuate details in their songs or genre. "You might have a stoner metal band," he says. "It might need to be droning and louder than all hell. But that's what works for it. Sometimes it doesn't." Often before a show, Rogers can be found studying the artist and their genres to get a fuller picture of how to represent them through the mixer. "It's making it a paintbrush instead of a hammer."
Rogers' intent wasn't to turn live sound engineering into an art, even though that sounds like what happened. He just wanted to participate in the art form that he loved.
"Songs have a message and they're meant to emote," Rogers says. "I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to have a message and I wanted to move people ... I wanted to be a part of a purpose, and that's what music did for me."