A Lesson Learned On The Road

In the live sound world, dealing with difficult artists is an occupational hazard. Sometimes, however, handling them goes beyond merely being professional and biting one’s lip. Today’s guest blogger, former touring monitor engineer Tricia Huffman (Dolly Parton, Tom Cochran, Natalie Cole, among others), recounts her own experience with the downside—and upside—of one such encounter.
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Tricia Huffman, tackling monitors at Lollapalooza 2005, Grant Park, IL.
In the live sound world, dealing with difficult artists is an occupational hazard. Sometimes, however, handling them goes beyond merely being professional and biting one’s lip. Today’s guest blogger, former touring monitor engineer Tricia Huffman (Dolly Parton, Tom Cochran, Natalie Cole, among others), recounts her own experience with the downside—and upside—of one such encounter.

By Tricia Huffman.

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From the ages of 19-28, I was a professional live sound monitor engineer. Like many engineers, when I was not on the road working for one at artist at a time, I did plenty of local gigs and huge festivals where big name artists would come through without a monitor engineer on staff. So, I would step in for the day.

As you most likely know, it is way more beneficial to tour with your own monitor engineer then to pick one up locally no matter how good that local engineer is. It really doesn’t matter if the local engineer tours with The Rolling Stones or Madonna; today he or she is working for _____. We are all different. We hear differently. We communicate different. We react different. All musicians are not the same, even by instrument.

Although mixing for the same band night after night is easier for both the engineer and the musicians, there is a method and science for getting the mixes up and having happy artists quickly. Especially if you understand that as the monitor engineer, your purpose is to serve, like I did. Industry peeps were always surprised to find a young, peppy female (me) behind the board as there are very, very, very few professional female monitor engineers out there, but I always told them that I found it to be a motherly position. My job was to take care of each person on stage, so that they can perform at their maximum potential. “Do you need anything, sweetie?” “Are you hearing okay?” “How does that feel for you?” That was me and I was always there attending to them all with a smile no matter how much and whatever attitude they threw at me. That is what mothers do, right?

Often times on these local gigs, I got to step in to mix monitors for bands that I loved, some even that I idolized. During the summer of 2004, I was so excited to get to do a show with one of my favorite artists of the previous few years. Not only did she have an amazing voice, but her songs were absolutely beautiful lyrically. I could listen to her CD on repeat over and over again and truly feel it. The messages in her songs reached females everywhere, building self-confidence and love.

Not only would I get to see her live, I’d get to work with her--I got to be the one that delivered her performance to her. WooHoo! And you know what?

She was a complete bitch, seriously.

And not just to me, but to everyone. She was cold and mean to her band, the crew that did travel with her, her mother, even the audience. Throughout my day of working with her, I did not see her smile once. I did not see one friendly or loving piece of her.

After that day, I never listened to her music again. If it came on the radio, I changed it immediately. I buried her CDs, I actually may have even thrown them out. I didn’t just boycott her, though; I vocally dissed her as well. Anytime that her music came on, I took the opportunity to tell everyone what a true bitch she was. I did this for years.

Then sometime in the last two years, I forgave her. I let go of my grudge against her. I learned about the concept of holding space and who I was being, and I realized that those concepts applied to things that had happened in the past too, because I was still holding onto them. Who cares if my interpretation of her that day was that she is a bitch? Maybe, she is a bitch--who cares? Who am I being by holding onto my grudge against her? The truth is that I still love her music. I love the lyrics that she writes and sings.

Maybe she had a bad day that one day back in 2004 in San Diego. Maybe she was used to working with her own monitor engineer and was afraid of the idea of working with a stranger. Maybe she had huge stage fright and actually hated performing in front of an audience. Maybe she was grieving. Maybe she was sick. Maybe those are all excuses for her behavior that day. True, she as well needs a lesson in who she is being at all times, for all people, but who I am being in judging her?

What is more important for me to get, is that whatever is going on over there, I am still responsible for who I am being over here. I choose to hold space for all people, attitudes, actions, thoughts, ideas, and on and on and on, whether I agree with them or not. I choose to be actively free of judgment. Who I am I to judge her? Who I am being by holding onto a grudge? Who am I to spread my version of her to others? I have forgiven her. I have let go of my grudge. I am free.

Just now on my Pandora, one of her songs came on and without any hesitation, I started to sway and swing along. For this, I am grateful.

Tricia Huffman is a retired Professional Sound Engineer. After the sudden death of her father in 2008, she was inspired to change her career path. All that she knew was that she wanted everyone, everywhere to love the life they are leading, no matter what they are doing, no matter where they are.


Being that the music world was her home, she created a new position as a touring Joyologist, keeping the artists grounded, happy, and healthy physically and emotionally. She now offers a variety of services for people everywhere (not just rockstars) via her website, www.yourjoyologist.com, and is currently writing her first book, sharing the tools that keep her loving life no matter what it throws at her.

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Had a crummy artist experience? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.