I’ve known for some time now that I do certain things differently than most other engineers and techs I meet. Case in point:
my input list. Like almost everyone mine starts with the kick & snare. The thing that throws people off is that I next have the lowest floor tom, then the mid toms and then the rack. After that come the cymbals. This is contradictory to everyone I’ve ever met. I don’t do it to annoy people or to “be different” on purpose. I do it like that because it makes sense to me. Most people stage up their inputs from the way they appear at FOH. If that’s the case I never saw a reason to put the rack tom first. For right-handed drummers, which most are, the rack tom is pretty much right in front of them, or perhaps a little to the right when viewed from FOH. The lowest floor tom would then be to the left, so it comes first among toms in my input list. One person did point out that it did make sense to patch like that because the lower pitched items should be to the left since a piano goes from low to high left to right. This also makes sense to me in that it keeps all the “shelled” drums in a group and then the cymbals come next. It’s easier to scope out HPFs that way since the inputs that need them the most are all together. So I don’t have the typical list of K, S, HH, rack, etc. The bummer is when I get to a venue (after properly advancing of course) and the patch guy wants to do it his way. Not only would that throw off my patches but if it’s my show, it’s my patch. I’ve had many guys be adamant that I’m wrong and that it should be the usual way. Wrong? I thought there were “no rules” when it comes to our profession. To me that’s one of those situations where things get done in an illogical or inefficient way just because “that’s how we do it” or something along those lines. From my POV that mentality fosters stagnancy. It’s not forward-thinking and makes me grumpy.
It’s been brought to my attention that my style of micing is also quite different from most others. For one thing, I don’t often put my mics on drastic angles to their respective instruments. To my ear I never liked the sound of a snare or tom mic pointed at the center of the drum from only about an inch above the rim. I much prefer the sound of the mics if they are pointed almost straight down towards the drum, about a half inch off the head. Not only do I like the sound better but it makes for better isolation from any other nearby sound sources. For overheads I use a stereo bar on a single boom stand with two small diaphragm condenser mics (Sennheiser e614s) in an X/Y configuration right above the drummer’s head. To my ear it is a more balanced representation of the kit and due to the two mics being so close to each other I don’t have issues with phase or anything. There are exceptions of course and I always try different things to see if I can get things to sound even better. Sometimes the best snare sound can be achieved by putting a mic next to a snare drum, pointing at the shell. You never know. When I have time and money to get fancy I will also mic toms with two mics, top and bottom. I use special Y cables (2 into 1) I made with one side polarity reversed so I only use one mic preamp and my input list stays consistent. The difference in tone is remarkable and it makes things much easier on the EQ side. I do that with the snare on occasion as well. In that case I would also insert an inline, switchable pad so I can change the level of the bottom mic if it’s too bright. Try it when you can. The only reason I don’t do that on every show is because at this time I don’t have enough mics and the Pelican case I carry my mics in is not big enough to carry any more along with the cables I’d need. Gotta work on that.
It’s possible that my studio background is to blame for some of the quirks I have but I’ve also been doing live audio for as long as I’ve been in the biz, about 24 years now. Many times I would wrap up an album and the band would want me to go on tour with them because I knew all the songs and “their sound.” So I try to incorporate both worlds into any situation I’m in. I used to think that live and studio techniques were much different than they actually are. In reality there are very subtle differences and in some cases none at all. Further, those differences are becoming more subtle every day as the studio and live audio worlds combine and improve things all around. Micing is generally done the same way with the same goals in mind; sound quality, tone, isolation, etc. With the high quality of sound reinforcement gear and stage mics these days we’re getting closer to providing high definition audio to our audiences. We now have multi-track recording devices right next to us at FOH (or monitors) and the benefits they provide (virtual soundcheck, song/set analysis) are abundant. I see lots of guys mixing live shows with a pair of near field monitors on the meter bridge of their consoles to reference from, which I think is a great idea. Sure, some of them use them only to listen to soloed instruments but the few times I’ve been able to set up a pair of monitors I’ve found that my mixes have been for the better, at least I think so. I once read one of Dave Rat’s blogs about using headphones to tune a PA. His logic was that if you got the PA to sound like the cans you’d probably have a great sounding rig. That logic should certainly hold true for near field monitors as well. I’m going to be trying that the next time I can go out carrying my own desk and monitors.
Another thing I try to do that seems weird to a lot of people is that I try to soundcheck things all at once. I figure that once I’ve patched things up and we’ve line checked to confirm signal back and forth I should be able to hear the band as a whole. Of course there are situations where I’d need or want to listen to a signal on it’s own for a while but if I’m on my preferred desk (Avid Profile) I’ll have my show loaded and things should be pretty close. I certainly don’t feel that I need to hear each drum for 10 minutes. So I just tell the band to start playing and have some fun. It’s sometimes amusing to me that an FOH or system tech will ask me if I’m sure I don’t want to go through each instrument individually. Yes, I do, but only if there’s a problem with something. If we’ve all done our jobs correctly there really shouldn’t be a reason to. On many occasions we simply do not have time during soundcheck to go through each instrument individually so I feel that starting with everything will at least get my mix “in the ballpark” and I can then later go back and work on any particular concerns.
I’d like to hear back from other engineers and techs out there. What do you do that makes others raise their eyebrows? I’m sure there are a number of techniques that others utilize that go against the grain.