Some have mixed from a truck or vom with a camera or system of cameras to help them see what they were doing. I’ve had conversations with well known engineers about “Mixing in Isolation” over the years. Some have mixed from a truck or vom with a camera or system of cameras to help them see what they were doing and a trusted systems engineer to make sure that the intended audience was hearing what the engineer intended them to. It seemed to me, at the time, that those situations were completely undesirable and were management decisions to sell that many more seats or to have the stage that much bigger thereby eliminating a FOH or MON position.
Of course that situation would never happen to me… …Right?
Well, that situation was last weekend.
Big arena show? nope.
It was a charity mud race in the middle of nowhere. The client decided to cancel the rented stage and opt to use the 8’ dais that was previously used as a scorer booth for drag racing. The mud pit was directly downstage so the option was to put FOH across the pit and string snake up over poles or to go under the deck.
I chose under the deck.
In lieu of reference monitors, I made a stereo mix of wedges at FOH. Luckily I had good wedges… After tuning the PA, I saved a measurement trace of each side of the system from the distance where FOH would have been and tuned the wedges to match that curve. Since FOH was directly under the stage and equidistant from the subs it was easy to time align the wedges to the subs and, voila, I had a FOH reference setup.
Since I had the distinct privilege of mixing monitors from FOH, I had to find a solution to communicate with the bands. Talking to the band was easy, but they needed to talk to me. The FOH reference was a post fade mix of L/R out of a stereo matrix so adding an auxiliary output to that matrix was easy. The aux was occupied by a strategically placed mic on stage where the musos could talk to me without being heard through the PA. I also didn’t want this mic open and muddying up the mix so I gated the mic. The musos had to shout into the mic and ask for what they needed. This served to both open the gate and startle me and get my attention. Someone shouting “HEY!, I NEED MORE VOCAL IN MIX 1” stands out over a nice music mix. The wedges were labeled for their convenience.
Putting on a false bravado (I was actually quite nervous about doing this) I reassured every band that things would be fine and began the show. The rest of the bands gathered out in the crowd to hear the results of this experiment with the first.
The first soundcheck was awkward. I take for granted that I can see what I’m doing. Whether I’m actually looking at the stage, or I simply know that it’s somewhere in front of me in my peripheral vision, there is a certain comfort in that familiar setting. This time all I could see was the console with the back of a stage curtain in front of it. While this helped me focus on the mix all the while I’m trying to dial things in, the band are asking for monitor things. Through the talkback system that I designed to get my attention…
Aside from that, the mix came together easily and once the wedges were dialed in we were ready for a rock show.
Amazingly, everything was fine.
The mix sounded exactly the same in the main system as it did in my wedges. I was able to que the monitor mixes and dial in each mix as a monitor engineer would and rarely heard from the bands. Away from the sun, away from the mud, and away from the punters, I had nothing to focus on but the mix and the results were awesome. Each of the bands took the extra step to duck into my world and tell me about their initial fears and their eventual relief that there was such a great show. The client even ducked in to compliment the mix and tell me that they are considering putting FOH under the deck for future events. (my apologies in advance to the next sound company that gets this request)
If you’re presented with an opportunity to do something that may be a little different, scary, unorthodox or weird; do it! Take the opportunity to test your skills, challenge conventional wisdom and broaden your experience.