The great thing about teaching is that it helps one organize their thoughts into cohesive ideas. The other day, while I was imparting my vast storehouse of knowledge to some up and coming engineers, I mentioned that there are a few different approaches to creating a live mix and for the most part, barring any real technical faux pas, if a method is found that works then it’s right. Some flagrant live mix offenses would be considered as reoccurring feedback, distorted sound, harsh vocals or buried vocals. If an overall mix is too loud or soft for a given venue then it too can be considered wrong. Nothing will drive an audience from a room quicker than a bad audio mix regardless of the band’s skill or quality. The responsibility of the soundperson is to insure that, not only is the band kept happy on stage, but the patrons and venue are satisfied as well.
There is no definitive great mix and judging the quality of a mix depends upon the engineer’s grasp of the situation and the event as well as proper gain structure. An improper booking of a band, such as a wedding band at Oz Fest, or vice-versa, is only a recipe for disaster and is a situation that will not lend itself to a great mix. The challenge of live engineering is just that… it’s live. Each event is a one shot deal that demands exactitude in situations that are usually less than perfect, thus presenting the engineer with emotional obstacles as well as technical impediments to overcome.
I wrote down a few thoughts to impart to my pupils and while they may be too rudimentary for most of the seasoned road dogs they may come in handy if one ever wants to train an up and coming engineer.
Be Prepared and Advance the Show
This covers just about everything else on the list, but since there are so many little things that can possibly go wrong it’s a good idea to over-compensate and not take anything for granted. Make sure to speak to the bandleader or organizer of the event in regard to the nature of the gig, the time of load in and set up, show and strike. If at all possible have the event organizer email or fax you all the pertinent information concerning the event along with contact numbers (cell phone numbers if possible) for the organizer, club owner, band leader, maintenance crew or anyone else that might be crucial to the success of the show. Having all the information in writing from someone “in charge” will help avoid any she said, he said disputes that may arise.
Get a Stage Plot and Input List From the Band
This is best done ahead of time and is helpful in assessing the size of the sound system and monitor system that is needed for a particular event. In case the band or venue might have a special request for either equipment or set up this will give you time to negotiate with the people in charge to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
Arrive on Time
Even a little early if at all possible since you will have to unload, get the gear inside, set up and be ready for sound check. When advancing a show for scheduling it’s a good idea to work backwards. Find out what time the show begins and ends as well as the time the venue will open doors. Once the doors are open the set up and sound check should be finished and the soundperson should be on break. Therefore, if doors are at 7:00PM aim to be on break by 6:00PM. Working backward from that time should give you a good indication as to when load in and sound check should commence.