It’s festival season. Systems Engineers all over the world are pouring over riders and input lists, programming consoles and system processors.

It’s festival season. Systems Engineers all over the world are pouring over riders and input lists, programming consoles and system processors and preparing to tune sound systems for dozens of bands to hit their stages with little or no soundcheck. This can be a daunting task for the most seasoned Systems Tech. The balance of client budget, artist rider, company policy, “that’s how we did it last year” syndrome, available equipment, and a myriad of other mitigating factors all play a role in challenging our patience.

I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, nor am I here saying that my methods are superior. The following is merely a list of suggestions that I have honed over the years after being burnt more than once on a festival as both Artist FOH and Festival Systems Engineer. I hope they help.

1.)! Subwoofers. You gotta have ‘em. FOH Engineer preference on subs varied, but there is at least one thing that every band engineer has in common. They want even coverage throughout the venue across the spectrum. This means that the standard Left/Right pile of subs is not an acceptable configuration in ANY circumstance, let alone a festival. A power alley flanked by two wide and well defined cancellation nodes is never desirable. With the processing available in 2012 the subs should always be configured for maximum coverage and power toward the audience with minimums on stage. Cardioid, end-fire, slot-fire, some new creation we’ve not read about; whatever method is used, a controlled, steerable subwoofer array will make your festival better.

2.)! While on the topic of subs, what about the feed for subs? To aux or not to aux? That is the question. IMHO, NO! Not to aux. However, there are a large number of Band Engineers that prefer to mix with subs fed via an aux bus therefore it must be taken into consideration. A good compromise is to feed the subs via a matrix. Now the subs can be a -6 sum of Left and Right and seamless to the engineer or the matrix can be fed via the sub aux and controlled by the engineer. Either way, there is physical patching, it can all be done on the surface and on the fly.

3.)! Front Fill. Unless the guest FOH asks repeatedly, I always feed the front fills of a festival via a matrix. Make a -6db per channel sum of Left and Right into a mono matrix and call it done. This way the kids along the barricade hear the entire show and the FOH doesn’t have to make excuses why they forgot to turn on the main vocal in the front fills.

4.)! Patching. Arguably the most important role on a festival stage is the patch person. They control the flow of the show. Sub snakes are your friend. Carry enough of them to patch 2 or 3 bands ahead of what is on the stage. Using multi-pin disconnects makes this a snap. Simply label and patch the boxes according to the artist rider then when it’s their turn to play all that is necessary is to connect the multi-pin cable to the box and to patch the fan out into the main snake. This method is much easier than using the “festival patch” method. Every artist has their input list 1 for 1 according to their rider and the changeover is much quicker.

This week, I’ll be FOH / Systems Engineer for “The Other Tent” at Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN. If anyone wants to pop in for a visit, I’m always happy to talk shop. After Bonnaroo, I’ll have pictures to show and stories to tell. As I am convinced that I have prepared for everything, I’m certain that means that a huge curveball will be thrown. …can’t wait.