Thursday, October 6, 2011

This Crazy Life

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sound man vs Musician

There are distinctly 2 kinds of sound men, (at least for this discussion) The ones who have been (or are) Musicians and ones that aren't.

I myself have been and still am a musician. I have played in many different avenues, venues and styles, both amateur and professionally, everything from large crowds at high voltage Rock N Roll shows to acoustic sets in coffee shops to churches big and small to studio session work. within those endeavors I played multiple instruments. Now... I am not trying to bash on non musician sound men or women, just giving you some of my personal history.

Now if you some of you remember our last article about MON vs FOH, you will remember the differences of a Monitor Engineer VS a Front of House Engineer. For todays discussion we are gonna focus on the MON position. This is the position where you have to interact with the band. (screams!!! terror!!! ) Now just imagine for a moment you were trying to give someone advice, input or helping solve an uncomfortable problem with something...say driving a car....say they have problems reaching the pedals and their back hurts when they drive. If you have never driven a car before then its gonna be hard for you to truly relate to there problem. you will be able to help some, and the more often you do it the better you will get at guessing, but you wont truly understand what they need. So back to sound....lets take a hypatheticle stroll....we have been rehearsing for a grueling 2 hours trying to get everyone one is, and the longer we go the worse it gets. The main problem, besides the deaf drummer and melancholy lead singer who thinks he's a tortured soul and no one understands him, is the electric player/BGV's. He cant seem to get the "feel" and you have tried everything, more or less in his ears and wedges, brighter and duller EQ, compression and no compression, sidefill and no sidefill, FX and no FX!!!! He's mad and you're mad...and no ones knows why or who we're mad at!!! We're all just mad!!!! Ever been there.....? I have....on both sides...I have been that guitar player trying to get the mix I want and I cant describe it....and I have been the sound man trying to get it for the electric player who is frustrated. Now as the guitar player, it is very true and hard to describe when you get "The Mix"; it's just right and you feel it and you play better, life is better, food tastes better, birds are singing, the sun is get the point. Now the opposite is true if your mix is off.....nothing is worse, you're sure you suck and and everyone is watching you and listening to how horrible you are...and everyone hates you on top of it!!....and food tastes bad....and kittens aren't even cute anymore.

So couple of tips to help with this...

First is walk out to where the musician is. Too many sound men stand behind a console and shout back and fourth and mumble witty comments in the talk back mic. Your musician (yes I said your musician....think of them as your're responsible for them while their on your stage until off) doesn't play behind the console next to a cue wedge, they play on stage. So walk out there and hear what they hear where they hear it. You will find the enviroment is completely different. The stage wash from drums and the guitar stage volume, and volume from the meloncolly lead singer...remember him....or lets not forget the women, In the case of a women diva singer the problems would not be unclear and omunis, the reasons would be clear, the problem would be YOU, just stand back and listen and she will tell you everything that is wrong so :-) ...moving on before I get too many nasty letters. (don't get me wrong, some of my greatest friends and colleagues and are women artists and I love you all)

Couple more technical tips....

Find out what the desired level is from your musician, see what he or she is trying to do.....are they trying to get a CD quality mix in there wedge or just to isolate themselves. Whatever it is they think they want (since it obviously isn't working) try whatever they aren't asking for to get that mix.

Even more refined tech tips... the amp a musician uses, their pedals, etc, all factor into their "sound" and "feel". That sound and feel does not always translate through wedges or IEM's perfectly. So take special care to match the sounds before sending them to the musician. Also, make note of how the musician hears the the amp tilted or flat on the floor (it is not your place as a sound man to say "tilt back that amp so you can hear it"...that's just plain unprofessional). If your stage volume is too much then try a re-angle of the horizontal axis. I like to stand exactly where the musician is and hear what they hear and then match that. Drum problems? Try adding the high kick mic to the ears and the low one to the wedges and side fill, its more natural that way. If you're having trouble with vocals sounding "distant" or "hollow", there are some great articles by Dave Rat that I can send you on "Digital VS Analog for IEM" as well as "Phase for Monitors". Just email me at and I can get that to you (no need to rewrite already well written articles) :-)

The list goes on and on, and every situation has a a million different variables. but when it is all said and done my opinion is that it is a little easier to relate to these problems if you have once been there yourself before...but then again I could be wrong...I have been before... you decide :-)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hone the Craft

This crazy life gets wilder by the minute, there are quotes and deals to make and politics to play and issues to juggle and people to hate and clients to stroke etc etc. You get the picture. As this industry life gets crazier we tend to get away from what our first love and passion was. Engineering. it was why for most of us, why we got into this. We wanted to be that guy mixing the band. But as time has gone by we have lost that and because of that we are seeing a lot of under qualified sound companies and engineers who have climbed the ranks very quickly to a mediocre level. Now that in its self is not bad but with out a solid foundation your doomed to stay there... if you haven't spent years on the road dealing with every kind of horrific feedback and horrible room combination and gear configuration you can think of then you will never have the tools needed when that comes back up on your first national support gig and you are doomed to have a horrible day.  I have been seeing alot of eager young engineers who have skipped several steps in there career for fame or fortune a promise of the glamourous road life and they are unfortunately like unstable fuel in a rocket. They may look fast and powerful but under the surface its unstable and ready to blow and when a little pressure is applied your in for disaster.

I have been in a season of a lot of touring and I have been traveling with a vast amount of different acts and types. Everything from Hip Hop to Country to Rock and Blues and acoustic. I pride myself in being able to switch between genres. I also switch between FOH and MONS which is also difficult. It is very hard to switch between music styles and environments and artists preferences and on top of that to switch between MON and FOH and Tour Bus and Van. I spend time ever day honing my skills, everything from Hear tests and tone tests and listening to many different kinds of music, listening to the next style im heading out with and their music. I do all this still because I have never "arrived" and I can always be learning and I can always be creating a better sonic environment and experience for the audience. That kind of attention to detail and professionalism is what will set apart the boys from the Engineers when the rubber meets the road and something goes wrong and all the people are looking at you....not only what are you going to do... what will you be capable of doing. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Who Decides??

I recently traveled out with a regional act on a weekend warrior type run. The act is a personal friend and it was great to go out with them. We were carrying some small production(with no crew) and the gig was at a prominent club in a smaller town in the Northwest. We showed up to a vastly undersized stage on the back patio of this club, with no AC power and no lights and a low hanging tent. Awesome!(sarcasm) we loaded in and found some AC and used some road cases as make shift wedge stands and after it was all said and done it looked pretty good. Here is a Pic , the sound wasnt too bad either. During sound check we had a few sound complaints. which is pretty standard. But no big deal and we worked through them.
The gig starts and house is packed. There is a line to get in and its standing/Mashed in room only. The crowd is super into the music and the band is playing great! Everything you could ever want from a club gig like this! Half way through the second set a guy walks up and leans over starts to talk to me. (He was in his 50's and not at all dressed for this club). He says he is a sound engineer as well and tells me all about his experiences and his life and music industry opinions etc etc. Since I was nice and didn't ignore him he continued to tell me more and more and more and eventually our relationship apparently had developed to the point where he felt confidant in giving me mix advice and then to take it a step further he also presided to tell me that if he had been mixing the show it would have been better but "not to be insulting, your just not up to my level" :-) not at all, not sure how anyone could be insulted by that :-)

Im gonna back up a few steps, the main reason I listened to everything he had to say was this. I should be able and open to learning anything from anyone. Younger or older. He had some interesting points through out the evening. Some based merely out of the fact that he didn't know the current Speed limits and power issues which contributed to some of the reasons the mixed developed the way it did. Not to mention the non ideal environment of mixing in a tent. But one thing I wanted to focus in was this. During the set he asked me about specific mix things and why I was doing them that way. My response was that I know and the artist really well and I know how he wants me to portray his live sound to his audience. The older sound guy disagreed and said " it doesn't matter what the artists or the promoter wants its about the music" this may explain why this individual with such a vast resume ( that he told me all about ) was doing audio in a small town and spending his spare time down at the club where the regional acts tour through harrassing the sound guy. :-)  but I don't want to completely ignore the statement for discussions sake. I have had artists in the past that I really didn't agree with how they wanted me to mix for them. I thought they were wrong and near sighted and ignorant. Some artists have little say or care about the FOH mix. Some have a huge role in deciding that. Just depends on the artist. I prefer to work with artists who give some creative freedom and and artist who works with me to help portray them in the best way possible. But when it comes down to it, the bottom line is this, its the artists work. Its there piece to do with what they want. or if you dont like that answer how about this one... they are writing the checks :-)