Tag Archives: Attitude

The Stars Too Distant

The big stuff is the small stuff, just more of it.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

“Are the stars too distant, pick up the pebble that lies at thy feet, and from it learn the all.”

– Margaret Fuller


What worries people about new technology in the audio business is the thought of constantly having to retrain. What worries people about making the jump to bigger and more complex applications of audio technology is basically the same thing.

I say, stop worrying. Once you get beyond a certain level of fundamentals, you already know what you need to know to find out what you’ll need to know.

Huh, you say? Okay.

Audio production is a physical science. The laws that govern it are the same at all scales and in all situations – at least on this planet. The only things that change are specific implementations. Just as I would say on the topic of mixing consoles, the important thing is to know what you want to do. If you know what you want to do, you can start asking the questions about how to get that thing done in a particular situation.

The problems come when you get through shows by way of memorization. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, you won’t have any ability to recover from an unexpected situation. If you DO know why you just connected “Thing A” to “Thing B,” then you’ve got the foundational experience necessary to bypass “Thing B” if it fails.

I was once sitting in a meeting where I was half-seriously asked if I wanted to take another guy’s spot on a tour for Someone You’ve Heard Of™:

“Would you be able to handle an M7CL?”

“It’s a mixing console, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but they all have their own quirks…”

I sat there, thinking, “An M7CL is a major console with significant market share, which means it can’t be some exotic, crystalline entity. Give me the hour or so necessary to figure out where Yamaha put the various major features, and I’ll be fine forever after.”

I mean, if the system’s engineer has the rig set up with any kind of reasonable I/O patching, the nuts and bolts of mixing a show come down to whether or not you can switch in the EQs and dynamics processors you want, and then get your channels connected to your desired outputs. Consoles generally make this pretty easy – it’s in the manufacturer’s best interests!

Of course, experience does matter. If you’ve only ever mixed two-channel gigs, and then you get dumped into a 20+ channel situation, you’re going to be in for a bit of a shock. The mental organization required is certainly greater…but the point is that the show really is NOT fundamentally different. All the same rules and limitations apply, but now your limitations have to be spread across many more inputs. Don’t memorize the sequence of events; Look for the patterns instead. The patterns will repeat themselves, with variations, at all scales. Once you start to recognize the patterns, the rules that govern audio production, the experience is rather like being able to “see the code in the Matrix.” You reach this point of being far more confident, because the unexpected is no longer devastatingly surprising.

The big stuff requires more effort than the small stuff, because it’s a lot of small, familiar stuff that has to be wrapped up into a larger package. But it’s still small stuff! The difficulties come in managing all the interactions. Practice counts, and experience at specific tasks is helpful – I’m not saying the opposite!

I’m also saying, though, that if you can plug in 3 channels you can learn to plug in 30.


The Q2Q Problem

Instead of being arrogant…communicate!

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Maybe you’ve seen this comic from Q2Q. In it, an unhelpful audio operator flatly refuses to increase a monitor send, and then condescendingly justifies himself by claiming that doing so will make the show sound bad.

To quote The West Wing: “This is why good people hate us.”

It’s been pointed out that Q2Q is a comic about theater, which has different norms for sound reinforcement than Rock And/ Or Roll. It’s been pointed out that the omnidirectional microphones commonly used in musical theater productions aren’t so great for “folding back” into monitor world, because they’re…you know…omni.

I know all that. It’s irrelevant.

What’s on display in the comic is crap behavior and poor attitude that should be unacceptable on any professional crew. Folks, if you are an audio human, your job is TO HELP PEOPLE PERFORM. It is not to get your own definition of the perfect mix at the expense of everyone else, whilst simultaneously acting like you’re the grand ruler of the universe.

If your defense for flatly refusing a change on deck because it will make your precious, FOH mix sound “bad,” I have some words for you: Cowboy the heck up. Work those channel EQs to find a decent compromise. Roll those high-passes up and create an acoustical crossover between the stage wash and the FOH PA. Bus your vocals together and insert an EQ there. Audio craftspersons are paid to deal with the difficulties involved in making as many people – sometimes with conflicting needs – as happy as possible. (Within limits, of course, but the more-monitor issue is 100% within those limits.)

Further, if you are physically unable to make a request happen, I can assure you that treating your performers with contempt for making the request is the wrong idea. Get your butt out from behind the console, and go talk to someone. Take 10 seconds to explain why there’s no more gain-before-feedback available to the system, or that you’re out of sends, or…whatever it is. It’s not their job to know all that stuff by heart – it’s yours.

…and yes, it is your job to be able to interface with the players and kindly educate them when necessary. In other words, you have to recognize them as human beings who are actually capable of understanding what’s going on. If, after doing so, you’re still getting ridiculous demands, you still have to be a professional about it.

After 22-ish years of doing this, I’ve learned many things. One of the most important things is that top-shelf production support is really not about having all the biggest toys, newest whiz-bangs, and being able to say that you’re a crack operator of [insert large-frame console here]. Those things help. They are sometimes necessary. But they matter very little without the basic elements that so many people alarmingly miss: Showing up on time. Doing what you said you would do. Caring about the show. Taking the performers seriously. Being pleasant. Treating people like actual people.

I’ve walked away from shows that I didn’t think went very well with people still being all smiles, not on the force of “mad mixing skillz,” but just being willing to give a thumbs-up and take a crack at whatever was asked for. So, be nice. And if someone asks you for more [something] in the monitors, at least try, please.


Not Everybody, Not All The Time

Care about everything you can, then be okay with everything else.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

A letter to myself and others:

You can’t please everybody all the time.

You can try, of course, and you should. Show production is a service industry that’s always been a service industry. It always will be. Getting the maximum number of people to be delighted with the show IS your job.

But 100% satisfaction for everybody is very difficult to get to. Somebody will always manage to sit in the seat where the PA coverage isn’t quite right. Somebody will inevitably wonder why you didn’t make Band A sound like Band B, even though Band A has made arrangement choices such that they CAN’T sound like Band B. You will never have enough subwoofer for “that one guy.” Someone is going to lecture you on how their preferred snare-drum sound is THE key to a rock mix.

There is nothing so good that someone, somewhere will not hate it. So says Pohl’s law, if the Intertubes are to be believed.

You’re going to have to make choices about what to prioritize. That’s part of sitting in any of the chairs involved in show control. By necessity, you will be making choices (many of them, at high speed) that have real – though usually ephemeral and ultimately benign – effects on the lives of a sizable number of people. You must therefore cultivate an assuredness, an appropriate level of confidence that you are doing the right thing. Beyond having a strong appreciation of personal and collective aesthetics, this confidence will be greatly bolstered by understanding the physics involved in this job. If you know what’s possible and what’s not, you will be less rattled when someone accuses you of not having done the right thing…when their right thing wasn’t a feasible thing anyway.

It’s right to take all concerns seriously, but not all concerns can be treated with the same level of seriousness. Start by making as many musicians as happy as you can. That’s your baseline. If you get the baseline done, and somebody else isn’t happy, consider if that person is writing the checks for the event. If so, working out a compromise will probably be in order. An extreme case might require that you just do as you’re told. After you get that squared away, you can start being concerned about other considerations brought to your attention. If you can take care of them without changing the happiness level of the check-writer or the players, go ahead.

If not, be polite, but don’t worry too much. Even big-dollar gigs can’t deploy enough gear to fix everything.

Do your best, have fun, and try to get as many other people to have at least as much fun as you’re having. Do maintain care for the outliers, but don’t agonize. It won’t get you anything, anyway.


Mentalism

“Subjective” problems are still problems that have to be taken seriously.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. However, I have known doctors – really good ones – and though they’ve never said this explicitly, I think they would be of the opinion that a problem in the mind IS a real problem. That is, if a patient is experiencing distress that is caused by the brain, then they are really experiencing distress. The key isn’t to tell the complainant that what’s happening to them is fake, because it clearly is not fake. Rather, if the problem truly is in the mind then the solution must be applied at the problem.

Which is in the mind.

This might not seem like something to do with audio, but you have heard that part of an audio-human’s job is psychology, right? It’s said jokingly, but it shouldn’t be. It’s true. Musical craftspersons of all types have been known to run into problems at a show that really do exist…just inside their own head.

Something just doesn’t seem right. A guitar tone feels “off.” The vocals aren’t sparking with the same magic. I liked that reverb yesterday, and now it’s awful. This DI box doesn’t work right with my instrument.

Especially for us science-oriented types, our response to this takes work. Because we’ve spent so long trying to cut through the vast piles of horse-doodie that pervade the industry, we get dismissive. “Nothing’s different, man. It’s just your imagination. Ignore it.” But they CAN’T ignore it. They’re experiencing it, or they’ve convinced themselves that they are, and that is plenty good enough for them.

This is why an understanding that audio is a service business is so important. This is why an attitude of cooperation ought to be cultivated. Some perceptual issues can’t be worked out by applying a tech-based change, but they can at least be alleviated. The salve that can be applied is a willingness to treat the mental malady as a true conundrum requiring attention. They want you to turn the knobs? Turn ’em! They want you to swap the cables? Swap ’em! They want you to drive the system into feedback (with an audience present) so that they can go after the ringing frequencies with their own EQ, and then drop the gain back to where you had it? Go for it! (This has actually happened to me, by the way.)

In the moment, taking a desired action matters greatly – even if that action is not likely to physically affect much of anything – because what you’re really applying the fix to is a person and not the PA. After all the dust has settled, THEN you can talk about whether or not the distress was objective or subjective. Rationality is a part of handling whatever bugbear there was, but rationality only works when people are calm. The important thing “in the now” is being on the same team…and proving it.

Refrain from lecturing in a crisis; The person experiencing the crisis can’t process what you’re saying.

I think I’ve proven many times on this site that I value an analytical approach. I put very little stock in “audio theater,” which is using techniques and buying gear that make you THINK a problem is getting fixed, rather than actually fixing something. I don’t advocate doing something damaging or insane just to make somebody else feel better; Sound people need to know what’s a flat-out bad idea. Diplomacy, though, is essential. When the show must go on, there’s little use in winning a technical argument. What’s needed is to get everybody to a place where they’re as happy as is physically and mentally possible.


Up In The Air

A good rigger is an important person.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This is one of those topics that’s a little outside of a small-venue context.

But it’s still good to talk about.

I recently had the opportunity to work on a “big-rig” show. What I mean by that is we had six JBL SRX subwoofers deployed, along with two hangs (four boxes each) of JBL VRX. For some folks, that’s not a huge system, but for me it’s pretty darn large. Going in, I was excited to be on the crew for the event – and also a bit apprehensive. I had never before had any “hands-on” experience with rigging and flying a PA system.

As it turned out, my anxiety was misplaced. When you finally get up close and personal with a box like VRX, you realize that the box-to-box flyware is really easy to understand and operate. Constant-curvature arrays are hard to get wrong in and of themselves. You would basically have to actively attempt to screw up the hang in order to run into a problem. The boxes have a built-in angle, so you don’t have to think about much other than lining a couple of ’em up, flipping the connection flanges into place, and inserting the fly pins.

Another reason my anxiety was misplaced was twofold:

1) We had a good rigger on hand.

2) Everybody implicitly agreed that the rigger was the “lead dog.”

What I mean by point two is that I consider there to be exactly one proper attitude towards an honest-to-goodness, card-carrying rigger. That attitude is that you listen to the rigger, and do EXACTLY as the rigger tells you.

I don’t think I can stress that enough.

An actual rigger is somebody who can safely hang very heavy things above people’s heads, and has the maturity to do it the right way (with no tolerance for shortcuts or other horse-dip). They realize that getting a hang wrong may be a very efficient way to end people’s lives. They distinguish between “reasonably safe” and “truly safe,” and will not allow anyone to settle for the former.

As such, their word is law.

I DO think that safe rigging is within the mental capacity of the average human. However, I also think that there are numerous particulars of equipment and technique which are not immediately intuitive or obvious. I think it’s easy for an un-educated person to hang things the wrong way without realizing it. That’s why, when a rigger shows up in a situation where everybody else is NOT a rigger, the rigger immediately becomes the person in charge. Somebody else may be making executive decisions on what’s wanted for a hang, but the human with the most experience at actually flying things makes the final call on what can be done and how.

(If you ever get into a situation that appears to be the opposite of that, I think you should be concerned.)

Like I said, the case on this show was that everybody was listening to the rigger.

And that meant that everything got up in the air safely, stayed up in the air safely, and came down safely after everything was done.


It’s Gonna Take A Minute

The secret to better shows is practice. Practice requires time.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Summary

We should strive to do our best work. The best work possible on the first try is usually not as good as the best work possible on subsequent tries – and we need to be okay with that.


Halfway Perfect

If people are happy with the music, it can be okay if everything isn’t “just so.”

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Summary

I did a private show with a band that usually does a lot of production. We ended up with vocals only and half the PA out of the picture. People LOVED it anyway.


Learn To Love The Process

Live sound is, overwhelmingly, the non-glamorous work that makes an instant of beauty possible.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

You have to get a kick out of the work, and not just the results.


What A Mixing Console Isn’t

Magically turning a band into something else isn’t what we’re here to do.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

I’m working on a new video, but it’s taking a while due to scheduling issues. (Being busy isn’t a bad thing, but still…) I figured I should put something up here to prove that I haven’t forgotten this site in the meantime.

So, in regards to a picture of a sophisticated mixing console: The device depicted is not a tool for fixing arrangement problems or interpersonal conflicts.

There, that should stir the pot a little. 🙂


Failure To Failure

Break, fix, break, fix, break…

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Churchill once said that “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

That’s also one of the best descriptions available for live sound and live music in general.

If you’re going to ever relax and enjoy the process of mixing a real show in a real room, I can tell you that you MUST embrace not getting everything right (especially not on the first try). This does not, in any way, negate my persistent insistence that you must plan and prepare carefully. What all the planning and prep does is prevent the inevitable failure or misstep from being catastrophic. It gets you closer to being exactly right on the first try, but it will rarely (if ever) actually take you all the way there and drop you off at the curb.

To be a live-sound mix-creature means living a life of screwing up and fixing that screw up, iteratively and in real time. Eventually, you get the mix to a place where you can live with it. You may even settle the show’s sound into a state where you love it. Those moments are sublime, and the more you combine a dedication to your craft AND working with great players, the more of those moments you get. It’s just that there’s always a bit of a journey to go on to reach that little bit of paradise, show to show. The process isn’t necessarily painful – sometimes it’s as simple as pushing a few faders up, unconsciously realizing that the channel level isn’t quite right until you reach the correct blend.

Of course, at other times you’ll be sitting there, wielding a parametric EQ like a sledgehammer as you try to figure out why the weird resonance in the stage-right acoustic guitar just won’t go away.

Not everybody finds it easy to accept this. I was dragged in kicking and screaming. For those of us who like to plan everything out neatly, the tendency of live shows to twist and squirm their way out of our carefully created holding pens is monstrously disconcerting.

At first.

After a while, though, you get used to the idea that the plan will get you started, and then you’ll throw it out almost as a matter of course. Figuring it out as you go becomes almost routine.

This also applies at the macro level. I just launched Concerts By Danny, a site that’s a platform for presenting shows that I’m either producing or just working for. There are public and private “sides” to the site, with the private side being a platform for managing the various logistical pieces that go into making a concert happen. As a whole, the thing is unfinished. It’s a classic case of jumping off the cliff and building a plane on the way down.

And I’m scared that the whole thing will blow up in my face. It’s very easy to fail at live music, especially when it comes to putting on shows of your own. The whole idea might be a complete boondoggle. There are times when I feel utterly stymied, thinking about all the ways the entire idea could go completely wrong and be a huge waste of time. To this point, though, I’ve managed to push past the fear and continue moving forward.

I tell myself, “The worst that can happen is that everything will completely suck, and it’s unlikely that absolutely everything will crash and burn, so…whatever. Let’s see what happens.”

And interestingly, that’s about the worst thing that can happen to the mix of a live band. So, what do you do? Well, you try to figure out which thing is causing you the most trouble, and then you try to correct it. And then you do that for the next problem, and the next problem, and so on. Eventually, you get something that works – or you realize that you’re on a dead-end street, and you cut your losses.

The point is to keep moving and to stay interested, from fader move to fader move, EQ change to EQ change, and from show to show.