Tag Archives: Attitude

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Trimming The Sails

Change the variables you control. It’s more effective.

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.

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The music industry has a bad habit because every industry has a bad habit.

Because humans have a bad habit.

The wind changes, and we groan on and on about the wind:

“People need to go to this or that kind of gig more.” “Streaming is unfair.” “People need to buy vinyl.” “People need to assign value to music in the way I assign value to it.” “People need to stop listening to Pop.” “Bars need to stop hiring DJs.” “Promoters need to do this thing that I want.” “Musicians need to do what the engineer tells them.” “Guitar players need to dial up the sound I want.”

Now, I’m all for changing the world. I’m in favor of discovering what works and what doesn’t, and passing that information along – the allure of mythology and innuendo be hanged! I’m also an admirer of being able to sit patiently, waiting for things to start moving in the way you like. All of that has its place.

But the thing is, changing the direction of the world is difficult and time-consuming. Training a large number of people to think and act as you would have them do is a gargantuan and frustrating project. Waiting for the stars to align sometimes requires years that you don’t have.

On the other hand, trying to “turn to catch the wind” is relatively quick and easy. You go, “How do I leverage this situation with what I have available?” Then you do. Sometimes this means getting propelled by the force of the flow, and sometimes this means carving your own channel.

For instance, let’s talk about streaming. If I had a nickel for every artist moaning about how streaming doesn’t pay musicians enough, I’d have a lot of money compared to the complainers. Recorded music is data. Data is in incredibly high supply. High supply means low monetary value. Streaming is how more and more people consume music. That’s just the way it is. Selling expensive, physical media isn’t “the only way” anymore, and that’s that. The wind of streaming is blowing stronger and stronger, so you may as well catch it.

Then, there’s the problem of “promoters don’t book my genre in this town.” Well, you can sit and mope, or you can rent a space, get your favorite bands together, and do things on your terms. Pick yourself, as Seth Godin would say. If you don’t want to sail with the breeze, you’re going to have to row. Paddling across the water is tougher than getting pushed along, but it’s still a choice that you can make and control.

I support your right to shake your fist at the circumstances that won’t play by your preferred rule-set. Life in music can truly “vacuum” on certain days, and there’s nothing wrong with being irritated. At the same time, I strongly urge you to have an attitude of “Meet ’em where they are.” Going to where the action is, whether physically or metaphorically, is almost always easier than getting the action to come to you.


The First Rule Of FOH

It definitely isn’t “Get control over everything.”

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.

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Well, I’ve done it. I’ve gone and had my first, real disagreement on Twitter. I may be a real boy now!

The (actually very mild) dust-up occurred between myself and another engineer. He was miffed at my “Pre or Post EQ” article, because – for him – my approach was far, far too passive. His response was that the first rule of FOH is to get control over the show.

Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t agree.

First of all, Rule #1 for all audio engineering is, “First, do no harm.” This job is very much like medicine: Shut your trap, listen to the musicians, try to get to the root of the problem, treat people like human beings, and don’t rush to a diagnosis.

Second: Not everybody is like this, but the process of getting in control over everything is basically installing a dictatorship. Not everybody is on board, and they may swallow their tongues for a while, but a rebellion will brew.

…and, if they aren’t afraid of you, folks may do nasty things to you out of spite. Does that sound like a fun show? That sounds like a TERRIBLE show, one that flat-out sucks for you, the players, and the audience.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Being an audio human for live shows has basically nothing to do with molding every second of the proceedings to your will. That kind of thing can (and does) happen, but I don’t see it as the normative case for folks doing shows where muting the PA doesn’t totally mute the band. That’s the vast majority of us, by the way. Rather, this gig is a sort of collaborative Judo, wherein we utilize the momentum of the band to transfer the best possible show to the audience. Forcing your way to maximum control is the opposite of that – I’ve seen it in action. Wrestling control of the show away from the musicians has an overwhelming tendency to KILL their momentum.

The musicians’ momentum is what the audience came to see. In the grand scheme of things, nobody truly cares about how “fat and punchy” the drums are. Nobody truly cares about how radio-ready the vocals seem to sound. If the show momentum is off, that will be the thing that the patrons notice. They’ll be impressed by the mixing for a few moments, but they didn’t buy those tickets for that purpose.

Now, if you can get complete control and also maintain musician momentum, I’m all for it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have full control if that’s the natural state of the show. If it’s not the natural state, though, you’re wasting a ton of energy (literally and figuratively) by swimming against the current.

Folks, it’s not “our” show. It’s the band’s show, and we are helping with it. We do get partial credit, and we may get an outsize portion of the blame, but – deep breaths, people! I’ve mixed plenty of shows that, to my mind, sounded rather poor. Some of them, in the opinions of audience members, were my fault when they really weren’t. Some of them, also in the opinions of audience members, sounded absolutely stellar (while I was grinding my teeth into fine powder over how terrible everything was). It’s okay! There are people who think I’m an idiot, but there are enough people who think the opposite that I’m not worried.

If something’s really amiss, comment on it, but don’t force your way into the captain’s chair. Interestingly, you’re far more likely to be promoted to that seat if you demonstrate an ability to collaborate with what’s already going on.


I Expected A Different Future

What we thought was going to happen didn’t happen.

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.

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Back when I was in recording school, everything was going to be different.

It was, of course, already different back then, too. The digital console revolution was still pretty much off the radar, but the “triumph of the amateurs” was definitely in force. I still sort of cared about linear-access media. I recorded my final projects on Tascam DA-series decks. They used Hi-8 tapes to record digital data. Tapes! You had to rewind and fast-forward. And it was digital! I checked out the mobile Pro-Tools rig so I could quickly loop over the tom hits I was obsessing about, running the line-level outputs through an SSL G series console the size of a family car. I mixed down to a DAT tape that the whole class shared. It was uphill, both ways, in the snow, and it was glorious.

Anyway.

Sixteen-ish years ago, the production landscape was a very different piece of terrain. We were all getting ready to be fired off into the yonder, and I knew what I was going to do: I was going to be mixing rock-records in surround. That was going to be the new thing that would fill the careers of us young bucks. DVD audio was going to keep the music business relevant and moving forward.

Well, we can all see how that turned out.

Physical media still exists, of course. The really retro stuff has a big following, and a sort of cachet. Sure, the streaming files will get released, but the BIG fans will buy the thing on limited-release vinyl. Hey, there’s nothing like inconvenience and fragility when it comes to music playback. The struggle makes the guitars sound better, or something. I do have fond, childhood memories of a Sesame Street LP that sounded great on my Dad’s “Allegro” system.

“La dee da dee dum, la dee da dee dum, what’s the name of that song?”

We were convinced that physical media would be around forever. The original iPod wouldn’t ship until months after I graduated from The Conservatory, and even that thing still counts as a form of physical media in my mind. It might blow your mind a bit, but you have to realize that we had NO IDEA it would be common to stream music over wireless networks to wherever your phone is. The battle was between inconvenient, high-quality playback that required a lot from the user, versus insanely convenient, acceptable-quality playback that required almost nothing from a listener.

Tough call, right? (SARCASM!)

In my mind, it’s the same for live music. If we’re trying to get patrons of the arts to do something inconvenient that requires a lot of effort, that’s perfectly fine (just like vinyl). That’s a choice we can make, and it has legitimacy. At the same time, we have to realize that we are limiting the audience to the “hardcore fans,” especially if we’re short on ways to make the live experience compelling. I’m no fan of unnecessary frippery, but if we’re going to ask people to drive out of their way, fight for parking, and cough up a bunch of dough for admission, the show had better be worth it. We may not have every possible production toy ever invented (I certainly don’t), but we have to strive to take pride in our craft.

People don’t tolerate crap, and the definition of crap involves multiple, interlocking variables. Good quality but difficult to get is crap. Horrifically bad quality that’s delivered to your door is also crap.

But basically okay and really easy is NOT crap, and thus people are okay with it.

I’m convinced that this is not about flash and who can spend the most money. What I am convinced of is that, if a live show isn’t quickly recognizable as being better than just listening to playback at home, nobody owes us the courtesy of showing up.

Back in the day, music was hard enough to come by that going out to hear it was a necessity. Now, it’s entirely optional. This may not be the future we expected, but it’s a future where we’re invited (by necessity) to do the coolest stuff we can think of. That’s pretty daunting at times, but sitting here typing this, I feel like it’s also a fun challenge. I guess we’ll see what happens.


Dear Audio Humans

This is a service industry that just happens to involve sound.

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.

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Dear Audio Humans,

It has come to my attention that a good number of our friends, the musicians, have had some unfortunate experiences with us. My conversations with these players, these people who create the noises we selectively louderize, have revealed that we often do a poor job of serving them. This is a bad thing, but it’s correctable.

I want to lead off by addressing a myth of monstrous proportions. It very well may be THE myth that drives the majority of these fraught encounters.

It is the myth that success in our job is about creating the very best sounds. It’s the fable that the single biggest measure of our success is audio quality.

Actually, no. Our job is to facilitate the creation of a show, by way of helping the musicians with the scientific and technical disciplines involved in the inconveniencing of electrons and air molecules. Helping. Service. This is a service industry, and the musicians are almost always our biggest client when it’s all said and done. If they aren’t happy and cared for, we’re failing – no matter how perfectly tuned the PA is, or how awesome that snare-drum sounds out front.

You see, Maya Angelou was exactly right. She’s quoted thus: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Corollary: No musician goes home humming the FOH mix. They go home remembering their emotions about the show. If, because of us, they remember how frustrated or insignificant they felt, perfect phase alignment of the crossover point between the subs and tops doesn’t matter for crap. I can tell you for a fact that there are musicians who have played at class-A venues, and who have been treated very poorly. Do you know what those musicians talk about? They talk about the venue’s name, the name of the company responsible for production, and how seriously pissed off they still are at the lack of decorum shown by the crew.

Not a word about the awesome mics.

Not a peep about what name was printed on the monitor-wedge grilles.

Not a syllable about how many watts the PA could dissipate.

But they could write us all an epic-length poem on the effects of jerkdom.


So, in a practical sense, what does this mean?

First, let’s remember to smile and shake hands.

With everybody, including the opening act(s).

(The opening acts are real people playing real music, and are not any less important to the show than the headliners. If anyone says anything to the contrary, be polite to that person – and then ignore them as much as is feasible.)

As much as we can, let’s try to find a way to be pleased that the musicians have arrived, and try to show it. People like to be welcomed and treated with importance. We are the Maitre D’s, and the musicians are hungry for what we can serve.

Let’s also try to have a sense of humor. The hangups and misadventures are going to happen, so we may as well laugh it off. It can take quite a while to be able to do this consistently, but it’s worth it. When the day comes where you realize that the rough spots of show production are actually just hilarious war-stories in the making, you begin to see how every moment is really just a grand adventure. Putting a gig together is serious business, but even the most serious business has a joke buried somewhere. It may not be appropriate to voice that joke at a particular time, but we can be mindful of it.

Next, let’s try to be helpful instead of just sitting around. Musicians get so little help with their gear that you can often ascend to superhero status by simply picking up a combo amp and moving it indoors. The practical side to this is that a rested band plays better than a tired one.

Let us banish the idea from our minds that it is our job to “fix” the band. That is not our job. Our job is to translate what the band is doing. We may take the opportunity to sweeten. We may be able to correct some problems. These are good things, but they are always done by working with the band’s momentum instead of against it. The players are not wrecking OUR mix or making it hard to get OUR favorite sound. They are making THEIR sound, and we are here to help them sound as much like themselves as possible. Some bands don’t yet sound like themselves, or don’t know how to sound like themselves. Patience and gentle assistance are required in these instances. Insults, complaining, exasperated lecturing, and other rudeness are inappropriate. (The band will not remember that you fixed their lead guitar sound. They will definitely remember that you were unpleasant.)

Let’s “stay on station.” If we don’t see as unacceptable the phenomenon of an engineer getting a mix basically dialed up…and then disappearing for an hours-long smoke-n-beer break, let’s start seeing it. It will not kill us to stick around and listen to what’s going on. We will not suffer permanent harm from being available to respond to a band’s requests of us. Being present is actually very easy, and highly noticeable.

Last, let us not view requests for changes in monitor world as some sort of imposition, diva-hood, or pickiness. Instead, let’s view it for what it is: An expressed desire for a change that will help the show along. The show on deck IS the show out front – we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s somehow vice-versa. If the musicians have what they need, they will create a show that feels better to themselves and the audience. We can be honest if a desired change is being opposed by the laws of physics, but let’s at least try to get there first. Denying a change-request for monitor world because we don’t think it’s reasonable or are afraid of what it might do to the FOH mix is…well…cheap. When the monitors are as correct as they can possibly get, we can (again) ride that momentum out front.

There is no shortcut to doing a bad audio job that is any shorter than forgetting that this is a service job that involves sound. The inverse is also true. I’ve been in situations where I had done the service part, but felt pretty poorly about how the show sounded, only to have people tell me how great the show was.

So, let’s remember to do our real job.