Tag Archives: Attitude

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.

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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.


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.

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

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.

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

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.