Tag Archives: Preparation

Entering Flatland

I encourage live-audio humans to spend lots of time listening to studio monitors.

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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Do you work in live-audio? Are you new to the field? An old hand? Somewhere in between?

I want to encourage you to do something.

I want you to get yourself a pair of basically decent studio monitors. They shouldn’t be huge, or expensive. They just have to be basically flat in terms of their magnitude response. Do NOT add a subwoofer. You don’t need LF drivers bigger than 8″ – anything advertised to play down to about 40 Hz or 50 Hz is probably fine.

I want you to run them as “flat” as possible. I want you to do as much listening with them as possible. Play your favorite music through them. Watch YouTube videos with them passing the audio. When you play computer games, let the monitors make all the noises.

I want you to get used to how they sound.

Oh, and try to tune your car stereo to sound like your studio monitors. If you can only do so coarsely, still do so.

Why?

Because I think it’s very helpful to “calibrate” yourself to un-hyped audio.

A real problem in live music is the tendency to try to make everything “super enhanced.” It’s the idea that loud, deep bass and razor-sharp HF information are the keys to good sound. There’s a problem, though. The extreme ends of the audible spectrum actually aren’t that helpful in concert audio. They are nice to have available, of course. The very best systems can reproduce all (or almost all) of the audible range at high volume, with very low distortion. The issue is over-emphasis. The sacrifice of the absolutely critical midrange – where almost all the musical information actually lives – on the altar of being impressive for 10 seconds.

I’m convinced that part of what drives a tendency to dial up “hyped” audio in a live situation is audio humans listening to similar tonalities when they’re off-duty. They build a recreational system that produces booming bass and slashing treble, yank the midrange down, and get used to that as being “right.” Then, when they’re louderizing noises for a real band in a real room, they try to get the same effect at large scale. This eats power at an incredible rate (especially the low-end), and greatly reduces the ability of the different musical parts to take their appointed place in the mix. If everything gets homogenized into a collection of crispy thuds, the chance of distinctly hearing everything drops like a bag of rocks tied to an even bigger rock that’s been thrown off a cliff made of other rocks.

But it does sound cool!

At first.

A few minutes in, especially at high volume, and the coolness gives way to fatigue.

In my mind, it’s a far better approach to try to get the midrange, or about 100 Hz to 5 kHz, really worked out as well as possible first. Then, you can start thinking about where you are with the four octaves on the top and bottom, and what’s appropriate to do there.

In my opinion, “natural” is actually much more impressive than “impressive,” especially when you don’t have massive reserves of output available. Getting a handle on what’s truly natural is much easier when that kind of sonic experience is what you’ve trained yourself to think of as normal and correct.

So get yourself some studio monitors, and make them your new reference point for what everything is supposed to sound like. I can’t guarantee that it will make you better at mixing bands, but I think there’s a real chance of it.


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.


Bring ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em

It’s a Schwilly guest-post!

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.

“If you have some sort of device that you can use to tweak the sound of your instrument, even if that’s just a bit of extra volume, you should definitely have that handy.”


Want to know why? Read the whole thing here, for free.


The Caterpillar Problem

The end result gets the glory, but there’s no end result without the groundwork.

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 just finished working on a show that took five months to plan and execute. It would have gone off without a hitch, except that a monitor wedge had its power cable kicked out at the last minute, when nobody was looking. This caused a fair bit of consternation for the sax/ flute player, but he’s a consummate professional and got through it anyway.

I digress.

Five months for two hours or so of showtime. It’s a classic case of George Carlin’s “caterpillar problem:”

“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”

That’s just the way it is with live sound, and also with life in general. Getting “there,” wherever “there” is, involves a long, hard, muddy, unglamorous slog. Anybody who thinks live music is about the roar of the crowd, the growl of the guitars, the thunder of the drums, and the glory of the lyrics soaring with it all, like a Pharaoh atop a chariot pulled by giant, glowing, cats…well, that person is incorrect. That person also probably has never done the work to put on a live gig, soup to nuts.

The ugly work of show production is the important work, though. It’s the caterpillar that eventually creates the chrysalis, dissolving itself into raw material that eventually becomes the butterfly of the end result. What’s done in the literal and metaphorical glare of the worklights is the critical foundation, and without it – no butterfly. You don’t get publicity for the “caterpillar work,” but without it, there isn’t anything to get publicity for.

You don’t get publicity for coordinating across multiple teams. You don’t get publicity for the hundreds of emails and chat messages that get fired around. You don’t get publicity for being able to manage your calendar properly. You don’t get publicity for your stage plots. You don’t get publicity for the process of laying out the stage in an organized way. You don’t get publicity for running cables neatly. You don’t get publicity for tuning the Front Of House PA and monitor world in a sane way. You don’t get publicity for doing a careful line check.

But you DO get publicity for when all of that finally comes together. The process is required for the output. You can’t get around it.

And the more you feed the caterpillar, the bigger and better the butterfly becomes.

Conversely, starving the prep work starves the show. Lots of people want to run lean on the prep, especially because the prep is expensive while not looking flashy. The battle goes in dips and surges, but it’s ever present; Someone, somewhere, is always trying to “compress the schedule” and “save a few dollars.” An alarming number of people exist who are unable to see the connection between foundations and what sits on them. That didn’t happen on this latest show, but it has crept up on me on a couple of gigs this last year. It’s tempting to go along with it, so as to land the opportunity to do a night, but it’s a big risk. You may not be able to avoid disappointing somebody, and I’ve learned the hard way that showing up and then disappointing people is worse than not getting the gig at all.

The absolutely essential work of the caterpillar requires a certain amount of time. There’s no getting around it. Plenty of people will want you to work magic in unrealistic timeframes. Politely decline. Butterflies don’t always get butterfly-grade publicity, but if you want a chance at the top-shelf stuff, you need to be able to build the best butterfly you can.

Oh, and here’s one more secret: The dirty work doesn’t get publicity, but it DOES get noticed by the people who really matter.


I Think My Spaceship Knows Which Way To Go

A superbly talented and highly rehearsed band roars back from the brink of disaster.

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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It’s funny how we’re often separated by a common language.

If you’re a regular reader, you are certainly aware by now of how much I emphasize logistics and preparation. On deck to handle the sound reinforcement for a Major Tom & The Moonboys appearance at the Sugarhouse Farmer’s Market, I was feeling pretty confident. We’d managed to talk the event folks into an extra hour for setup, and we were on track to make good use of the time. The van o’ audio was 75% unloaded into Fairmont Park’s west pavilion. We were cookin’.

We then got the news that we were in the wrong place.

You see, when the Farmer’s Market folks said “the west pavilion,” what they meant was, “the pavilion on the west side of the Farmer’s Market.” Unfortunately, the additional qualification wasn’t what we heard. What we heard was “THE west pavilion.”

So that’s where we were.

And being both on time and industrious actually worked against us.

We could easily pull our vehicles right up to where we were really supposed to be, but the van was almost empty. To make matters worse, it would take just as long to walk everything back to the van as it would to walk it over to the correct location. By the time it was all done, our lead time had evaporated. The situation was now “throw and go” with a band that is decidedly NOT meant to be “throw and go.”


Some weeks earlier, my cautionary inner voice had said, “You know, Danny, you probably don’t want to be dialing up monitor world from scratch on this gig.” As such, I had gone out to a rehearsal and built a preset monitor solution. This did indeed turn out to be a Very Good Idea™ in the end, but at first it tripped us up. With the stage not necessarily being patched in a house-left-to-house-right order, but rather jumping around a bit, it wasn’t possible to set out a simple “patch logic” and have other folks go to town. I couldn’t walk out to FOH and work on that setup while the stage was getting taken care of. Every task had to be done in series, with me directing traffic in detail.

And, of course, my danged CAT6 cables for the stagebox connections got tangled in the box. It’s amazing how even nice coils will find a way to glom onto each other. With the help of Layne, the percussionist, the two of us managed to sort out 200 feet of pissed-off, solid-wire data cable in decent time – but we were still late, and nowhere near where we needed to be.

We were a little over halfway patched overall when FOH control finally came together. Or sort of did. There’s a special kind of horrified panic that audio humans experience when something that, by all measures should be working…flat-out fails to work. We had this whole plan for a grunge-a-delic break music solution involving David Bowie instrumentals coming through a mic’ed boombox. The boombox was working, and the mic was working, so why wasn’t anything coming through the FOH PA when I pushed the fader up? Even worse, why was the channel routed to the main bus, but the main bus meter showed no signal?

I was racking my brain.

I checked all the global routing I could think of, with my half-panicked brain going mushy with reinterpreting the odd machinations required to string two X32 consoles together in a daisy chain. Had I reset something by accident? How was that even possible?

Finally, the lead videographer made the simple suggestion: Just restart the software. Of course this had not occurred to me, because a problem of this nature could not possibly occur without active misconfiguration, right? Well, at that point I was ready to try anything. Ten seconds later, FOH was in business.

So, if you didn’t know, it is indeed possible for X32-Edit to connect to a console and “see” meter activity, yet not successfully send control data.


At this point we were over half an hour past our scheduled downbeat. Michael, the guitar player, said what I was very definitely starting to think. “Let’s just plug in the keyboards and bass and go for it.” So, with neither guitar in the PA, nor drums, and the FOH subwoofers metaphorically thrown under the bus, we went for it.

Our luck changed immediately.

The band dove in, and our prep work started to pay off. I had also prebuilt some of FOH, which meant that I could just grab faders and basically have something usable come out of the system. What was coming out of the system was the music provided by seasoned pros with hours upon hours of rehearsal. I think it’s quite fitting that a Bowie tribute act would embody the line “I think my spaceship knows which way to go.” From everything I could perceive, the audience was IN LOVE.

The songs were being beautifully played by people who adored the material, and the whole thing was basically balanced – guitars and drums in the PA or not – because the players know how to be a band without a sound operator taking everything apart and putting it back together.

Exactly zero people complained about the lack of subwoofer material. (I eventually got the guitars into the system. I never finished patching in the subs.)

Kids were dancing.

The folks down front were smiling.

People were offering compliments on the sound.

As I’m sure happens almost every night all over the world, a supremely rehearsed and professional band had salvaged a bad situation so completely that the problems leading up to the music were essentially forgotten.

Boy, what a ride.


The Story Of A Road Gig, Part 3

Commentary with pictures – or maybe it’s the other way around.

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.

road-gig-3Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.
Rather than try to relate the entire story of this overnighter as a narrative, I’ve decided to take the approach of commenting on the various photos that were taken at the gig (or around the process of it). There are, amazingly, some shots where yours truly makes an appearance. Scotty of Eyes Open got ahold of my camera, and, well, there ya go.


X32 Cores

X32 Cores

While it’s not necessarily for the faint of heart, running surfaceless consoles can potentially save you money, weight, and some space. Consoles like this really hammer home what a digital mixer is: A whole lot of software running on specialized hardware. Delete the control hardware, and all the heavy-lifting for audio still remains.

Going surfaceless requires significant homework. You’ll have to get both your “mix brains” and their associated control devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) onto a network and talking to each other. An inexpensive wireless router is really all you need for this, but DO have a fallback option. Also, anything that doesn’t need to be wireless probably shouldn’t be, so use a wired connection to your control gear whenever you can. Ethernet cable is cheap, available almost everywhere, and pretty much stupid-proof.

And, for heaven’s sake, set up meaningful security on your wireless network. Nothing but your consoles and controllers should be connected to it.

I have two X32 cores for more than one reason. Reason #1 is to be able to have separate FOH and monitor worlds with full “first-class” channel counts – 32 inputs each. Reason #2 is that, if one console were to give up the ghost, I could fall back to its counterpart and keep going.

As much as is practical, build mix templates for your show before you leave. The ability to walk up to the show and “just go for it” without having to think through everything on the fly is a big help. Remember to do some meaningful tests on your setup to ensure that it works, and that you know how it works.

S16 Stageboxes

S16 Stageboxes

Digital stageboxes help you save space and weight by removing the need for a big, heavy, multicore trunk. The irony is that digital stageboxes are rather more expensive than their analog cousins. Your overall cost may be slightly reduced if you get a single unit with all the inputs and outputs you need, but you have to account for the risk of that unit dying on you. Using two boxes to do the job allows you to continue in some way if one of them stops cooperating.

Use the network cabling recommended by the manufacturer. If your digital snake system calls for shielded Cat5e with Ethercon connectors, that’s what you should use. There are plenty of stories out there of people who encountered…interesting results while using connectivity that was not up to spec. (At the same time, I’m not convinced that “super premium” is necessary. GLS Audio makes SSTP ethercon cables that seem pretty darn good, and clock-in at under $1.00/ foot.)

Remember to have spare cables for this high-speed, highly-mission-critical audio network you’re building.

Which One Is Which?

Which One Is Which?

Here we see a common, North-American noise-louderizer with a remote console control, he being somewhat perplexed by how the mix-bus order is now reversed due to his move from FOH to the stage.

Tablets And Monitors

Tablets And Monitors

I am brand new to the whole idea of walking up on deck with a remote, but let me tell you, it’s one of the greatest things since sliced bread. For your initial rough-in of monitor world, it’s downright beautiful to be able to put things together without any guesswork, or running back and forth to a console. Instead, you park yourself in front of a wedge, start dialing things up, and instantly hear the results of your changes. This means that you can actually pick up on the exact point where additional gain on a channel starts to get “weird.”

It’s also beautiful to have the remote when artists are actually on stage. Again, a lot of guesswork and disconnection simply goes away. You can talk to each other naturally, for a start. Even more important, though, is that you can actually hear what the musician is hearing. Problems with a mix don’t have to be described, as you can experience them directly for yourself. Finally, it’s a great bit of “politics;” Musicians who have often dealt with uncaring (or just absent) audio-humans now have one who’s really paying attention – and who’s also very much in the same boat as they are.

As was jokingly mentioned above, you do have to remember that your mix order may be “flipped.” If you numbered your mixes based on how you’re looking at things from FOH, walking up on deck now means that you’re seeing the mirror image.

When putting a system together, don’t be stingy with your monitor mixes. I’ve never regretted having more mixes and wedges available. As I’ve said before, and will probably say again, getting everyone happy on deck means a much better experience at FOH. A recipe for success really is making sure that a big piece of your budget goes to monitor world. Give those drummers “Texas headphones” (a drumfill) if at all possible. They tend to like it.

Scotty And McCrae

Scotty And McCrae

Scotty and McCrae were the guys who brought me out on the trip, and on a practical level, the show would NOT have happened without them. McCrae handled a lot of behind-the-scenes logistical elements in real time, making sure that things like shelter, power, and scheduling were actually working.

Scotty joined with McCrae to form my weekend stage crew. It was a little slice of heaven to work with those guys, because all I had to do was describe what I wanted to happen, and then wait a few minutes. The importance of such a crew, that has a can-do attitude and a real sense of humor, can NOT be overstated. I was able to deliver because (and only because) everybody else did their job.

(Also, a huge “Thank You” goes out to Bayley H. for running the event as a whole, for giving Scotty and me a place to sleep, and for chasing down one of those super-rad Honda generators for us. She was juggling about 80 things all weekend, one of those things being the music, and we were very well taken care of.)

Run!

Run!

Spooked by the sudden noise of a band getting comfortable on deck, a black-footed knob-turner (voluminus maximus) bolts for the safety of FOH.

FOH

FOH
FOH 2

I put FOH control on top of the console case, with monitor world off to the side. The laptops are different colors so that I can tell them apart easily when unpacking them. The trackballs are there because, let’s face it, trackpads are fiddly, imprecise, and (to be both blunt and slightly crass) just tend to suck in general.

Another tip: If your primary monitor-world controller has a case, put the monitor control tablet in that same case. It will make things ever so slightly faster and easier at setup.

Talkback is one of the main reasons to have at least one microphone equipped with a switch. Choose where you want talkback to be routed to, latch the console’s talkback control, and then simply flick the switch on the mic when you want to talk.

Laptops (with good batteries) and a UPS are helpful at FOH, because a power failure means that your audio processing and routing stay up. No, there might not be any audio for them to work on, but they’ll be available immediately when you get the power back.

Troopers

Troopers 1
Troopers 2
Troopers 3
Troopers 4

Katie Ainge and her band were real troopers throughout the show. Over the course of two days, we would have a few technical issues, and we would also get rained on twice. Through it all, they played their best, kept smiling, and kept coming back for more:

Originally, they were only supposed to play on the Friday night. However, a storm ended up rolling in. Katie and company played right up until the rain started falling, only calling a halt because their instruments were getting wet. After a hasty pack up and retreat, after which they could have bailed out with full pay, they elected to stay around and get a full show in on the following morning.

Also, large garbage bags make pretty decent rain protectors for loudspeakers and other gear. They do tend to buzz at certain frequencies, but that’s the least of your worries when water starts falling out of the sky.

We only hung a single overhead. With a well-balanced band, a single mic in the right spot will get everything on the kit without getting swamped by bleed. Also, I mix live audio in mono about 99.9% of the time, and a single mic is always in phase with itself.

Try, Try Again

Try, Try Again

After a frantic night of Scotty and McCrae packing, unpacking, and drying out the gear, the next morning came along with the promise of actually doing the show. Notice that the generator really is NOT in the right place. I should have placed it off to the side of the deck, so that the exhaust would have stayed away from the performers. Oops.

Double Hung

Double Hung

McCrae and Bayley, masters of all they survey.

With the PA deployed as it was, putting the same signal into all four FOH mid-highs probably would not have sounded all that hot. The outer pair was slightly behind the inner pair, which would have resulted in the high end being out of phase alignment. That problem did not come into play, however, because the different pairs were used for different signals. The inner pair was my vocal cluster, and the outer pair was for instruments. This technique borrows both from The Grateful Dead’s “Wall Of Sound,” and Dave Rat’s “double hung” PA deployments – it’s just on a very small scale.

The configuration as pictured and described trades coverage area for power and/ or clarity. We essentially have one, larger PA setup that’s firing in a narrow pattern. (Even so, some walking around proved that you could hear the PA pretty much everywhere in the park proper.) An alternative would be to put the entire mix into all four boxes, but aim the boxes to hit different zones. In that case, we’d be trading power/ clarity for coverage.

For Real This Time

For Real This Time 1
For Real This Time 2
For Real This Time 3
For Real This Time 4

With no rain during the actual show, the retry of the previous night went much more smoothly. We did have a couple of problems with the cables to Katie’s DI, with my suspicion being that the metal on their XLR connectors is inexpensive, soft, and therefore prone to change shape when heated significantly in the sun. (I can’t prove it though – this is just a wild theory.)

In any case, though, it was great to see Katie and her friends bring some really enjoyable tunes to an audience able to stay for the duration.

Afterwards, packing the van, we got another rain shower.

But it was time to go home anyway.


The Story Of A Road Gig, Part 2

There are some things you shouldn’t leave home without.

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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There are a million checklists of what to take with you on overnight gigs, so we don’t have to completely go back over that ground.

At the same time, after we got the basic details worked out, it was time for me to get an idea of what should go with me to the show. I figured that it might be useful for me to offer some overview on the items I found most important.

Take As Much Of Your Gear As You Can

Whatever your weight and space restrictions are for show-production equipment, fill that metaphorical and literal box as completely as you can. Especially for gigs that are hours and hours away from your home base, it’s imperative that you have a way for things to “degrade gracefully.” The more of your gear you have, the more chances you get to survive the unexpected. In this case, I had the luxury of taking the fully-stocked van that contained almost everything I have on hand for sound. The upshot? I could have had catastrophic failure of two consoles, two stageboxes, eight monitor wedges (and both drumfill subs), three FOH full-range loudspeakers, and both FOH subwoofers…and still have been able to make some kind of noise.

It wouldn’t have been a good show, but there would have been a show.

Since a failure of that magnitude is extremely unlikely, I was very confident that, even if some problems cropped up, we would have plenty of “coverage.” As a result, I rode down to the site with very little to worry about.

Take A Vehicle You Feel Good About

If your car, truck, or van hasn’t been inspected in a while, get that done. If something’s about to fall off the poor creature, get that taken care of. If the fluids (including the fuel) aren’t fully topped up, make sure you’ve got that secured the day before you leave.

And get the tires checked! There are plenty of places that won’t charge you a dime for giving them a going over and getting the right air pressure in them. Tires are very important for, you know, little things…like maintaining control of your vehicle and actually being able to stop.

Water! Water!

A show is hard work, and the work gets even harder if you’re outdoors in the summer. You are going to sweat copiously, and dehydration is very hard to fix once it fully takes hold.

Do NOT rely on there being liquid provided for you. Haul your own. You might want to mix in some sports-drink powder to provide some taste and replace the electrolytes that get flushed out by perspiration, but a full-strength preparation is probably more sugar than is helpful. At minimum, have a full gallon available for each on-site day, and consume your supply steadily. The time to get “wet” is when you’re already “wet.” If you notice sweat dripping from you for more than a couple of minutes, stop and drink at least a pint/ half-liter. Get your hydration right, and you’ll have the stamina to keep rolling all day with minimal interruption. Screw up to any significant degree, and you may be out of action for a good while.

Snack Time

Much like your water supply, avoid expecting that you’ll be able to get food on a whim. Also, getting real time to sit and eat can be a major problem when building a live-sound show. Pack along some calorie-dense foods that you can quickly and safely eat with dirty hands – you really do NOT want to be ingesting whatever is all over your cable jackets, am I right? Your high-calorie treats should not be completely loaded with sugar, but instead balance sweets with fats. There should also be some saltiness to your food, to help with sodium loss from perspiration.

If you can tolerate nuts, “Sweet n Salty” granola bars are a really solid option. The individual wrapping means that your fubs don’t have to be completely clean, the salt/ sweet/ fat ratio seems to be about right, and you can get 300 – 500 calories inside you within a couple of minutes.

Solid Footing

If you don’t have steel-toe boots, get some. Make sure they have aggressive tread on the soles, because slipping and falling can end a trip completely in the worst case. You may have heard that steel-toes are far too uncomfortable to work in; I disagree. If you try on a few pairs, I’m betting that you will find a brand that agrees with you. Also, spend a few more dollars and purchase a set of supportive (yet cushioning) insoles. All the walking, standing, and lifting you’re going to do is very, very tough on your feet. Insoles that work for you can prevent you from ending a show day in near agony.

Why my insistence on steel-toe footwear? Well, someday you’re going to drop a sub, or something else that’s heavy. You may also have an experience like I once had, where a full-on Leslie cabinet, cased up and on casters, was making its way down some stairs and briefly ended up on my foot. I was wearing the right boots at the time, and I barely felt it. If I hadn’t been…yeesh.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide Was Right

Take your own towel. Especially if you end up couch-surfing, you will want to have your own. Do NOT get your towel dirty or sopping-wet unless you actually have spares close at hand.

Pack at least one more change of work-clothes than you think you need. The extra weight and space isn’t really significant, and you’ll be very happy if you end up getting dunked or very dirty. Also, have a water-repelling jacket available at short notice. A hot day can become annoyingly, or even dangerously cold in a big hurry.

Take a proper change of night-clothes along as well. Sleeping in your work duds flat-out stinks (and not just in a metaphorical sense). In that same vein, take a good, Boy Scout-quality sleeping bag with you, along with a basic sleeping pad. If you end up on a hard floor, or in a place that’s too cold, or on some surface that’s just “sketchy,” you will be ecstatic to have the option.

Also, have a complete toilet kit with you. Just like your show gear, having more than you think you need means that you’ve got some margin for error. Brush your teeth, and use deodorant. You’ll feel better, people will like you more; These are good things.

A Secret “Weapon”

Five words: Zinc Oxide Diaper Rash Cream

The big brand for this somewhat messy, but very helpful concoction is Desitin. It’s not just for babies, because it can help you avoid that scourge of show-production humans the world over.

Gig butt. Chafing. Also known as, “The work was pretty intense, and I ended up sweating a lot between my legs, and now I’m in a world of pain with a whole other day left to do.”

A decent, zinc oxide cream applied liberally to any problem areas will do wonders for your attitude. It helps keep you dry “down there,” even under intense conditions. It smells a touch funky, but that’s a tiny price to pay for being comfy, cheerful, and ready to lift those subwoofers again.

The Wisdom Of My Dad

This is separate from my other discussions of clothing, because of how critical it is.

As my Dad has noted to me on many occasions, the success of any endeavor is highly dependent upon the correct underwear.

I can tell you that the correct underwear for show production is “active” underwear. You want synthetic material (polyester and spandex, for instance), a bit of leg length, and a nice, snug fit. Honest-to-goodness sport underwear keeps you nicely dry, working with that diaper rash cream to prevent the horror of chafing. You also tend to stay at a more comfortable temperature overall (or is that underall)? Cotton undies get hot, and positively soaked, and then stay that way for hours. You don’t want that.

The right underwear will cost you a few bucks, but it’s incredibly worth it. I say this from personal experience.


The Story Of A Road Gig, Part 1

It’s more about logistics than 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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There’s this quote that I like. If I could find the exact wording, I would put it here for you. As I remember, it was about photographers, and derived from something that Oscar Wilde supposedly said:

“Amateur photographers talk about things like lenses and film speed and aperture settings. Professionals talk about money.”

My take on it?

“Audio craftspersons with less experience do their gig planning by talking about spec sheets, wattage ratings, model numbers, and sound quality. Once they get a few more miles and years on themselves, they realize that it’s all about logistics, money, and vehicles.”

I just recently got back from doing an overnighter roadshow in south-eastern Utah, a gig that took about a month of planning (off and on, mind) to bring to fruition. During that planning, we barely talked about audio at all. It was basically the last thing that got any discussion. The reasons for that are mixed; Some of the issues were specific to the show, and some were more generalizable. The point is that a road gig certainly does have to do with sound, but the sound is wrapped up in a LOT of other particulars.

Some Things We Didn’t Have To Talk About Much

With all my harping about audio requiring planning, time, and foresight to pull off properly, my seemingly cavalier attitude towards the production of a big gig might seem out of character. The important word there is “seemingly.” As always, time and effort were neither created nor destroyed – they were just transferred around. Since the loss of my regular gig, I’ve been putting together a small concert system that I’ve designed to handle pretty much any show that I would be called upon to do. Three consoles (one for FOH, one for monitors, and a spare), two compact subs and four top-boxes for FOH, an eight-mix monitor rig that features a drumfill with subwoofers, tons of mics and stands, more XLR cables than I’ve even counted…you get the picture.

Basically, unless a band has some really specific needs, or the show is for a large crowd, I’m very confident that I will have what’s necessary to pull it off.

And I take everything everywhere, so there was no need to discuss exactly which pieces would be required.

Another specific issue with the show was that the lineup was a bit fluid. Eyes Open was supposed to play originally, but their rehearsals didn’t quite pan out, so they pulled in the Katie Ainge Band to bring some sonic goodness to the town of Monticello. Nobody had a detailed input list at any point, and it wasn’t really necessary. Nobody was being picky, and nobody was likely to become picky.

So, a lot of detailed discussion about production wasn’t going to do anything. We were going to have what we were going to have, and it was going to be fine. “Countin’ mic clips” would be a waste of time.

The Bits That Mattered

What was definitely not a waste of time was figuring out the logistics of the show. Longtime readers may remember my “Five S Festival” article, where I’ve previously discussed how productions have to be about the basic needs of humans before they can be about gear. When you’re in a situation where your involvement is compartmentalized, you still have to figure out the various elements. It’s just that the number of people involved is smaller…maybe even just you.

Because the audio production side was already figured out (for all practical purposes), I was mostly concerned about a number of “P” elements.

That is to say: Power, Peeing, Precipitation, Plonking Down, and Payment.

Power – A PA system is worthless without electricity. I needed to know where it was going to come from, especially since we were going to be outside. (The outside is a strange and wondrous place for sound, usually with fewer acoustical problems. The Yin to that Yang is that electrical outlets are far less plentiful.)

Peeing – The location of a bathroom is not a trivial thing. When it’s time to eliminate some waste, it’s time. Period, the end. You don’t think this issue is serious? Wait until you forget about it sometime.

Precipitation – To be precise, what happens if water starts falling out of the sky? Where can people and gear find shelter? Another thing that falls out of the sky is heat. It’s not precipitation, but whatever, I’ve got a theme going here. Anyway…I’ve been on unprotected hillsides during high-desert summers, and I’ll tell you, shade is something you really, really want. Really.

Plonking Down – Where is a person going to sleep? Whether it’s for-profit lodging or somebody’s residence, you need to know where it is, how you get access to it, and the folks in charge need to know you’re coming. Also, it’s critical to take other sleepers into account. For instance, my snoring is loud enough to drown some drummers that I know. For the sake of other people’s rest and sanity (and maybe my own safety), giving other sleepers a way to get out of earshot is a necessary plan.

Payment – How much is the gig worth to everybody? How can you accommodate the event budget? You have to figure out how to cover your transport, wear-n-tear, food, and lodging costs while making a profit and NOT costing too much for the folks writing the checks. Lowballing and being greedy are pretty much equally bad.

None of the above items are audio. All of the above are logistical considerations. The conversations that I had with the Eyes Open guys consisted of about 98% logistical issues and 2% show production. That might seem a little bit weird, but I can tell you that a gig sits on a lot of “infrastructure” support. Fail to get that figured out, and the gig will collapse just as surely as if the PA is all wrong.


When Do You Want To Sound Good?

Great gigs are the ones that get “picked at.”

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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There’s a point where a guys starts repeating himself; I have certainly reached that point here. Nevertheless, repetition of theme without rote regurgitation of content can be useful. So, I’m going to talk some more about time, and gigs, and showing up, and how it impacts success.

And I’m going to do it by borrowing the words of Jason Giron from Floyd Show and Loss of Existence. There was an occasion where a fellow band member asked, “When should we come to soundcheck?”

Jason replied, “When do you want to sound good?”

I tell you, every so often you get to stand next to someone who can perfectly encapsulate a tome of wisdom into a single sentence. This was one of those times for me.


There are plenty of bands, individual musicians, and production humans out there who want to minimize their exposure time when it comes to a gig. This is understandable, because in Western society, time and money sit on either end of an equality symbol. The problem, though, is that minimizing your on-gig time has an alarming tendency to minimize your on-gig success. When it comes to show production, getting the really amazing things to happen requires “picking at it.” Picking at it isn’t time and money efficient, but it’s necessary to create magic.

If you want to really get comfortable with how everybody sounds on a stage with no reinforcement, and truly dial that in so that the future reinforcement will be maximally effective, you have to take the time to pick at it. It doesn’t happen in the space of a minute. You actually have to get up there, play some songs, and figure out how everybody fits around everybody else.

If you want to dial up a truly killer starting point for monitor world and FOH, you have to pick at it. You can’t just throw it all up there, run a few test signals through, and walk off for a bite. You have to actually go up on deck and listen to a real mic through a real wedge. And then listen to a real mic through multiple wedges. At high gain! You also have to listen to real music through the FOH rig. If you want an objective measurement of the system, you have to get out your reference mic and attendant software, and then take a few minutes getting a good trace.

If you want me to create the best monitor mix possible for you in that room, you have to pick at it. We have to go through several iterations of tweak/ listen/ tweak/ listen/ tweak – and we have to be able to do it all with calmness and rationality. Thirty seconds of panicked gesturing from a cold start ain’t gonna get you there, pilgrim.

If you want to build the FOH mix that effectively translates what the band is doing into the house, leveraging and flowing along with the natural sound of the group in the room…You. Have. To. Pick. At. It. Before doors. Or do you want to be futzing around, “finding yourself” for the entirety of the first set? People, please. Bands and audiences deserve better.

As an experienced “Selective Louderization Specialist,” I can tell you that sounding good (and getting everybody truly comfortable) takes at least an hour of work. Bare minimum. (There are plenty of bands that require much more time than that.)

And that hour does NOT start until everybody is in the same room, with all the gear working, and with the entire audio system pre-tuned for the appropriate performance. (A hint for sound people: You have to be really early if you want a fighting chance at this.) It’s not to say that it’s impossible to sound decent in a smaller span of time. It can be done, and sometimes it must be done – but why choose that outcome if it’s optional?

“I’m not required to smack myself in the face with a sharp object, but I’m going to do it! Eugene, hand me that axe!”

Really?

Assuming that it’s going to take no less than 60 minutes of effort to make your show spectacular, I encourage you to ask yourself the “Giron Question.” When do you want to sound good? Figure out when that time is, and then show up a lot earlier than that.


A Long, Strange Trip

The story of an adventure with Mokie, our local Grateful Dead tribute.

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 was finally having a bit of relaxation after the show. We had pulled it off. By the grace of God, and with a lot of help and hospitality, we had made the show work. Everybody had seemed to be very pleased in the end.

Even so, I was not enjoying my turkey sandwich and Sun Chips. Not really, anyway. It’s not that they were bad, just overpriced. It was about the same story for the…well…I guess I’ll call it “Gatorade” that I was having. I was enjoying that even less, because it was tasteless.

Positively unflavored.

Well, I guess it was unflavored. I’m assuming it wasn’t. I didn’t actually taste my drink as it went in, due to its point of entry being an artfully administered puncture wound in my left arm.

As places to have an unplanned afterparty go, the Emergency Department at St. Mark’s is not on the short-list. The staff are great, and the place is REALLY clean, but it’s just not a place you want to be, you know?

More on this later.

The Safety Factor: 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Webb A/V is a show-production force in this town because they are GOOD at what they do. Obviously, they have the technical chops and the gear to pull off their contracted events, but there’s more to it than that: They seem to instinctively get that this business is about being a service industry with an excellent safety record. If you are the client, you will be taken care of, and everybody will leave with all the body parts that they brought with them.

I walked up to the stage, with none of the onsite crew knowing me from a hole in the ground, and I was instantly treated with accommodation and courtesy. All I had to do was figure out my own plan of attack. The crew leader, Tom (I think it was Tom, the day kind of turned into a blur) was on top of everything necessary – the first thing being power.

“Hey man,” he said, holding up an electrical quad-box, “you guys are going to have your own, 30-amp circuit for stage. I’m going to give you the X-phase, and we’ll use Y and Z for the PA and lights.” (If you’ve never encountered it before, multi-phase power is common for shows with bigger electrical requirements.) Webb was ready to go, they were ready for us, and the deck wouldn’t have to share power with anyone. That’s a pretty good way to start things off. The provided FOH rig was a “4 over 2” QSC KLA, which sounded pretty darn nice as DJ, the Webb A1, started dialing it up. This left the band and me to do our own thing on deck, which kept things moving along nicely.

Life would have been perfect, except for the weather. The great outdoors has great acoustics, but it also has a great many ways to wreck your gig.

While this particular bout of “Utah overcast moodiness” was hardly a mid-Atlantic storm, it was still producing some noticeable forces. That is to say that, for our situation, the gustiness was tremendous – the problem being wind-related. The various light and sound trees were all firmly weighted down with sandbags, but even so, the crew leader was concerned enough to keep the masts in their lowered positions as much as possible. Air currents would die down, and then whip up with authority.

Did you know that cable-tub lids make excellent gliders? Did you know that ride cymbals are very effective as both kites and boat-sails? Did you know that plastic crowd-barriers LOVE to skitter across parking lots? These are things that we found out.

At some point, a wind advisory was issued. It was issued at roughly the same time the swirling air found some loose dirt, whipping it across my face and arms with an accompanying sensation of being stabbed with a hundred small needles.

On the upside, all the dry skin I had exposed was neatly removed. (Ladies, I don’t know what those fashion mags tell you about skincare, but I’m pretty sure that all the oils and spa-treatments in the world are NOTHING compared to good, old-fashioned sandblasting.) The downside was that things were clearly getting out of hand. About a minute later, the crew lead walked up.

“We’ve got to pull the plug and take all this down.”

…and that, right there, was the ultimate expression of professionalism. The expense and effort involved in putting up a show-rig is non-trivial. As such, there is tremendous pressure to “tough out” any situation. In the end, though, screwing up on the side of safety is always the correct choice. People in this business have died because the drive to keep the show on has overridden a healthy sense of danger. The chances of things not ending well were plenty high, so it was time for Webb to pack up and go.

What followed was a scramble for the band and me to yank down our more-than-halfway set deck, and run everything indoors. As we did so, there was one nagging problem: We really didn’t know what we were going to do once we got inside.

The Hospitality Factor: 4:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Especially when I’m in someone else’s house, I try to assume as little as possible. In this case, I was in The Rock Church’s house, as they were providing the indoors part of the whole equation. What we were met with when we walked in was a stage that was already set and ready to go – for someone else. The church band was that someone else.

To me, the answer was clear. We were going to set up around what was already there. We would use all our own boxes (which we had brought for monitor world) to handle both the stage and FOH. I would use my remotable console as a stagebox, and run things off a laptop with a network connection. We were going to have a show, and we weren’t going to muss up anyone’s hair in the process. The only problem was that I didn’t have any speaker stands with me.

Thinking quickly, I spied a couple of tall, cafe tables out in the audience. I could put a couple of speakers on those, and the result might not completely suck. I grabbed ahold of (who ended up being) Steele, the pastor, and asked if we could “appropriate” those bits of furniture.

“You can have anything you want!” Steele declared, emphatically.

He and another gentleman pulled the tables over to the stage.

“What do you want these for?” Steele asked.

I related my plan to get a couple of boxes up to ear level.

“Man, you should just use our system. Hold on, I’ll give Tim a call, and he’ll get you set up.”

In the space of about 30 seconds, we had gone from piling together a disaster-mitigation rig to being first-class citizens on a system every bit as good as what we were originally slated to use. On top of that, it was all hands on deck, on short notice. Tim came down at full-speed, patiently ran me through the system setup, and then yanked the existing patch entirely so that I would have a blank canvas to use. Everything was at our disposal, and the up-center drum riser was cheerfully removed to make room for Mokie’s two-kit percussion ensemble. They even lent us the church’s uber-rad, SVT bass rig.

On top of it all, Foster hurried down and – with patience as great as Tim’s – worked up an honest-to-goodness light show for both the band AND a hip-hop dance group. In record time. I would later go on record as saying that “Foster’s” is Australian for “beer,” whereas “Foster” is Australian for “killer light guy.”

Now, in my mind, I don’t think that Mokie and I are tough to work with. At the same time, the show (and all our needs) were basically dumped, last minute, on all the folks at The Rock. For that reason alone, they get a massive “Thank You” from me for “putting up with our crap.” Everybody in that building embodied hospitality, and the show happened because of it.

I must not fail to mention another couple of elements: The supreme importance of having a sanely-tuned, sanely-patched system to work with, and the equally supreme importance of having a great band to work with. Mokie is an ensemble that knows how to actually be a band. They would still basically sound like themselves with no PA and no monitors. While it would not be the most fun gig for them, they could pull it off. Because of this, the audio system doesn’t have to work any magic to “fix things.” Rather, the PA is able to act in its best capacity, which is to translate the already cohesive band into the audience. When you add that to an FOH and monitor setup ready to do real sound reinforcement (by sounding nice while being “unhyped”) what you get is a show that can be run effectively in a crisis.

I normally use EQ and compression on my FOH channels in a manner reminiscent of a sledgehammer. I normally have a separate, virtual monitor world. There was no time for any of that on this gig. We had to throw-and-go…and we were fine. I didn’t have all the flexibility I could have used, but that’s just the final layer of varnish anyway. For what was going on, I was able to run my channels surprisingly flat – and get away with it pretty handily.

The Hospital Factor: 9:00 PM – 3:00 AM

As the gig hit set break, Mokie’s fearless leader, Chip, walked out to FOH.

“It sounds GREAT, man. Some of the folks are even saying it’s the best show we’ve ever done.”

“Well,” I said, “clearly this means that the way to do these shows is to set up halfway, tear down and reset in a blind panic, and then just go for it with no preparation.”

I was feeling pretty good about what Chip said, but I can’t say that I was really feeling good in general. I wasn’t incapacitated, but I was definitely wondering what was wrong with myself. I had this weird aching in my upper chest and the top of my back. Even with the show settling into a basically comfortable groove, my heart wouldn’t slow down to a normal pace. I hadn’t done a strenuous gig in a long time, and the sudden call to maximum performance was not treating me kindly.

“Don’t be anxious,” I thought to myself, “because being anxious just makes it worse.”

As the show wore on, the good news was that I didn’t feel worse. I was able to smile through my discomfort and get things done. The bad news was that I wasn’t getting much better. As we ended things and tore down the show, I figured that I just needed to go home and go to bed.

Three-quarters of the way back to the house, on the I80 – I215 collector, it happened. I was barreling along with a vehicle full of gear, when the unmistakable feeling of being about to pass out hit me like a ton of bricks. What seemed like a white-hot lump fell into the bottom of my butt. My stomach felt like it would readily wrench its entire contents out my backside, given half the chance. I pulled to the shoulder and slapped the button for my emergency flashers. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Instead of yanking my brake, I moved the gear-selector to “Park.” The transmission made a howling grind of protest as the parking pawl ratcheted against a still mostly-highway-speed transmission. My hands were tingling.

In a daze, I sat drenched in sweat. A few cars tore by me. I wondered if I was having a heart attack. I thought about what it would take to get my phone out and call 911. I didn’t know if I could get my phone. I figured that I had about two minutes to decide.

Slowly, I started to feel better. The pain in my upper body was mostly gone, actually.

Half of me just wanted to drive home and forget the whole thing. The other half of me knew that treating such an event lightly was not to be filed in the “Smart Ideas” drawer. My more cautious half won the argument, and I drove to St. Marks instead of the house.

At the ER, the various goings-on began to…go on. No, I hadn’t had dinner. Oh…yes, why I DID have a bit of a sunburn. I did feel better now that the episode had passed.

The various tests were ordered, and my aforementioned sandwich was ordered. The nurse obligingly stuck me with an IV so that I could have a big drink without actually drinking anything. I sat, craning my neck to watch my vitals monitor.

That heart rate looks a little high.

Is that ECG trace normal?

Don’t be nervous.

That doesn’t seem right.

Don’t be nervous.

The MD was ultimately satisfied that I was not about to die. She was also, somewhat surprisingly, just fine with the idea of putting me back in control of 3000+ lbs worth of metal, glass, fuel, and audio gear. She sent me out the door with a stack of papers talking about things like dehydration and near-syncope. I was told, in no uncertain terms, to take it easy the next day. I was happy to oblige, being tired from the whole thing.

The irony, of course, is that I was all set to be “100% for safety” when it came to things like wind and water, but I failed to take care of myself. A few bucks worth of actual Gatorade might just have kept me out of the ER. I have no idea how big my bill will turn out to be – I’m insured, thanks to my mom being very keen on that whole issue – but no matter how much money I end up owing, it still contributes to my final, self-administered diagnosis:

Don’t be an idiot next time.