Quite a bit, actually, because even the small things have a large effect.
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.
MiNX is a treat to see on the show schedule. They’re not just a high-energy performance, but a high-energy performance delivered by only two people, and without resorting to ear-splitting volume. How could an audio-human not appreciate that?
A MiNX show is hardly an exercise in finding the boundaries of one’s equipment. Their channel count is only slightly larger than a singer-songwriter open mic. It looks something like this:
- Raffi Vocal Mic
- Ischa Vocal Mic
- Guitar Amp Mic
- Acoustic Guitar DI
- Laptop DI
That’s it. When you compare those five inputs with the unbridled hilarity that is a full rock band with 3+ vocals, two guitars, a bass rig, keys, and full kit of acoustic drums, a bit of temptation creeps in. You get the urge to think that because the quantity of things to potentially manage has gone down, the amount of attention that you have to devote to the show is reduced. This is, of course, an incorrect assumption.
Low Stage Volume Magnifies FOH
A full-on rock band tends to produce a fair amount of stage volume. In a small room, this stage volume is very much “in parallel” with the contribution from the PA. If you mute the PA, you may very well still have concert-level SPL (Sound Pressure Level) in the seats. There are plenty of situations where, for certain instruments, the contribution from the PA is nothing, or something but hardly audible, or something audible but in a restricted frequency area that just “touches up” the audio from stage.
So, you might have 12 things connected to the console, but only really be using – say – the three vocal channels. Everything else cold very well be taking care of itself (or mostly so), and thus the full-band mix is actually LESS complex and subtle than a MiNX-esque production. The PA isn’t overwhelmingly dominant for a lot of the channels, and so changes to those channel volumes or tones are substantially “washed out.”
But that’s not the way it is with MiNX and acts similar to them.
In the case of a production like MiNX, the volume coming off the stage is rather lower than that of a typical rock act. It’s also much more “directive.” With the exception of the guitar amplifier, everything else is basically running through the monitors. Pro-audio monitors – relative to most instruments and instrument amps – are designed to throw audio in a controlled pattern. There’s much less “splatter” from sonic information that’s being thrown rearward and to the sides. What this all means is that even a very healthy monitor volume can be eclipsed by the PA without tearing off the audience’s heads.
That is, unlike a typical small-room rock show, the audience can potentially be hearing a LOT of PA relative to everything else.
And that means that changes to FOH (Front Of House) level and tonality are far less washed out than they would normally be.
And that means that little changes matter much more than they usually do.
You’ve Got To Pay Attention
It’s easy to be taken by surprise by this. Issues that you might normally let go suddenly become fixable, but you might not notice the first few go-arounds because you’re just used to letting those issues slide. Do the show enough times, though, and you start noticing things. For instance, the last time I worked on a MiNX show was when I finally realized that some subtle dips at 2.5 kHz in the acoustic guitar and backing tracks allowed me to run those channels a bit hotter without stomping on Ischa’s vocals. This allows for a mix that sounds less artificially “separated,” but still retains intelligibility.
That’s a highly specific example, but the generalized takeaway is this: An audio-human can be tempted to just handwave a simpler, quieter show, but that really isn’t a good thing to do. Less complexity and lower volume actually means that the details matter more than ever…and beyond that, you actually have the golden opportunity to work on those details in a meaningful way.
When the tech REALLY needs to be paying attention to the small details of the mix is when the PA system’s “tool metaphor” changes from a sledgehammer to a precision scalpel.
When you’ve only got a couple of people on deck, try hard to stay sharp. There might be a lot you can do for ’em, and for their audience.