Not much left, but still have many things to do. First, Sziget is approaching. This is one of the biggest festivals in Europe. This year, again, I’m going to be the chief FOH engineer at the main stage. As you might know, this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I have the chance to meet very talented mixers and see/hear many great shows. On the other hand a festival this big requires a lot of preparation and tedious paperwork, huge amount of Excel sheets, emails, meetings, etc. I’m a more simple guy who truly enjoy mixing and helping fellow engineers, but I’m not the big organiser guy who just effortlessly ploughing through hundreds of emails while conducting prep meetings.
This year we’re going to have a few big acts, you might recognise a few:
- Queens of the Stone Age
- Blink 182
- The Prodigy
- Calvin Harris
- Lily Allen
- Manic Street Preachers
- The Kooks
- and a few more…
After the usual rider checking, we ended up with almost the same console setup as before: Yamaha PM5D in monitors and Avid Profile in FOH. These are the most requested consoles in riders. Even if someone would prefer something other, these are accepted as well.
My biggest headache is still compatibility, or to be more precise, the lack of it. In my experience the Avid live system is still the only one which is able to effortlessly convert and use session files made on different surface with some other software version.
To be fair, they probably borrowed this knowledge from their Pro Tools experience. We had serious problems with DiGiCos and Midas digital consoles. Many times the FOH guy had to rebuild the show from scratch because his/her file was incompatible with the consoles firmware or software version. While digital offers so much flexibility on paper, it seems to me that in a live environment this is still in its infancy.
A usual day at a festival
Few of you asked about an average day at a festival like this. Well, it can be very gruelling to be honest. Obviously the more problem you have at a given day, the more worn out you’re going to be at the end of the day.
8:00am Load-ins starting
Usually the headliner or the co-headliner start first. All their equipment need to be set up, preferably at the proper place (should be left there all day). The most important needs at this time:
- power (how much, 32,64, 3phase, etc.)
- place of their consoles and misc. equipment
- forklifts (to bring the heavy cases and consoles)
- set up (check everything working fine, compatibility checks, feeds to system, multicores)
A simple console check procedure:
Check if the incoming power is fine. You don’t want to blow any power supplies! If it’s good, then you need to connect the console to the power source. Our tested and proved preference is to have to lines from the source power. One goes through a UPS so in the case of a power failure we still have time to save and shut down the consoles properly to avoid any data or equipment damage. The other is the direct, without any further protection. These days, every console has redundant power supplies so you can always use this safety system.
After you connected all the necessary cables, switch on the console. At this point I like to do a quick fader/button/led test if possible to make sure that everything is fine. These live consoles are being used in very demanding circumstances, therefore they need to be checked regularly. It’s much better to identify a problem now instead of trying to find it later, during the soundcheck. If the test is ok, then load the session.
Check if the session is fine. Most of the times they are fine, however a quick check wouldn’t hurt, you might spot some errors, and again, if there is some, this is the right time to solve it. If the session is ok, we’re almost ready.
Check and if necessary modify the output patch. Everyone has his own preference, the usual options are:
- L and R only
- L-R plus Sub (mono or stereo)
- L-R plus Sub and separate fills
- L-R plus Sub and separate fills, separate delays
If possible, we always prefer to have AES, but we’re prepared for analogue feeds as well.
At this point the system tech would ask the guest engineer to send noise (pink noise) to him in order to check the patch. When everything seems fine, the guest console is ready for the sound check.
Before and during the sound check
During the soundcheck you want to solve any upcoming problems. At this point you still have a little time to investigate things. It is mandatory to understand and able to operate, know the whole system to the tiniest bits. Anything, really, anything happens you’ll be the one who has to correct it, within a very short time frame. Even if it’s not your job at the first place, as the FOH guy, you’ll be alone with the guest engineers at the time of the sound checks, and remember, they are guests, you are the guy who must provide the solution to their problems.
Between the sound checks we can have lunch, preferably at table, but as schedules are very tight, usually we just have lunch in the FOH position during a soundcheck. After all the line and sound checks, little time left for a coffee before the first band start its show.
During the shows it’s mandatory to have at least one person at the FOH position. One who can solve problems, can alert the rest of the team, so who can really help the guests. Never, never ever leave the guest alone! This is very important. Anything can happen and you’re the one who should provide help.
End of the day
After all the shows are over, there’s some tasks left before we can go to bed. Main stage usually stops at 11p.m. or 1a.m. here. After the last show we need to cover everything in order to protect the equipment against the weather. One friendly advice: never trust the weather forecast. They might say that there’s absolutely zero chance for rain, but it is your responsibility to protect the equipment. Obviously consoles don’t like water, so don’t forget to securely cover them, unplug the power, switch off the breakers, and re-check everything. One sudden storm can ruin any very expensive equipment.
And that’s it, depending on the running order (whether you finished at 11 or 1) you can go to bed around 1–3 a.m. Have a good night sleep because the next day starts just in a few hours, around 8 a.m. with the load-ins again. Good night.