If it’s not obvious from the title, yes, I’m talking about my recent livesound experiences. But wait, it’s not a rant. Far from it. Although I must admit that the last few days couldn’t be more disastrous technically. Still, I think there’s a few things a sound engineer can do in order to make things (the gig) happen. Take this as a survival guide, but not a technical one.
I know it is a cliche, but really this time if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. Yes, it might be one of the worst gig with almost impossible circumstances. But never forget one thing: you’re not hired to reinforce the bad, but to do the best you can. It’s that simple. The moment you focus on how it is not possible, you lost.
It’s not my job… well, this is probably one of the most destructive sentences ever in a bad situation. Yes, technically probably you’re right, it shouldn’t be your job, but the band hired you because they trust you. Go that extra mile to prove they’re right.
Ready for the unexpected
Right now I can’t count how many different digital and old analogue console serve as the built-in local board. Simply put, it’s impossible to know it all. Really. I’d been the executive FOH engineer for the biggest festivals in Hungary for years so I have a pretty good knowledge about the biggest ones, but still I always had my iPad with me filled with users manuals. One thing I really learnt from this is it’s not important to know every menu item. The thing you need to know is what you want to do. If you’re utterly lost in a console, simplify. Think it over calmly. The only thing you need to know is how the signal goes in, and goes out. That’s it. If you know this simple thing, you’ll find everything. In the path you’ll find the EQ and Dynamics section, etc.
Just don’t panic.
Of course there’ll be things that won’t work, or couldn’t be achieved. Be honest. Never ever promise something that you can’t do. It might seem convenient first, but musicians will ask for it, so in the end it’s not a good idea. Be brutally honest, but don’t be a jerk. There’s a big difference between real honesty and saying no to everything and being rude. It is your job to communicate properly. In my experience most of the time people understand and appreciate honesty, even if that means they have to give up something for that particular show.
Be the cleaner
Honestly I don’t know any other place where you can learn a lot about how to EQ effectively and precisely. Removing the junk with EQ is actually an art. A very practical one, once mastered, can make your show sound much better. This is actually also a very good exercise, and the benefit is there when you get back to the studio. After a bit of practice, you’re going to be faster, more precise and more sensitive to EQ changes. This is good no matter what area you’re working in the audio-land.
Whether you like it or not, it’s not your comfy studio with a hundred mastering grade plugins and ample time. You have to do it fast, make proper decisions along the way and stick with them until you find they’re not working. You have to make decisions. Have to make decisions no other guy in the room would like to make. It’s your job. Even if sometimes it’s hard.
In my opinion, you can learn a lot from all of the above mentioned things. Over time it’s much easier, but still, it’s not that easy even after many, many years. But you have to deal with them, properly. The side benefit is that you’ll be more comfortable with many things that also could happen in the studio. So to wrap up, you can learn a lot of things from it. But to really be better, you have to keep trying, no matter how bad that night is.