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First live gig of the year

As some of you know, I still do some live gigs beside the studio work. Although it is less and less year by year because I feel I need less night work and long travelling and night driving. And frankly many times I’m fed up with the constant high SPL too. Call this the natural process of getting older, I’d like to call it getting more focused on tasks that really matters to me on the long term.

Facts of life… live sound

We’re still in the club season here which means most gigs happen in smaller, and technically challenged clubs. Which mean one thing: compromise! Nothing new here, we all know that the whole live sound scene is saturated with compromise, in fact, most of the time it’s built upon it.

I think I’m quite well prepared for anything, but still, after many months in the studio with almost limitless possibilities it’s hard to accept the fact that suddenly many things are just as they are no matter what I do, I can’t control very important things even though these things seriously affect the outcome of the gig. Still, I have to be the one who convince the musicians that this is going to be great. In live sound you must be in a “I solve it all” superhero state in order to really tackle all the issues.

Sometimes even organising the stage so every instrument and musician have enough space to function is a challenge. And at this point I don’t even start to talk about monitoring. In the club season generally I insist on mixing the monitors myself as well as the FOH. I know the musicians pretty well, know their needs, what they like and how they like it. It’s easier. A bit more work but the comfort of knowing that it’s done properly is well worth the extra effort. You know, it’s like the headphone mix in the studio, if it’s bad, the performance will suffer. The same goes here, they must feel comfortable on stage or else the whole show is going to be a fight for their life, which inevitably degrades the performance.

The best would be to go on tour with our own console. That would make sound checks easy, monitor mix a breeze and generally it is the only way to remain sane during a long tour. But with these small club gigs it’s nearly impossible to do this. So, the wisest thing is to get all the information prior to the show and start ferociously read some manuals if you don’t already know the console. The console is going to be a small one, so be prepared to know some tricky workaround to achieve what you want. Never assume that everything will work just fine for the first time.

One advice to keep you calm and sane. It might sound ridiculous, but you have to take care of yourself. Eat and drink! Stay hydrated and grab a coffee if you feel you’re getting dull. It sounds as the most obvious things in life, but if you don’t eat and drink, you’re going to loose focus, might lost your temper and you’re going to make more mistakes. This is natural though, your body just sending you signals that you haven’t had a sip of water for hours for example. That’s not normal, it’s a live concert, nobody’s going to die, relax. And the band needs you in top form prior and during the show so the best thing you can do is to keep yourself sane.

What happened that night

Brought 3 in-ears with me so that who really can’t perform without proper monitoring will have my mixes. The club has a small analogue Midas console with 6 auxes (that’s all for monitors and send effects), two channels of gate and two channels of compression, two effects, one hall and one delay.

I used most auxes for monitors so I decided to have a hall effect that night. One gate was inserted on the kick channel while the other worked on the floor tom. Even before the full soundcheck I realised that gain before feedback was going to be a serious issue here so I patched the compressor into a subgroup. The plan was to use it as an emergency bus for vocals if things gets too loud and I can’t push them through the band. Suffice to say this kind of a parallel compressed emergency bus saved the show.

The channel list:

  1. kick
  2. sn top
  3. sn bottom
  4. hihat
  5. floor tom
  6. oh l
  7. oh r
  8. spds di
  9. bass di
  10. sub phatty
  11. dave smith samp
  12. nord left
  13. nord right
  14. moogV l
  15. moofV r
  16. gtr 1
  17. gtr2
  18. ac gtr
  19. mpc
  20. bvoc
  21. mainvoc

During the setup it came to light that they don’t have enough Direct Boxes so I had to cut some channels. Being a club I decided to get the Moog and the Nord in mono, keep only the snare top mic and loose one overhead. With these I managed to fit on the console.

The other nasty surprise for me was the quasi parametric EQ. Not that I’m a snob who only works with thousand bands in Fabfilter’s ProQ2, but really, on a small stage, in a small club where not only the PA system but the room also has serious issues a full parametric would’ve been a more appropriate tool.

Having so few dynamic processors, no full blown EQ, less channels and a bit shoddy PA the night turned out to be a success and honestly I didn’t felt myself bad during the show. I kept a positive attitude to really make the most out of this situation and I think with the help and attitude of the musicians we managed to do a really great show.

Few tips

At the end of this I’d like to offer a few tips. These are not dogmas, rather small tried and tested things and ideas which might help you one day to overcome some obstacles at a gig.

First: maintain a positive attitude, always search for the solution, everybody knows what is the problem, no one need another smart guy who emphasise that

Second: sacrifice anything for the performance. For example I had some instruments sound as they love it. I didn’t really like it that way and it didn’t sound great on the PA, but they were happy with their monitors and believe me, the audience couldn’t care less about your perfect guitar EQ shape.

Third: communicate. Even if some musician insist on having things in a certain way, if you’re honest and frank, and most importantly involve them in the decision making, they tend to agree with the compromised version. Don’t act like the holy grail of knowledge, ask their opinion and really consider it, they might surprise you with a very good solution.

Fourth: do everything in your power to make their monitor mixes perfect. Obviously as perfect as it is possible under the given circumstances. That really helps the show, your endless PA tweaking might not so much (although that could be important too)

Fifth: Try to enjoy and have perspective. Accept that this time you are not at the Royal Albert Hall. Do whatever you can to make the best out of the situation and enjoy.