Keeping it under control

Diplomacy is a huge part of production. We have to find ways to communicate with people to keep things moving. Human egos and attitudes will quickly find a way to derail a show. You can’t contribute to the problem. Performers and musicians generally have enough ego and attitude for everyone.

When those attitude issues show up on our side of the console, things are doomed. Our ability to stay calm and focused is as important as our ability to mix. Just consider getting a group of people working together another form of mixing.

I worked an arena concert with an up and coming band as the headliner. These guys were really amazing. Solid band. Original music. Already made a few appearances on late night shows.
They were booked to perform in a 10,000 seat room for an audience of mostly retired adults. An audience I worked with on probably a hundred events.

We were hired to provide the whole rig. Stage, lights, house and monitors. We mixed for most groups that came to these events. These guy just needed us as techs that night. They travelled with their own sound crew.

The soundcheck went into motion perfectly. The band was very happy with the system and us as techs. The problems didn’t happen until about halfway through.

Their sound guys seemed to know what they were doing. I don’t believe they had worked a room that size before. I don’t believe they had any idea who their audience was.

About half way through soundcheck, I realized how loud it had gotten. They kept pushing it up. Every song ended with a push but they never pulled it back. The whole show seemed to gain five decibels on every song. I went to talk to the sound guys during a short break.

I explained the audience to them. These guys were legendary for walking out of shows. Of that room broke 95 decibels, they were gone. The techs laughed at me.

I tried to make them understand that I was serious. I told them that the promoter actually walked the room with a meter and even he would freak out. They didn’t care.

They informed me that this group had hired them and they wanted the show done their way. I informed them that they were going to be playing to an empty room within ten minutes. Forget any merchandise sales. Nobody was going to be there for an encore.

They still ignored my advice. Went right back into their blistering loud soundcheck. Must have been close to 120 decibels when soundcheck ended. My guys were stressed. The promoter depended on us to make things work. He will want to know what happened when six thousand people head for the exit.

All I could do was wait and watch for an opening to reason with them. I didn’t get it until the show was starting.

When the MC took the stage, I moved in.

Their crew was at monitor beach when I got there. They snickered at me and asked if this was how loud they were supposed to run the whole show. “Pretty close.”

Yep. More snickers.

Here’s what I told them. “I have been working shows for these guys for about five years. I know what is going to happen. I have seen these rooms empty out. I have heard these guy complain when it’s over.
This audience has made me a better engineer. I have been forced to learn how to get my mix under control thanks to them. Any clown can build a mix up to 120 and keep climbing. It takes legitimate skill to keep a solid, live show under 95.
You can push it when you get toward the end, after you have their attention. But, if you start this show at 120, they will never hear the second song.”

Apparently I pushed the right button. When they took the stage, it was close to 90. They pushed it up over 100 by the end, but the audience stayed. They were loving it by the end of the first song. Very happy audience and promoter.

That crew was not going to respond to my advice. They were cocky enough from their initial success to ignore all reason. They didn’t see the hired techs as valuable contributors to their show.

I couldn’t let it happen. The promoter depended on me. The audience knew who we were. They saw us on almost every show. They were going to have issues with us for allowing it to happen.

We have to take responsibility for our gig. We have to find a way to make it work. Sometimes there is someone in charge who is just determined to cause a train wreck. You will not be in control on every show. Some shows work you.

But, we can’t sit back, with a bad attitude, and just allow a show to go down in flames. Arguing and fighting are as useless as complacency. Neither one gets the show moving forward.

They wouldn’t respond to reason. They didn’t care about anyone else’s opinion. They didn’t even consider their own merchandise sales. They finally responded when I implied that they weren’t good enough techs to mix a large show at lower volume.

Sometimes the right button to push isn’t on your gear.

2 Responses to“Keeping it under control”

  1. August 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Great post, Erik. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I appreciate your wisdom. As a new volunteer to our church’s sound team, I’m struggling to find the right balance with musicians and worship leaders who are – in my opinion – sabotaging the mix by running up the volume on their on-stage amps.

    • August 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Glad to be of service. I feel your pain. I will work out a post with some suggestions ASAP. Thanks for the support.

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