Expecting to get lucky

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I have been thinking about random stuff lately. Stuff that worked great and shouldn’t have, stuff that should have been amazing and wasn’t. Wish I had a magic formula for knowing when I could bend the rules of nature or see the future. Life might have been easier.

Sometimes, we just throw stuff out there and hope for the best. No planning, no real preparation. Just hoping we will get lucky. Maybe we will be the guy that the rules don’t apply to. Not a realistic expectation.

The band has a last minute player walk in. The mic locker is empty. Looking for a Hail Mary pass to save my soundcheck. Not a good scenario, but it happens. Again, stay calm. We are solution oriented, not problem oriented. Figure it out.

The last time I remember being in that spot was amazing. We had several shows going the same night. My stage had a very large band, seems like there were about 439 guys plugged into my board. May have been more.

Half way through soundcheck, after using virtually every cable, adapter and microphone we owned, a sax player walks onstage. In front of me, stands a small city of musicians, waiting to continue as he unpacks the largest saxophone in the free world. It looked like he was about to screw a mouthpiece into a submarine. I walked up to him, hoping he was about to produce a professional grade wireless unit for me. Nope.

Instead, he names off the mics he prefers and tells me he needs to be strong in the mix. “Ok. Let me see what’s left.”

Knowing all the good mics are already up there, I drag myself back to the rack and dig prayerfully. An AKG D112 is literally the only mic left in the box. I ponder my presentation and painfully present my perfect proposition. “This will do it.”

He looks at me like I fell out of the sky, “seriously?”

I told him it was designed to reproduce solid low frequency, it is my weapon of choice for anything that needs to feel the bass. Honestly, I was trying to avert a disaster and was making a sales pitch on the only mic I had left. Once it was up, it looked great. It even sat into the bell beautifully. On the way back, I was running the setup through my head. Got it.

Rolled off the low end at 80, hit it with a nice plate reverb and slight delay. Sent it to his wedge and waited for a reaction.

I think he was crying. It hit the stage like a freight train. The entire horn section stopped. It was pure magic. After the show, he told me that his horn never sounded so good. Yay me.

All that was about presentation. If I had walked up there and told him all I had left was this old kick drum mic, maybe it will work, it was gonna be a bad night. I seemed confident, he felt confident, we made it work. And we found my new favorite sax mic. Lucky night.

Then there’s the stuff that went the other way.

I honestly believe that every tech should, at some point, attempt to build your own speakers. Take some random, leftover parts and a trip to Home Depot for lumber. Get a big handful of extra cash and throw it out the window. Then waste a few evenings building something that you designed yourself. No cheating.

I had a run of small shows scheduled. The setup was consistent, load in and soundcheck times would be tight and short. Needed time and space savers. Figured I could pull off something amazing. What if I had subs that were four feet tall, with wheels and handles, that my mains could sit on? No speaker stands, just roll it in and stack them up. What if I wired it with NL4s and simplified my wiring? That would go up pretty quick. Right? Made sense.

I already had plenty of extra 18s and spare parts. Just needed the perfect design. Didn’t do it.

In my mind, the design was perfect. I copied it from my favorite subs, and modified it to be four feet tall, two by two wide. Perfect. Never really considered how smart those guys are, the ones who design boxes. Never even considered researching the design. Just spent the money and built some boxes. Moron.

What I ended up with, worked perfectly. They rolled in and setup went as fast as I had hoped. The cable connection and speaker position was great. The only problem was the sound. I had created something that defied space and time. Natural laws didn’t apply.

I built them in a garage. I tested them in the driveway. They hit so hard out there, it was mind blowing. I was shaking stuff off the walls next door. Both times, in the driveway, they were awesome when I tested them. Never attempted to set them up indoors.

Every show, for the next two weeks, was indoors. My boxes produced some crazy, phase cancelled, psycho acoustic effect that made them seem to be two blocks away. The first show was a nightmare. Never got them dialed in right. Close, but not right. The next one was better, and I gradually figured out how to make them work. But. Every single room I used them in required me to figure them out all over again.

Just a few more minutes of planning might have made all the difference. Who knows? Wouldn’t have hurt.

I think my point here, is this. Don’t bank on getting lucky out there. Do your homework. Know your gear. Plan your work. Sometimes the idiots get lucky and stuff works out. Usually not. I have a tendency to learn things the hard way. Trying to train you guys to learn from my mistakes.

Good luck.

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