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Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.

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Laneway Bound

AudioTechnology moseyed around behind the scenes of Melbourne’s St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival to see how a festival is shoehorned into city streetscapes and how the engineers find it.

By

19 February 2012

The 2012 Laneway Festival was a bit of a love-in for production companies around Australia. Rather than touring one rig around the country, budgets and turnarounds meant that each city is hosted by its own local reinforcement companies. So while JPJ Audio in Melbourne was running d&b J-Line on the main Dean Turner Stage, and Vertec on the rest, JPJ Sydney opted for L-Acoustics Kudo on the main stage, and Martin on the others, Norwest provided EAW KF750s for the Brisbane leg, Novatech went with L-Acoustics Kudo, and some fresh-off-the-boat Kara in Adelaide, and AAA Productions rigged up d&b Q Series in WA, with Clifton’s supplying some PA too.

Laneway Melbourne, held on the grounds and surrounding streets of the Footscray Community Arts Centre, presents challenges unique to the festival, namely, the mainstage points down an average size street with buildings on either side, and the second stage points straight up a hill. To complement the main stage’s d&b J-Line hangs, JPJ Audio used cardioid subs to try and reduce the throw of the bottom end out the back, and be able to control it into the sideline area.

“We’re going pretty tight down that laneway,” said ‘Bass’ (as in, the fish), JPJ system designer. “We’ve got a fair few boxes for the height and running it really straight and flat so it pushes straight down the street, supplemented by a couple of delays.

“We’ve got a couple of different things happening on the other stages. For the amphitheatre I’m running a combination of flown and ground-stacked Vertec, which has worked pretty well.

“We’re restricted with weight loadings, that’s why we’ve got to split the PA. Vertec’s designed to be flown, but we’ve got the smaller boxes stacked on the subs and as you go up the hill you get really good coverage without having to drive it too hard. It’s one of the best designs we’ve had down there over the last three years.”

The console combination is the old one-two of Avid Profiles at FOH, and Yamaha PM5Ds at monitors. “It’s pretty much the standard festival setup these days,” said Bass. “I know when Profiles started becoming a lot more prolific in usage, the Digico SDs had a few teething problems. It’s also price and availability.”

JPJ also use a quick patch system, so as each band is setting up, they plug into plates that are snapped into lines at points around the stage. So when one band is finished, the main cables are pulled back, the new plates snapped in and within a few minutes, they’re ready to line check.

And with a lot of the speaker processing now housed in proprietary amps, like the D12 for the d&b J-Line, and JBL amplifiers for the Vertec systems, JPJ has had to repurpose a lot of its excess stock. So, now the Lake processors cover zoning, and the Lab-Gruppen inventory of amplifiers run mono elements like side fills.

KEEPING THINGS TOGETHER

While there are different system engineers and designers on every leg of the tour, the one guy keeping it all together is Laneway’s production manager, Haydn Johnston. After a solid run, he took a break from Big Day Out this year to manage Laneway, and is also one of the production managers for Splendour In The Grass. Given the hoo-ha over Kanye West and Big Day Out this year, and having dealt with Kanye before at Splendour, Haydn made an interesting observation about ego, and whether or not it was different for a festival like Laneway, stacked with more mid-level touring acts.

Haydn Johnston: In Kanye there’s no ego, really. There’s a certain amount of vanity in Kanye, and there’s a certain amount of vanity that happens away from the production world. His production team was changed for the Big Day Out. And what he wants to achieve is a logistically difficult show. But that’s just the art in how he wants to deliver.

“That’s the same if Coldplay wants to hang a massive amount of lights or have more risers. It’s the same if somebody wants to put a banner up. It’s just a different scale. So in our world there really shouldn’t be any ego. There are some people who in the production management world pull, “Well the artist won’t go on.” And that’s fine. They put you under a moral pressure. You know full well it’s just a tantrum, and sometimes it’s thrown out flippantly.

“I know tour and production managers who are far more senior than me who actually called their bluffs and said, ‘Well just because you haven’t got 16 atomic strobes, you’re not going on, then okay. I’ll call the promoter and issue a press release. So as long as you’re ready with your press release at three o’clock!’ And they call their bluff.”

Mark Davie: How does that level of production compare with the challenges that come with more mid-level acts you see at Laneway?

HJ: “I don’t find egos. I find with this style of music there’s a lot less crew and that becomes an issue.

“A lot of them don’t come with guitar techs, monitor guys and lighting people. They might come with a tour manager who does FOH and then it’s really difficult because there’s no-one driving the band onstage and we all know how vague musicians can be. Especially young indie rock musicians. So that’s one of the issues we have at this level and this type of act. But on the main stage we have the bigger bands with the bigger crew, which creates a different kind of pressure. 

“Laneway actually uses local production in each region. The turnaround times are too tight for touring but it comes down to the size of the show and the budget. We can’t have ten trucks going down the highway, that festival is for a very specific genre of people.

“There are a lot of egos in production land, a lot of yellers. The four-letter word is a lot of people’s best friends. The good thing about this festival is, there’s none of those — it’s like a big team ‘can-do’ effort. The old school I think is very much becoming that, old school. We have kids from the School of Audio Engineering here at each show. We embrace that to try and teach them, because the last thing I want is people like me doing it in another 10 years. This industry needs to become more of an industry and regenerate itself, and teach and broaden those horizons, because the old-school guys just want to keep it to themselves and they have an amazing knowledge and they’re really great but they just keep doing their job.”

MD: You’re no slouch when it comes to audio either, of all the systems, do you have one you prefer?

HJ: I think the d&b J series is the duck’s nuts of outdoor P.A.s. It’s got the grunt. You can get it to throw a good distance without having to crank it up. It’s really clear for an outdoor box. I think there’s a lot of warmth in a Nexo Alpha rig but I prefer them inside and smaller. It suits that environment, in a ground stack. The J-Series is a setup that works a lot better with digital consoles, because it’s been made and designed around the time digital consoles were made and designed. To me there’s something romantic about Nexo for an analogue desk. 

Also, the J-series boxes are not that heavy. You can put eight boxes a side and not go over a tonne. And that’s important on stages where you have a one tonne rating on either side of the point of the roof. It means you have plenty of boxes for a really good throw but you don’t have to go and put in a tower of any description.

MD: Do you have an opinion on those horrific stage collapses last year?

HJ: I think the one in Europe [Pukkelpopp] was a freak, I’ve worked on that stage and it must have been a real freak of nature because it’s a pretty robust permanent installation. I think the ones in the U.S. were just poorly put together, it’s that level of county fair in the U.S. When you have a ground support system like that it only takes one truss to lose integrity and the whole thing’s gone.

MD: What have you found is the hardest aspects of putting on this particular festival with the slim streetscapes and stages?

HJ: Space is a big issue. It all comes down to space and time. When you’re in the street, you don’t get two days in advance to build. We were here pretty late last night. The main stage started at 2pm yesterday. The good thing about that truck stage is it’s got a 14.7m playing deck, 6.1m clearance off the deck at the lowest point, and it takes four hours to build. You’re on a postage stamp sometimes. If you want two monitor boards you can’t fit another because the wing space is not capable, and changeover space is quite often an issue.

MD: And the best thing about Laneway?

HJ: The bands hang out together – they’re way too friendly and they all admire what each other do. That’s the difference between indie kids, they’re not bitter in any matter. But they just don’t need that many floor toms up in front of the band! There must be half-empty drum kits strewn all over Billy Hyde’s, because we’ve got all the 16- and 18-inch floor toms. But it’s amazing to see what they’re doing nowadays instrumentation-wise — a harp, V-drums, MIDI and computers, the sensational way that M83 is setup with its computer brain. 

It’s quite amazing what these young kids do, because they really do embrace technology. They’re not just your two guitars and a bass. Some make themselves a real production nightmare but they really have an in-depth knowledge of the electronic side of it.

ANTHONY THEAKER

FOH ENGINEER, THE HORRORS

Anthony Theaker typically spends his time in UK studios mixing albums for Geffen and other labels. Recently, he’s been producing a new band called Toy, who have signed with Heavenly in the UK. To date, Theaker has mixed over 100 shows for The Horrors, and brings a different perspective to the live mix.

Mark Davie: Being more of a studio engineer, how have you found the whole live sound versus studio transition?

Anthony Theaker: Culturally it’s quite different. For instance, I put the guitar microphones a certain way [pointing almost perpendicular to the speaker cone], and literally every show i’ll come back and someone will have moved them. Or even worse, put them inbetween the speakers where the baffle is. Crazy! Sometimes it happens two or three times. So that’s difficult. But things like parallel side chain compression, you don’t see many people doing it.

Part of the sound of the drums is down to loads of boosting EQ bands rather than the more common approach to live mixing where you’re usually cutting everything. I do tend to thin things out a bit if there’s resonance or something’s a bit too harsh in the mid-range.

MD: Give me an example of where you might boost.

AT: The snare is at 2.5kHz and 100Hz, with a cut like on a Pultec when you boost and attenuate simultaneously, you create a little dip in the turnover frequency.

MD: I noticed that you also gate the snare substantially.

AT: Incredibly hard! I’ve found that it’s less about spill and more about phase. When you’ve got a kick drum opening a snare gate, there’s so much spill coming through, the sound of the kick drum is going out of phase. You can never quite tune it enough like you would in the studio. I gate it mainly because of that, plus I also like the colour of it — it has its own sound.

MD: It has less of the snare in it, and more of a hard-hitting tom tone.

AT: Because The Horrors don’t really have any transients apart from the drums, and the bass is quite dubby, I’m always putting loads of mid-range on. I have a Sansamp in line with the DI, and a really overdriven Sansamp on the side chain.

There are loads of side chains on the drums; the kick and snare have parallel side chain SSL-type compression faded in underneath. However there’s no compression on the drums themselves apart from a really fast limiter on the snare for when Joe does big rolls.

MD: Do you trigger any samples?

AT: No, it’s literally just microphones, bog-standard stuff that everyone uses. The Shure Beta 91 inside, the Beta 52 on the outside of the kick, just standard SM57 on top and Sennheiser e604 underneath, and 604s on toms. I also have Neumann KM184s for overheads and 185 for hi-hat.

MD: Are you getting much through the overheads or is it mostly cymbals?

AT: Basically they’re spot mics, but without going to the extent of putting them underneath, because you just get loads of really weird harmonics. You need to be a certain distance away but it’s not necessarily going to be perfectly setup each time, so I try to not get as much snare and everything else in the overheads as when you record in the studio.

MD: Do you take personal responsibility for setting up the mics?

AT: I literally position the mic’s millimetre-perfect every time, otherwise it’s going to be wrong. Same with the guitar microphones. Joshua’s tone is really bright, so I place the mics where they match the end of the speaker cone almost looking straight past it. It tones down some of the brightness, but still keeps it sounding how it should.

MD: What are the main limitations you find when mixing a festival?

AT: Usually we have 16 separate stereo lines for the keyboards and samplers. Some of them are stereo, the MPC has a stereo pair and three mono outputs, plus the Moog pedals. Usually all 16 individual channels are EQ’d differently, and I ride them for different sections. When I persuaded them to rack instead of submix the outputs, it made a huge difference. Even without EQ’ing it, just having it a bit wider makes a difference.

Sometimes parts need to go up 15dB, and when you can’t do that you try and punch in an EQ band to bring in a certain part, but it’s never as good as having the faders.

Today we’ve had to revert to the sub-mix, which Tom does while on stage. So I just get a stereo pair plus one of the delay effects as an extra, coming out of a little Soundcraft mixer that gets overdriven a lot of the time.

MD: Lucky you.

AT: Yeah exactly, normally it’s 37 channels for our show. Trying to get that at a festival is not going to happen. It’s 24 today.

MD: You’ve got your moves down pretty well.

AT: I’ve done just over a hundred shows with them now; and automation is the key. For instance, every long word that Faris sings get routed into a delay just to sustain it into the next word, otherwise it would be a bit too staccato. And I really punch up the first beat of chorus entries, or transitions, about 6dB for the first beat then bring it back down.

MD: There’s quite a lot of noise going on, in a good way, how do you keep things from getting out of control?

AT: It’s pretty well sorted. I try to make sure and head off any problems just by hitting EQ and things like that. But you have to know where to ride parts, otherwise something will tear your face off.

Having those keyboards split makes a big difference because it means more space for the vocals and guitars, and makes the guitar sound meaner. It can be difficult doing it at the volumes they need. I keep turning it down and trying to save that extra volume for certain sections. When I first started working with them they’d start off really loud in some ‘quiet’ sections, and then the dynamics wouldn’t be there, so you’d end up having to fight against it. So I got them to look at how they play.

STEVE SCHMO II

FOH ENGINEER, CULTS

Cults only has two main members, singer Madeline Folin and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/sampler Brian Oblivion. But their touring band balloons to five, and features a hybrid combination of electronic samplers, triggers, MPCs, keyboards as well as the standard rock instrumentation to achieve a delicate mix of lo-fi sound, brought to life using modern gear.

Mark Davie: Their live sound seems remarkably close to the album. It certainly retains many of the vintage, lo-fi elements. Is that all coming off the stage, or are you treating the mix?

Steve Schmo II: Well Brian [Oblivion] put the samples together that are on the record. They’re lo-fi to begin with; it’s both ’80s and ’50s sounding at the same time. I roll a lot of low end off the voice to make it sound like it is on the record. And add lots of reverb. For the mix I use two reverbs and two slap back echoes. One slap back is more of a voice doubler, and the other is just a simple slap back. And then I use a hall for drums, and another hall for vocals. But they’re a lot heavier and noisier live than they are on the record, which is good. It makes it more exciting and more of a rock show.

MD: Are there samples on everything? The drums for example?

SS II: They have a Shure endorsement, which makes things really easy. The drums use an SPS sampler that has the drums sounds from the album on it, and the kick and snare trigger

doubles on it. So when he hits the kick sometimes it will be an 808 mixed in with it, and a lot of the times the snare will have a lo-fi double with reverb on it. And some of the other sounds, like tambourine, are also on the SPS. He plays a lot of the set to a click track.

MD: And it’s not just drums, I noticed a lot of female vocal harmonies too.

SS II: The harmonies are on the Akai MPC. Gabe [Rodriguez] does sing harmonies on stage right, along with playing guitar, and the MPC and keyboards. Both Brian and Gabe have MPCs that they trigger samples on. But nothing is sequenced, the samples are all played live. the drummer is sending me samples and those two guys are sending me samples. there are samples coming in from everywhere!

MD: Do you find it odd or hard to mix so much of an electronic element, yet aim for a lo-fi sound?

SS II: It is weird. It’s not as easy as just drums, bass, and guitar where you just bring it up. It’s definitely much more difficult than the usual band. Though it’s not as hard at festivals. Indoors you have to worry a lot more about reflection. Last night at The Palace the ceiling was probably 100 feet high, so it was hard to make things clear. Outside it’s easier than indoors because you don’t have to worry about feedback and there’s no ceiling. I add my own reverb, whereas venues that hold a thousand people are usually very roomy and cavernous and hard to clear up.

STEVE SCHMO II

FOH ENGINEER, CULTS

Joel Gregg has been out hard on the tour circuit, while the beautifully sweet Laura Marling is his mainstay priority, he’s also been out with Mumford & Sons, The Maccabees and White Lies. When AT caught up with him, he’d just finished mixing Laura, and was excited about ticking off a couple of career highlights, namely mixing at the Sydney Opera House and The Royal Albert Hall in the same month.

Mark Davie: How did you find the mix?

Joel Gregg: It was tricky, the mix position was a bit too high and out to the side. I’m going to be touring d&b J-line in March, so it was a bit of a tester for me as well. I’ve used it a lot, but never with Laura. Down in the audience it was pretty smooth. You never can tell, but we are mixing right over the stage left hang and being two foot above the audience, it was harsh for me. She’s got so many things like banjo, mandolin, cello — which is actually quite toppy, her acoustic guitars, and two electric guitars. They all have a lot of harsh top end frequencies, and it was killing me at the desk. But when I stepped down it was fine.

MD: When do you go into the audience and check what it sounds like?

JG: I do it with the previous engineer. So I already knew that I wanted to take out a lot of low mid range, 200-250Hz, which the previous band, Pajama Club, their Hofner bass was kicking out a lot of that frequency, which was overpowering for me, so the first thing I did was to suck that out. The whole P.A. was slightly too overpowered. We did a gig at The Forum, same patch, same profiles, same production crew basically and immediately opening stuff up today everything was too loud. So I got the P.A. backed off a little bit, the front fills backed off quite a lot. And hopefully it was alright down there.

MD: How is it mixing someone as delicate as Laura?

JG: She’s very quiet, and so I’ve got a hell of a lot of EQ going on. This J-line is the most detailed P.A. you’ll ever come across. It’s almost too much for Laura. I use the Pultec EQ first on her vocal, then the Bomb Factory LA2, the Profile’s 7-band parametric, and then a graphic on the group. And then there’s a graphic on the left/right and a parametric on the left/right and we were dicking around with the Lake processor as well.

If you’re not careful you just start to overdo everything and it falls apart. So just a little bit on each thing, but not too much. It’s probably the wrong way of doing it, but as long as it sounds good.

MD: That does seem to be a lot of processing. Do you need it to bring the most out of her voice?

JG: To be honest with you, it’s all corrective. We did a tour of cathedrals back in October and I could get a bit more creative with that. Pushing more presence, frequencies like 2k work quite well. Sometimes just to get the breath.

But all I’m really doing is pulling frequencies out. And it will change on every song – particularly on the graphic over her vocal – because I know she sings closer some songs or moves her head around. She has a tendency to sing at a slight distance and then look at her guitar and when she looks at her guitar she puts her cheek up against the mic. That’s pretty tricky. I’ve had some horrible, horrible times. but at the same time i’ve just had some of the most amazing gigs i’ve ever had with laura. so it’s one of the most brilliant acts to mix.

MD: Do you use a mic that will work better with the quieter passages in her vocal?

JG: I use a Shure Beta 58 on her. I’ve been through every mic, Shure KSM9, Neumann KMS104 and 105, AKG even sent me the D5, which is supposed to be feedback free. It was terrible on her. I’ve been through all of them and just keep going back to the Beta 58. It sounds like her voice. It gives me what I want and I don’t get too much spill.

FESTIVAL SOUND

HOW TO STAY LIVE

Top tips from top live sound engineers around the globe on how to survive your next live festival mix.

With most acts I have my own control gear (console) and all our own stage mic/DI/patch package, so that ensures ‘plug and play’ consistency. But I know that isn’t a realistic situation for most bands so when having to deal with just walking up and dealing with locally provided audio gear:

Getting Routed – First, make sure the local audio stage and FOH system guys have your correct input list and stage plot. Don’t rely on someone in festival production to have passed on that info. Show up to the gig with those documents in your hand, find the main stage patch and FOH system guys and physically check they have the correct input list.

Find those guys early in the day – when it’s quiet and they have time to talk – not when they are ass-deep in changeovers after it kicks off. Do yourself a favour – get with your band and simplify your patch for festivals. Do you really need five keyboard lines or can it be mixed down to one in the keyboard rack? That sort of stuff. If your patch isn’t correct, all your changeover time is going to be wasted with mispatch problems instead of getting a starting point dialled in. Remember, you will probably only have a 20-30 min changeover. At approximately 60 seconds per input of dialling (signal check, EQ preset, routing, comp, gate setting, FX routing) on 24 inputs, you are already at about 24 minutes just to dial it in – so less inputs should be a priority.

Before your showtime, be sure everything is tight, organised and simplified as much as possible, and that the local audio company has all the info they need to make things as seamless as possible. Also verify you have clear talkback mic communication to the stage. Bad communication is hugely frustrating and a serious waste of valuable time. As the FOH engineer, you are captain of the ‘SS Changeover’, and the captain needs to be heard to keep everyone organised.

Be flexible with your linecheck – don’t necessarily check in input order – if the guitar tech is clearly ready with the guitar and you see the inputs, knock it out right then.

Remember – you are starting this whole project with not enough time.

Everything In Order – When your show starts, prioritise your inputs. Let’s take a rock band for a simple example. Always, right off the bat, get a handle on the vocal. Make sure it’s clear and the vocal comp is acting properly. Don’t worry about the delay or reverb – just get it up and clear. That should take less than 60 seconds, then jump right to kick and snare, that’s another 60 seconds, then jump to the primary guitar and get it loud and smooth. Three minutes or less for all that, and you have the majority of what most rock bands are about. That is normally enough to get the crowd locked into what’s going on. Now, ‘priority two’ inputs – backup vocals, bass, toms, overheads. That should cover the remainder of the first song’s duration.

During song two, start the more subtle things – perhaps some key or track inputs, secondary guitar, vocal delay/verb, drum verb. By the end of the second song, you should be very close to actually mixing rather then just creating the ‘baseline mix bed’ that you were during the first two songs.

If you are working in an analogue world and your FX/insert racks are hard to reach from the console, get the system tech to man the insert/FX rack to help you.

Tweak Out The Pain – By now, your mix should be very close. Time to tweak the system EQ to sweeten the system response. I notice many guys (and gals) miss this step. It’s a huge part of your mix and is critical to getting a loud powerful mix, but with no painful frequencies poking out. If the system guys have an RTA you can look at, put it in 1/6 octave mode and slow down the response of the analyser so you can see offending stuff that’s poking out all the time really easily.

Almost all festival console setups I have seen in my 22+ years of doing this have an ‘engineer system EQ’ umbilicalled to whatever desk you are on. Invariably, pay attention to the 250-600 cycle area and the 1.6k to 3k area – always the zones that are painful with a rock band. Most systems you walk into are pre-EQ’d in a kind of ‘clean slate’ sort of way and 99% of the time, require removing frequencies in the areas I just specified. I have heard some good mixes that would have been great if the engineer had just smoothed out the system some. I am shocked how few people mixing at a festival work the system EQ. As I mentioned above, I normally have it easy with my own self-contained console system, so when my festival show kicks off I’m mixing with one hand and virtually immediately begin working the system EQ.

You also have to learn to work extremely fast and methodically. Know where all your mixing tools are beforehand; which gates, which comps, where the verb is, where it returns, and how the talkback works – everything! Know all that before it’s even your turn at the desk. The system guys are there to answer your questions. Utilise their knowledge.

USB The Key – I live in a digital world. My audio life is on USB keys and iLoks. I make sure my USB world is organized and well backed up. I carry and own every plug-in I use, so no matter what, I don’t have to rely on any vendor to get me the software I need. Multiple backups of your show, multiple backups of your software plug-in installers, zero downtime on your iLok.

Outside of the digital world, the RTA is always something that helps me work faster. In the festival situation, I am trying to mix, work the system, keep an eye on the singer, etc – all at the same time and at a hyper fast pace. I don’t have time to hunt and search and destroy certain offending frequencies for a smooth fat mix – I just let the RTA just tell me. It’s a huge time saver.

Putty In Your Hands – There are certain times when the band walks out, I unmute, and it’s just perfect. It’s kind of rare, but it does happen. It happened to me recently with Alice In Chains in Santiago Chile in November 2011. The show kicked off and the audio and visual presentation was virtually perfect, the crowd reacted to that and went insane, the band reacted to the crowd, and we quickly end up with a giant wonderful rock monster on our hands that was being totally cooperative.

At those times, it’s very fun and feels easy. I always maintain that if you nail your mix, it’s a big part of the crowd reacting. When it goes that way it doesn’t really feel like a festival, it feels like your own show. So I suppose, if you can get a festival to feel like your own show, you nailed it.

But trust me, it can go the other way too.

Tom Abraham, (recently) FOH Engineer for Alice In Chains, Keith Urban, Velvet Revolver, Garbage, Weezer, The Mars Volta, ZZ Top. Endorsements — Digidesign/Avid, Waves, Heil mics, Royer mics, Mojave mics, 65Amps.

Even at a festival I use Smaart to test the system – even if it’s during a set change. Having a graphic representation of how the system is tuned – though it might only be a brief one – will tell you a lot before you even start.

I do small bursts of pink noise (so as not to disturb the audience too much) and grab some quick measurements before we start. If I am confident about my mix, this gives me the opportunity to get an idea of how the system is going to respond.

Palmer PD01 speaker DIs are great tools – throw them on some guitars and you will have some great sounds right off the bat. Combine them with some mics and everyone will comment on how good your guitar sounds are.

The best festival moment I’ve had was watching 300,000 Brazilians at Rock in Rio, Brazil all jumping up and down and making the ground shake for Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle in 2001. Incredible.  

Ken ‘Pooch’ Van Druten, FOH credits include Guns ‘n’ Roses, Linkin Park.

If all my festival experience has taught me anything it’s that you have to be prepared…for anything.

A festival usually moves something like this for me:

– Turn up early. I’m always there with plenty of time up my sleeve and head straight to the stage.

– Meet the crew. I introduce myself to the stage manager and go over the production rider to a) make sure they received the right one! And b) to make sure everyone is on the same page. From there I head over to the monitor console and have a chat to the monitor engineer and patch tech to make sure the input list is correct and to get my hands on the soft patch in the event we aren’t doing one to one.

– Prepare the show file. Once I have the soft patch for the show, I edit my show file so that when I load it up, it’s good to go and the only things that may need changing are the main outputs. Then it’s out to FOH to meet the system tech to go over any noise restrictions or anything else relevant they feel I should know before the gig.

– Once everyone is on the same page, I’ll head back to the bandroom, let the tour manager know that we are all systems go, then head backstage to start setting up backline and miking things up. Once this is all good to go I head back to FOH and let the games begin.

Personal Effects – One thing I find a lot of guys doing on festivals is over complicating things, whether it be huge input lists where something simpler would have been perfectly reasonable or plugging in their own outboard while in the middle of change over when the pressure is on, then chasing their tail when something doesn’t work rather than just getting on with the job. After all, the crowd doesn’t care if you have that amazing Summit across the bass, but they will care if there is no bass.

I have a ‘get out of jail’ pelican case I take with me that has things like, gaffer, converters, cables, leatherman, torches, screwdriver kit, shooting muffs (-35dB), Beyer DT770’s, USB sticks for each brand of console, and flash card drives for PM5Ds. I don’t leave home without it.

My best festival moment is an easy one. I was in Germany doing my first mix on a big rig. A d&b J-Line system, sporting maximum hangs per side, baby! And a Midas Heritage H3000 with racks more suited to somewhere like Sing Sing than a FOH tower at an outdoor festival. I was loving life. We were about half way through the show and from what I could see I had probably 15,000 people between me and the stage, the mix was thumping and the band were having a great gig. Then the lead singer gives a shout out to the people at the back and an almighty ‘YAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!’ flew past the FOH tower back to the band. The system tech, LD and myself promptly poo’d our pants a little and had a look around the tower walls to find another 20,000+ people up the hill that weren’t there at the start of the show. I shot a quick glance over at the system tech and jokingly/ seriously asked, “we’ve got those delays on yeah?” The adrenalin that shot through my body when that crowd roared was unreal!

Chris Braun, FOH for Michael Franti & Spearhead, Stonefield, Little Red, Allen Toussaint, Ash Grunwald

Know your input gain structure and start with your faders a couple of dB low. It is easier to bring something up a bit in the mix than to be too hot and need to bring it down in level – Bill McCormick, Freelance Sound Guy

Tips for a walk-in mix of your band at a festival:

Firstly, don’t worry if the system is big and intimidating. The difference between mixing big shows and mixing bands in pubs is not as great as people think. The main difference is the lack of stage sound; at festivals everything goes through the PA at about the same volume compared to small shows.

Assume the PA has been tuned ‘flat’ and don’t expect too much. Festivals are money-making exercises and the PAs are often adequate rather than luxurious.

If possible pre-set gain and EQ settings. If you work for the band regularly you should have a good idea what they will be. Keep it simple, complicated signal chains are for your own shows where you’ve got time to fine-tune everything. The most important processor for most bands is a compressor over the vocal group.

Or load your regular settings. I’m not sure what the current protocol is regarding loading settings into digital desks but if the system tech doesn’t freak out it’s probably OK.

When the band hits the stage, start mixing. Getting a balance together quickly without levels going up and down all over the place is where mixers earn their money. Don’t try for full volume until a) you’ve heard the vocal level and b) the mix is sort of settled. Bands settle into the performance during the first song as well and this improves the sound, so I try to make lots of small adjustments to the faders and EQ until it comes together. Check with the system tech if you want to know how much power you can have.

If the mixing position is above the audience then it’s probably good if the sound seems quite loud and somewhat bright. As soon as possible try to get down to audience level and check what it’s like in punterland. Big festival systems develop lots more deep bass than you may be used to and care is required to avoid the muddy sound punters often complain about at festivals.

Mark Woods, FOH credits include Men At Work, Tina Turner, TISM, Catpower, Midnight Oil, Crowded House, Concrete Blonde, and Frente.

As a monitor guy it’s most important to get your gain structure right, the rest will all work out. The best thing you can possess is patience. The best festival experience I’ve had would be the Byron Bay Blues and Roots 2011 on the main stage with The Cat Empire — Tom Allen.

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