Beyond technical expertise and experience, Dave Natale stresses that one of the most important qualities a front of house mixer should possess is knowing how to deal with people.
“Now, anybody who knows me and reads that will say, ‘Yeah. Your people skills… Great,” he laughs, admitting that he can be blunt with co-workers at times, but adding that talking around a problem doesn’t help anyone. “You have to tell people straight up what’s going on.”
Natale’s ability to strip a problem down to basics, and adopt a course of action based on common sense, has been a key driver in his career.
Given that he’s worked for many of the biggest acts in the world in his 30-plus years in pro audio, it’s an approach that appears to work very well, and informs both his preferences for who he works with, as well as his insistence on using analog gear, whenever possible.
“You’re only as good as your crew. It doesn’t matter how well you mix if the system isn’t put up by people who know what they’re doing and have a good work ethic. The guys that fly the system, run cable, mic the stage - they deserve most of the credit. It’s a ‘no recognition, no glory’ existence. It’s also not an easy life. You go to work at 8 am, work through meals, or eat standing up, until the last bit of gear is on the trucks at midnight – if you’re lucky.”
Natale’s approach to mixing is equally succinct. “People don’t come to hear me mix, they come to hear the act. I want to present artists as they are. Hopefully, I’m just turning up what they’re doing.”
It’s an outlook rooted in his early experience as a teen playing drums in a band from his hometown of Camp Hill, PA. “Basically I’m trying to make it sound like it did when I was sitting in the middle of it.”
When he started losing interest in the material the band was playing, he offered to find them a drummer, but stayed on to mix their sound. “I didn’t know anything about audio, but I still wanted to be involved.”
Eventually, he began working for a Lancaster, PA-based band and relocated to their home base in his early 20s, which ultimately led to his long-time association with Clair Brothers. “Roy and Gene Clair came to see the band and I guess they thought that the mix sounded particularly good, because when I went for a job at Clair Brothers, they remembered me.”
He started out as a warehouse foreman, building cabinets for the company’s S4 system and learning how everything worked from the inside out. It was Roy Clair, Natale says, who brought him out on his first big tour, as a system tech for Yes.
“I owe a lot to Roy. He’s the guy that initially hired me and put his reputation on the line suggesting to people that I mix them. Two or three years on, when Yes became Asia, they asked Roy for a recommendation. He said ‘you should get this guy,’ and now I’m here.”