Welcome To The Torture Palace – Changing The Mix Position Can Wreck A Room

The band started to play, and my jaw dropped...

By Chris Kathman July 16, 2012

I recall a club show on a tour I mixed where the house console had been moved under an extremely low balcony, placed all the way at the very back, and turned sideways! And, between me and the dance floor was a stairwell to a lower level that I had to detour around every time I went to check out what was actually happening in the room.

Afternoon soundcheck started late, and the bandleader had to leave early. I plead guilty to just muting my desk after he left the stage. My basic mix was in place, and I’ve had multiple successful shows in that same room, mixing from a riser on the dance floor (where the mix position used to be). It’s not the greatest set of mains in the world, but I figured how bad could it be?

As the support act finished and I headed to the mix position, their house mix engineer looked more disturbed than I’d ever seen him. “Man, something really changed since soundcheck, more than just the difference of the crowd coming in,” he told me. “I almost feel like something about the system changed, and I know that’s not possible, but I just wanted to warn you.”

If I could go back in time, I’d go up on stage after the bandleader left soundcheck, pick up his very resonant acoustic guitar, approach his vocal mic, and have the local tech ring the room out and tune the graphics to those inputs.

The band started to play, and my jaw dropped. It was night and day from the afternoon, a very bad dream – sodden and masked and really low level. When I turned up the lead vocal and guitar, they started into howling feedback, so I cut them back to where they’d been, and began turning everything else down.

The other guitarist’s girlfriend came running up and announced that she couldn’t hear him. I told her I was having problems and working as hard as possible to rectify the situation. I didn’t take the time to point out that the trumpet player’s and drummer’s wives, as well the bass player’s girlfriend, wouldn’t have been too happy with me, either!

Lap after lap around the stairwell and onto the dance floor, where audience members were informing me how bad it sounded, with varying degrees of politeness, including one guy who literally went into physical convulsions, shrieking and cussing. I was totally stressing out!

I asked the venue tech what frequencies his mains characteristically fed back at, as well as what I could hear for myself, and kept laboriously making small adjustments, each time having to go back out and check the room for resonances I couldn’t hear under the %#*@ balcony.

On our bus the next day, the band’s monitor mixer commented that the owner of this particular venue obviously does not care about music or the bands. And, by extension, the fans who buy the tickets that pay for this guy’s life. If the mix position had been on the dance floor, and I’d run into the same problem, I could have addressed it far more rapidly.

It’s very hard to believe that other mixers don’t have similar difficulties at this venue. I don’t know how many paying customers the owner now fits into the space on the dance floor where the console used to be, but he’s taken what used to be an O.K. room to mix in and turned it into a torture palace.

Chris Kathman is a veteran mixer and production manager, and he also served as an editor in the formative days of ProSoundWeb.

Also by Chris Kathman:
The “Necessary Evil” Of Paperwork: Rider & Stage Plot Clarity Can Really Pay Off


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