Surviving The Great Unknown As A Budding Engineer: The Club Gig

Success is in both preparation and quick thinking at the venue.

By Nathan Short January 18, 2013

Homage Sun performs onstage in central Iowa.

It’s a slate gray spring afternoon and I find myself crammed in the back of a creaking Econoline van making its way across the Midwestern prairie to a club gig tonight in central Iowa.

We’ve gone from the man-made peaks and valleys of downtown Chicago through the bland sameness of the northern suburbs and now find ourselves looking out across thousands of square miles of dormant brown fields that occasionally yield to exit ramps and truck stops.

Only three hours to go…

I’m not really thinking about the terrain, but rather, tonight’s gig, where I’m going to serve as sound mixer with my van mates, a hard-working melodic metal act called Homage Sun.

I particularly love working with these guys; they have an unconventional, down-to-earth professionalism, great showmanship, and through many gigs together, we share an uncanny trust of my sometimes oddball ideas about live sound.

My primary concern: have I done everything possible to make sure we have a successful show tonight? Have I done enough homework?

What are we really walking into, in terms of the room and its system capabilities? As with every gig, I want this one to be the best, or at least go as well as humanly possible given factors outside of my control.

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“Vocals will always be heard, I’m a kick drum “Nazi,” and guitars/bass will then be added as allowed.”

I’m a relative youngster in this business, but have been schooled at the sound department at Columbia College in Chicago. At the same time, my experience is dramatically enhanced by mixing (and sound teching, gear schlepping as well as playing chief nursemaid and bottle washer) at hundreds of live gigs just like the one I’m facing tonight.

The only part of this equation that can really be known is the band.

What’s the best way to prepare to mix a club gig? At times, the process of contemplating an approach to this particular art form seems to serve primarily to inspire a good headache.

Multiple variables and angles are the rule of the day. It’s rare that two shows – even those with the same act in the same venue – are usually exactly alike. My survivalist tendencies, and love of this business, have resulted in an approach that is followed so religiously that it’s second nature.

BEFORE CURTAIN GOES UP
Preparation makes perfect, or at least respectable. The time leading up to the gig should be spent making sure everything that can be controlled from a sound perspective is indeed under control, because in the live mix process, you’re asking the mind to critically analyze an amazing amount of data from your ears’ nerve receptors and make the right changes and enhancements on the fly.

When show time comes, it’s all juice – endorphins, adrenaline, sweat-glands in overdrive… the reason we do this, and usually too late to do anything more than tweak.


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Mark says

worst. article. ever.

Andy says

Iowa?
Load-in up a set of deadly metal stairs?
Gabe’s Oasis?

Spert says

Thanks for sharing Nate.
All sound engineers have potential night mares when you walk into a house sound system.
Never a real easy task.
Why club put sound system on the bottom of their budget beats the heck outta me. The system expense should be off the top, and the best money can buy.

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