Tailoring The Tweaks
Another piece performed in the series was Reich’s “Different Trains” for live and pre-recorded string quartet.
New challenges were found with this one because the pre-recorded tracks not only had a string quartet, but also contained sound effects (train whistles), samples of train station announcements, and also audio from vintage interviews.
Unfortunately, the track mix wasn’t great, thus requiring some live tweaking for best results.
One particular problem was that some of the sound effects were quite loud in the monitors, while the pre-recorded string quartet tracks weren’t always as clear or loud as they could be.
The result was that some of the musicians had a difficult time hearing the tracks in a way that would allow them to stay synched without getting “blasted” by the sound effects and station announcements.
Even after making adjustments to the sound system, including EQ, level cues and stage monitor positioning, we still had some problems.
Then I overheard something being discussed between the musicians that ended up helping considerably: the violist apparently had her “bad ear” toward the nearest monitor! I humbly suggested that she switch positions with the cellist so that she could hear better, and this made a tremendous difference.
In other words, sometimes the best solution doesn’t involve the sound system at all, really. As service providers, we have be careful with such suggestions, but at the same time, we should be alert for opportunities when they come up. A more common example might be to point a guitar amp at the player’s head instead of his knees when he claims he can’t hear himself.
Attitude Is Everything
I’ve written entire articles about attitude, but in this context, I’m referring specifically to how we as sound technicians and/or service providers interact with the talent. I’ve read plenty of forum threads by musicians who think that all sound techs are idiots, and there are probably just as many threads by sound people detailing how all musicians are idiots.
Let’s start by agreeing that most of us on either side aren’t idiots. We simply need to learn to work together better. In my recent endeavor, I was helped by the fact that I’m an active classical musician, so I can speak their language, read a score, and generally put myself in their shoes. What is it that they might want? What makes them feel nervous or uncomfortable? What helps them feel at ease?
But really, this applies to every artist, and even if we don’t always have “special knowledge” of their specific art, we can always work with a foundational rule of speaking to them with respect and letting them know that our goal is to make them feel comfortable. Just this relatively small thing can help a lot.
Then, actually acting on their requests shows them we mean business. Is there a bright light in their eyes? Is it too cold? Too hot? Is their chair wobbly? Can they see each other? Are they stepping on mic cables? Sure, we can easily conclude that “these people are prima donnas” – and maybe they are. But it’s really a matter of trust.
Show them that they can trust you, and work doggedly to provide them and their audience with the best sound possible, and they’ll very likely and quickly come to view you as “one of the good ones.” Confidence matters, too. But don’t get arrogant.
And the audience will hear the best concert, which is really the point, isn’t it?
Karl Winkler is director of business development at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 15 years.