Study Hall
Sponsored by
Audio Technica

Hunting Gremlins: What’s Old Becomes New Again

A veteran live sound pro provides the view from the stage side...

By Gary Gand June 20, 2018

Image courtesy of gornostai_nastya

Here We Go

A few years ago, I walked onstage at a Chicago summer outdoor fest. You know the setup: five stages, lots of food vendors, drink tickets, wrist bands, too many bands with too little changeover time, and multiple sound companies all subbing gear from each other to cover the event. All varieties of loudspeaker boxes, amps and consoles, all of the name brands you read about on this site or in Live Sound International magazine. (As I always say, “There is no bad gear any more.” Even the worst stuff today was somebody’s A-plus rig 10 years ago.)

Suddenly comes the dreaded POP-BOOM-THUD. The house music stops and a hush falls over the PA. We all know that feeling of time standing still when the PA goes completely dark.

Now, I don’t panic because it’s not my problem, I’m just in the band. I go about getting my band mates onstage and set up (in other words, herding cats), then hand off our stage plot to the monitor engineer, asking him to take a look after they get the rig running again. No pressure. A few minutes later THUD-BOOM-POP as the PA springs back to life.

It’s easy to say “those guys are idiots.” But that’s neither the real issue nor the solution. Turns out the digital console was sitting on some road cases, and when the house tech returned from a BBQ break, he tripped over the power supply’s AC cable. Console off. Any of you who work with digital consoles know they take a while to boot up again.

But as a mere guitar player in the band, let me tell you that it doesn’t matter if it’s a guitar amp or a house console: get a UPS, run the power cable where it can’t get stepped on, and tie it to an immovable object so it can’t get unplugged.

You can have the highest tech gear in the world, but if it gets unplugged, it doesn’t work. That’s why the troubleshooting portion of every product manual from a washing machine to a hairdryer says “is it plugged in?”

Listening Is A Skill

Long ago, a famous acoustic guitar picker I was so looking forward to working with told me to give him an SM57 for his guitar. But I’d already made a special trip to borrow a really nice studio condenser mic to use on his legendary pre-war Martin D28 dreadnought guitar. “I’m really going to take care of this guy and show him how it’s done right.”

He took one look at that high-end mic and said, “Nope. I want an SM57.” After I gave him all the reasons why the mic I brought would be better, he replied, “I like an SM57. I know what it does. I know where to stand. I know what it sounds like in my monitor. Just put a 57 out there for me and I’ll take care of the rest.”

By giving him a mic he knew, he was able to perform at his best without having to worry about an unfamiliar pickup pattern and strange overtones from his monitor. He could just play and forget about the tech side of things. Lesson learned.

So, a few weeks later, I’m setting up my guitar amp, which I’ve spent years tweaking to get all of the sounds needed for this band. My volume level is sound tech friendly, and all of my pedals are tuned to stay within a few dB of each other for subtle dynamic and tonal changes. The mix engineer gets an optimal signal and thus can spend his afternoon ignoring me and running the faders for the other musicians.

The sound company’s mic of choice was a popular contemporary dynamic model that’s simply too full and warm for the sound I’m going for within the context of a seven-piece blues rock band that includes sax, harmonica, a fat B3 organ sound, as well as two folks playing percussion at times along with a drummer.

This mic was fine for the multiple 80s tribute quartets that had been on before us. You know these bands: guitars, bass, oversize drums, and an androgynous lead singer. Everyone in black T-shirts in the brutal Midwest sun, “Ready to party!”

I asked the young stage tech to give me an SM57 instead. Incredulous, he responded, “This is for the house engineer. This is what he wants.” I replied, “I’m the guitar player; this is for me. My amp sounds best with an SM57.”

“We don’t have another one,” came his caustic response. Me: “OK, do you have an SM58 (basically the same mic with a windscreen)?” He gave me the evil eye as he left to scrounge up an SM57, which he basically threw in front of my amp. (At least he put it on a stand, instead of just hanging it off the amp handle.)

Moments later I sound checked my amp through the PA, running through my five most used tones in about two minutes. The house engineer reports back through the wedges, “Perfect. Next let’s hear some keys.” A recording of the show confirmed my guitar sounded like it should. I rest my case.

If a player in the band makes a reasonable request for a specific mic, try going with it. Maybe that musician has done the research and knows from years of experience just how it works – or maybe it’s superstition or wanting to feel secure. Whatever the reason, try listening and then collaborating, and you just might get a better show and an easier day.


Read the rest of this post


About Gary

Gary Gand
Gary Gand

President, Gand Music & Sound
Gary has been designing and mixing sound for 40 years and is president of Gand Concert Sound, Elk Grove Village IL., just west of Chicago.


Have something to say about this PSW content? Leave a comment!

Scroll past the ”Post Comment” button below to view any existing comments. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Tagged with:

Subscribe to Live Sound International

Subscribe to Live Sound International magazine. Stay up-to-date, get the latest pro audio news, products and resources each month with Live Sound.