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Keeping The Gig: Opportunities To Excel While Earning Artist Trust

Remind yourself that your role is just making it louder -- you’re not the famous rock star...

By Danny Abelson September 8, 2014

Dave Natale

We’re continuing our discussions with veteran independent touring engineer Dave Natale, this time focusing on strategies for keeping your front of house gig. (See earlier installments here and here.)

Dave’s worked in the industry for decades and has demonstrated the ability to survive in very high profile settings. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts from Dave to consider for surviving the political minefield.

Understand The Situation
It may seem blatantly obvious, but many of us have encountered mixes where we flat-out doubt if the person mixing actually knows what their doing. While there may be the occasional politically-connected “imposter,” successful house engineers appreciate that getting the majority of decision-makers on their side is key to keeping your job.

According to Dave: “It’s totally subjective. It doesn’t matter if you think you can mix, it only matters how most of the band and management feel about your mixes. Maybe I can’t mix, but as long as just one more person on the team thinks that I can, as opposed to the ones that don’t, I’ll still have a job. Your client’s decision to keep you in that chair could be as simple as that.

“Here’s a totally different example. Readers who were fortunate enough to hear a Roger Waters show recently will probably agree with me that Trip Khalaf did a wonderful job at front of house. If you ask my opinion, I’ll tell you it sounded absolutely fantastic. In this case, maybe 80 percent of those in the know think he can mix, and perhaps 20 percent feel otherwise, but there’s no doubting he’s in his rightful place at front of house.

Learn The Music
“Before a tour, your homework is to learn the music. You simply can’t mix well if you don’t know the cues, and that means knowing the music. I prefer not to learn a band’s music from the records, but rather in rehearsals. You can’t rely on the records because the band isn’t going to play it like that, so it isn’t going to sound like that. To me, this is self-explanatory.

“If your artist has a decent budget and can afford to rehearse for a week to 10 days, that’s a great opportunity to learn the music. For me, that’s plenty of time. There is no substitute for preparation. Initially at rehearsals, I have a legal pad and take a lot of notes, a page for each song. I’m writing like crazy, noting details, including solos, backing vocals, which keyboards are played on a particular song, and so on.

“By the third day my paper is filled up and I’m prepared to transition to building mixes and getting some sounds. This only works if the band is disciplined and works through the material consistently. And usually by the fifth day, I understand the songs, have some basic mixes in place, and practice my cueing.

“One of the reasons I use a big pair of speakers in an isolated room during band rehearsals is that they really help me learn the music, particularly the sounds, and what the final product is supposed to sound like. It gives me a reference and some confidence going into my first show that I know the material and have a reasonable foundation to start with. This preparation is essential to making a strong first impression, and a good first impression is essential to retaining employment.

Know The PA
“You must understand what you can and can’t do with your PA. What are the limits, quirks, and dead spots? It’s really in your favor to know this. Your client may ask you about something, and if you don’t know the rig inside and out, you may not be able to answer the question.

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