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The author’s monitor mix position for Festival Melodije morja in sonca.

Diary Of A Festival: Mixing Monitors At Meloije Morja In Sonca In Slovenija

A in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the painstaking preparation required in the runup to a nationally broadcast live music event.

This summer I was commissioned to mix monitors at the Festival Melodije morja in sonca (Melodies of the Sea and the Sun or MMS for short) in Portorož, Slovenija. It’s a live music event directly broadcast by the national TV and radio stations where a group of artists, backed by a house band, present new music and compete for prizes. I was there as a part of the PA rental company team that provided sound reinforcement at the venue and in-ear monitoring for the performers.

Preparation Process

Before the event even started, I started collecting information on the music that would be performed, gear to be used and other crucial information that would help enable me to do my job well. About a week before setup we had a production team meeting where we decided on the monitor console – a DiGiCo SD9 with two D-Racks fed from an analog 3-way splitter. (The other two outputs went to the broadcast truck and the front of house console, each post having its own control of the gains for preamps).

We were informed by the producers that the house band was going to mix its own IEMs, but they needed a mix from me containing the vocals of the featured performers, presenters and communication channels. I decided early on that I needed a multitrack recording of this event because I wanted to have the option of refining the mixes as well as to have an archive of all the mixes sent to the transmitters. After all, this is a competition, and I wanted a clear reference of how all the mixes sounded throughout the rehearsal period until the main show in case any complaints were made.

A DiGiGrid MGB interface was connected to the console and fed my tracks into a Reaper session on my laptop. The performing artist mixes went to Sennheiser G3 IEM systems, and we had doubled all the bodypacks. We were told that no more than five performers would be on the stage at any time, so we specified eight systems (five for the artists, one for my CUE system and two backups).

A stereo monitor wedge system was also placed on the stage in case there were issues with the IEMs and a switch had to be made quickly. Because the provided PA system utilized d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers, we opted for d&b M4 wedges (two on stage and one as my cue wedge).

We received the input list, and I prepared a session file in the offline software, creating a 1:1 patch on one layer (60 inputs total) and then setting up a custom layer that included quick access to all my most important channels and functions. Mine was the only console that actually received all the inputs, so I also prepared a few “just in case” buses and mixes (especially for communication, talkback mics, production mics, etc.) that were not specified on the input list but that I thought might come in handy.

I also created a Reaper session with all the track names, listened to all the songs by the featured artists, and made notes on tempo and general feel of each song. I double checked all my gear and waited for the event.

Sennheiser wireless system racked up and covered against the elements, topped by a DiGiCo SD-Rack.

Setup Day

I arrived at the venue at 9 am on a hot Wednesday morning. The PA was already deployed and calibrated for the most part, the stage was ready, and the crews from the national radio and TV were already on site. We decided on the location of the monitor console, checked on the location of the splitter unit, and started setting up the consoles, IEM systems, wedges and all the connections between various locations and departments.

My primary goal for the day was to have everything connected and verified, and, most importantly, getting the multitrack recording ready before 2 pm, when the band would arrive for their line check. During setup I ran into an issue with Waves SoundGrid Studio, which didn’t allow more than 32 channels of recording. Rather than chasing down the problem, I knew that 32 channels would be enough to record the band, so I proceeded to the IEM packs, programming them and making sure they were operating properly.

The frequency coordination was done by the TV crew since they were also using their wireless microphone as well as additional IEM systems for the presenters. With my session file loaded on the console, I routed the channels for the recording and made sure all the channel signals showed up properly in Reaper. I checked that my CUE bus was set up properly, since I ran it through a Matrix Out to have the ability to add communication channels on top of that.

Then the band arrived and informed me of some minor changes to the input list. I patched and named the new channels (that were only used for monitoring), and we checked that the mixes I was sending to the band were patched correctly. I started the recording and then set the input gains on the console.

I decided to go with the “faders at 0” approach, which allows me to quickly see what is going on with the mixes just by looking at the faders. I adjusted the gains during line check and made corrections during the first song they performed. Then I kept an eye on the signals in Reaper, making sure they were all being captured correctly and that everything was appearing where it needed to be.

The band only performed three, maybe four songs, but it gave us enough material to work with for the initial setup. After the band left, we took a lunch break, which doubled as a quick production meeting where we detailed our schedule for the rest of the day and the tasks that still needed to be done.

At about 5:30 pm I returned to the venue, ran the multitrack, and started mixing the band on the console on my CUE bus. I was listening on my Ultimate Ears Custom Pro 7 earphones, which I’m familiar with, and was able to get the sound relatively good quite fast.

After about two hours I took a short break, then returned to the console and started mixing on a pair of Sennheiser earphones that I knew most of the users would be employing. My original mix had no corrections on the bus EQs, and for the Sennheiser mix, I made an EQ curve on the bus parametric EQ.

Still not satisfied, I engaged the graphic EQ on the buses for two more filters and saved the presets. I copied the presets to my bus EQs and turned them off. That way I could keep them off for the users that might be using their own custom fit earphones and engage them for the users wearing the earphones that were provided by the national radio.

Since it was now already 11 pm, I saved my work to three locations (the console, USB drive and my computer), and we covered everything with a tarp for the night to protect the gear from the weather – the venue has a roof, but it doesn’t cover the offstage area where we were located.

Our lodgings were just 30 seconds away from the venue, which was great. We had a short team meeting and called it a night at about 1 am.

Rehearsal Day

I arrived at the venue at about 8:30 in the morning, prepped my station, made sure everything was in working order, and then focused on the two remaining issues from the previous day. The first was the 32-channel limitation for the recording, which was easily fixed after a few minutes of online research by simply setting the driver for the SoundGrid Studio to 64 channels.

The second was iPad remote control of the SD9 console. I couldn’t get it running the first day, but it took me just a few minutes the second day to realize that I’d made a typo in the DNS server line on my iPad. Since I now had the ability to have OSC commands for remote control, I programmed more Macros that I could run from the iPad.

Next, I rechecked my mixes from the previous day, made minor corrections and copied my CUE bus mix to all other mixes. Then, I went through all the frequencies for the IEM packs, did a walk test of the stage and the venue, repositioned the antennas slightly because of the vicinity of the LED wall, repeated the walk test and then checked all the wireless mic systems, making sure their inputs were coming into their corresponding channels on my board and in Reaper. I then did a quick backup mix for the wedges on stage before the other crews started arriving so that I wouldn’t disturb them as I was playing the mixes on stage.

About an hour before rehearsals with the performing artists started, I received a request from the percussionist of the house band, asking if I could handle his IEM mix as well. He had about 11 mics on his rig and was only receiving the overheads in his mix, which prevented him from performing with proper dynamics. So, I took one of the backup IEM lines and together we created a mix for him with the help of the multitrack. I made a note of checking with him as well during the rehearsal process and saved my work.

How it looked from monitorland during rehearsals in the run-up to show time.

Rehearsals started at 1 pm, with each performing artist given 40 minutes to sound check and get a basic IEM mix. I made sure I was recording all takes of the rehearsal and placed a marker on the last take of the recording for future reference, and also created a snapshot for every performer and did a “blind mix,” which was basically what I thought they needed in their ears.

Then, as each performing artist group took the stage to rehearse, I introduced myself to them, checked which type of earphones they were using and asked if they had any preferences for their IEM mixes. This also gave me a sense of how well versed the performers were in terms of using IEMs – for some of them, it was a completely new experience.

Back at my console, as the first group started playing, I dialed in gain settings for their mics and set the levels for their mixes. Taking instructions from the them and listening in on the mixes, we were able to quickly get a good balance. I didn’t really dive into the details, but rather just wanted to get a great starting point, observe each act, and make notes on what they needed to hear in terms of timing and pitch reference.

Then I saved the snapshots, the crew took note of their beltpack volume settings, and we went to the next group. We devised a system where my AUX 1 mix was always the lead vocalist (or if there was a duo, then AUX 1 and 2 would be used). We also always used the first microphone of the set for my lead, all the rest of the mics (and AUX lines) would then be distributed in the ascending order from stage right to stage left. Keeping a consistent system meant that I could keep my focus on the sound and not really think about which mix was the correct one for every performer.

Rehearsals kept running until almost 11 pm and they went quite smoothly. After that I did a backup of my disk with all the recordings, saved and backed up my session files, and secured everything for the night.

Rehearsal Day 2

It was just past 8 am and I was already on set. After an initial “pre-flight” check I went through all the snapshots and virtual soundchecks and dialed in the details. I didn’t change any of the levels, just doing some minor dynamic EQ corrections to tame some of the sibilance or low mid buildup, adjusting the panning for the vocals so that the stereo image was balanced, and making a backup mix in the wedges on stage.

Since we repositioned the wedges due to a request from the director of the TV show, I had to adjust the mixes and make sure the levels were still correct. I also had to prepare another IEM mix for an act that wasn’t a part of the competition but was the entertainment for the duration of the voting period.

At 1 pm, rehearsals continued, as we still had two more performing artists to work with, plus do all of the mixes for the opening number of the show. We finished everything by 4 pm, then had a lunch break. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, then headed back before everyone else arrived so that I could also get the backup mixes in place for the new acts in the wedges and run through the details for the final two performing artists.

At 5 pm we had a preliminary run-through of the show. Some of the artists from the previous day came to me after their performances because they weren’t completely happy with their mixes. We listened to the recordings and made appropriate adjustments. After everyone was happy, we got ready for the main run-through rehearsal, scheduled for 9 pm.

I took a short break, having been mixing for more than 10 hours at that point, and then got ready. At the time the session was supposed to start, we received news that one of the broadcasting vans had issues with power and that they needed time to reroute their power cables. They couldn’t provide an estimate of how long this would take, so all crews were kept on standby. I saved my work and made sure I was set for a possible power shut down.

And then we waited… and waited… and waited some more. After about an hour and a half, things were finally up and running again, and we began going through all the performing artists. For one of them, I discovered a programming error (my snapshot didn’t unmute all the mics and one of the singer’s mics was on mute for the first verse of the song).

After their run I apologized to them for my mistake, reassuring them that it would be resolved by the next day and offering another rehearsal with the multitrack if they needed it. They were really gracious and didn’t take me up on my offer.

Following that, another performing artist approached me and claimed that the sound was totally different from the previous setup. I told them to see me right after the run-through was finished so we could correct it, but I was bewildered because I didn’t hear anything different in my pack when running the show.

We finished the run-through by midnight and then worked with the artist that had complained by deploying the multitrack. My best guess was that the volume setting on their packs was different, since there were no other changes that we made. Nevertheless, we put the them back on stage, ran the multitrack, and had them perform the song a few more times to make sure everything was great in their ears.

We were all exhausted, but I knew that if we postponed this until the next day, they would be nervous, and our goal was to make sure everyone had the best possible experience. I also did my best to calm everyone down and reassure them that we’d eliminated all chances of anything going wrong and that they would have a pleasant experience for the show. I packed up everything for the night and got to bed at about 2:30 am.

Performance Day

I arrived the venue a little later that day, about 9 am, knowing that I didn’t have much to do on my end. I checked my rig, ran through all the snapshots and the recordings from the previous day and ran through the script one more time, making sure all my notes were in order.

Then I hung out with the FOH engineer, who was dialing in the last details of the mixes. I suggested a few minor corrections because I had a pretty clear image of how the arrangements sounded. We made sure everything was ready for the live transmission and also made plans for the load-out process so that we would be efficient after the show.

Organizing inputs, snapshots and more.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat and at about 4 pm I got news that one of the performing artists was changing the backing vocal lineup, which meant I needed to change the settings in their mix. After that, some of the artists did another quick sound check, and we had a few more corrections needed for their mixes, which then were saved into the snapshots.

We took a short break about an hour before the show, and I took a quick yet refreshing shower. Four days of working in extreme heat and the hours we were putting in were starting to take their toll, but I knew I’d be all right once the adrenalin of the live show kicked in.

At 9 pm the show started, and from my point of view, it went off without a hitch. There were no complaints from the artists, everyone was in high spirits, and most of them stopped by after the show to thank the crew for their work.

I can’t stress enough how this entire production was a team effort. Without the help and support of all the teams that worked on the show, none of it would have happened. I was again reminded how closely we must work with people that we barely know or are meeting for the first time in these stressful situations and how much a positive attitude, saying please and thank you, and treating each other with drinks, snacks and kind words can bring everyone closer.

When the show ended, I saved my work for the final time and started packing my gear. Within two hours the entire PA system was loaded on trucks and ready to be shipped out. I packed my bags at the hotel and went home that night, exhausted yet proud of our team and the work we had done.

After The Show

A few days later I finished the project by backing up all my files and recordings and writing out a technical analysis, in which I briefly discussed all the issues that we encountered at the venue for this particular show and ways of correcting or eliminating them. Since this is an annual event, these notes might come in quite handy if I get called back next year, and even if I don’t, I’m happy to share them with anyone who might need them in the future.

It was a wonderful experience, and to be honest, after a year of not doing live events of such magnitude, it felt a bit more tasking than I’m used to. But I believe we all succeeded in not only providing our technical skills to the best of our abilities, but also in creating a pleasant and welcoming environment where everyone felt respected and taken care of – in my book that’s an even greater achievement.

Thanks to all the members of the live sound crew, the national radio and TV crew, and everyone who made the event possible – it was my pleasure to work with all of you.

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