Technology in professional audio (and technology in general) has changed so much and so quickly that it’s become difficult to get up to speed and stay up to date. The learning curve for some aspects of what we do is quite steep and appears to be accelerating.
Analog consoles are challenging enough, but the number-crunching digital beasts are even more complex. We hardly used wireless 20 years ago, now it’s everywhere. Outboard effects have become plugins, and what were once knobs and buttons have become virtual knobs and buttons on tablet computers. And so on.
Yet other things haven’t changed. The laws of physics, for example (and despite the advertising claims of many), remain a constant, as do many of the truly fundamental concepts and skills.
Let’s add some context by focusing on specific aspects and situations.
Power & Grounding
“No power, no anything. That’s not exactly how my electronics teacher put it, but you get the idea.”
“Expertise in electrical power is important, but when I started touring, I had very little knowledge about it.”
Fortunately, some veterans helped me make it my business to learn, in particular Joe Dougherty, who had experience with these things from a very practical background of “doing it.” (Joe has gone on to work with Clair Brothers.)
One thing that I did bring to the table, even then, was an understanding of power supplies and how they work. The combination of this “book” knowledge, combined with OJT (on the job training) and people willing to teach resulted in my having just enough knowledge about power systems to know to get experts involved with anything critical. It doesn’t matter if it’s an analog, digital, or quantum sound system—power matters, and clean power is really important for good sound.
Grounding is related to power, but is another specialization, really. You can be doing everything right in supplying adequate, clean power to a system, but if the grounding’s not right, audio quality is in peril (usually from hum and buzz).
The transition from wedges to “ears” has been a major shift in the way we do sound. IEM has radically improved things on stage, from less cable to lower stage volume.
At the same time, it’s introduced new challenges. Monitor engineers and techs must have solid knowledge of wireless and everything that goes with it. They also need to be able to satisfy artists who can’t hear the audience or other musicians clearly.
Regardless, though, monitor engineers still have to have the right personality and temperament to deal with what can be such a high-pressure situation. Basically, if the artist isn’t happy, the engineer isn’t doing the job well enough, but if the artist doesn’t say anything, then the engineer is probably doing quite well, thank you.
Many monitor mixers end up doing front of house once the artist realizes that “this person gets it.” So get your head around wireless systems and high-end earbuds, but don’t forget who the boss is and where your paycheck comes from.