With the summer touring season upon us once again, there’s no time like the present to review the contents of our front of house first aid kit. I’m sure it contains some high SPF sunscreen for those open-air shows and walks on the amphitheater lawn, mosquito repellent to ward off uninvited pests (and posers) at the mix area, and plenty of water and Gatorade in the FOH cooler to stay hydrated.
However, does it also include an EAP (emergency action plan) in place for changing weather conditions that can adversely affect the sound of the mix?
No matter what type of venue you’re working, there are many factors that can affect the sound of the mix relative to where we’re listening. Since we’re generally planted firmly at the FOH area during the show with little chance to wander, let’s focus on that location and look at a few variables that can wildly affect how things sound at show time compared to when we last heard the band at sound check.
Weather is not usually an issue with indoor shows because the chances of being slammed by thunderstorms with sideways rain and wind are nil. However, temperature and humidity changes throughout the day often occur, especially during a winter arena tour with the ice down on the arena floor (yay hockey!) and the loading dock doors open most of the morning in comparison to show time when a nice warm audience settles into their seats.
Another highly significant variable audio “adjuster” is an empty concrete arena floor at sound check versus lots of bodies and seats at show time.
Whether mixing a large tour in sheds and amphitheaters or local events in a band shell or the open air, we can all relate to the sudden swings in conditions that mother nature can and often does provide. We can take steps to prepare and protect the equipment from rain and direct sunlight, but how can we protect our mixes from going sideways when that storm front pushes through?
Start by taking the advice of Alexander Graham Bell: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” In that spirit, let’s break down approaches to weather, element by element.
Wind. Ever tried to lock in the overall frequency response (especially the high-end portion) of the PA when the wind is whipping and shifting? It’s maddening and usually futile. What we can do, however, is stay in the moment and accept that there’s not much that can be done.
It helps to settle on a “nominal” PA tuning and ride it out, meaning what does the PA sound like when the wind dies for a moment or two? Does it sound about right? Then don’t fight it. Realize that when the wind gusts the high end will swell for a moment and then fall away, and our job is simply to hold onto the ship’s wheel and lower the main sail.