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Old School Rules: Talking With Dave Natale About Mixing, Systems, Life & More

Catching up with a legendary front of house mixer, most recently pushing faders for The Rolling Stones, for a “pro to pro” conversation.
Dave Natale at his favored Yamaha PM4000 analog console. (Photo by Steve Jennings)

DN: I like to say in the old days we used to do concerts – now we do shows. A concert is a musical event, a show is a spectacle and there’s also some music that accompanies it. The emphasis these days is on the staging, set, lighting, video and choreography.

In my humble opinion the entire reason that an act is on the road is because the public “hears” their music and wants to hear them perform live. More often than not, the position of the PA is determined by the real estate that another department wants or “needs” as opposed to placing the PA system in it’s optimum position.

Pro Tools should be limited to recording the performance only. In my opinion there’s way too much reliance on tracks being played back during shows. More times than not it’s being used as a crutch. I would just like to point out at this time that I’ve never had the displeasure to mix a band that uses Pro Tools. All of the artists that I’ve had the good fortune to mix are “old school bands” that actually sang and played all of the content.

I have, however, mixed two or three bands that have a few “effects” tracks playing or the one odd song where there are horns or keys, for example. That’s acceptable. This, to me, is a legitimate reason to run tracks. I wouldn’t expect an artist to go to the expense of hiring a horn section or a keyboard player for maybe one song a night.

JY: Dave, this has been really fun. I’d love to close by asking you to share a personal favorite story about audio and/or your career in the music business.

DN: Once I was doing rehearsals for a band and I was in a separate room mixing through monitors and recording it. The band’s manager came in and gave me a tape to play.

When the band finished they came into the control room. I played the tape that the manager had given me and one of the band members stood up and said, “Stop the tape. Dave, what we have here is a very bad-sounding mix of rehearsals.”

As hard as it was, I waited and then replied, “Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that you feel that way, but that was not my tape of rehearsals, it was the mix of the new album that your manager just handed me and asked me to play.”

JY: Legends always have the best stories! Thanks so much Dave.

Following our conversation, I received this postscript from Dave:

I just want to say here for the record that these are all solely my opinions and I will be the first to admit that I’m a single-minded, block-headed, hair-triggered, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, politically-incorrect and highly-intolerant jackass. Yes, that’s right – a jackass! Anyone that has spent any amount of time with me knows that. This is not a fashion show or a popularity contest.

I don’t jump on bandwagons nor do I pay any attention nor care about current audio “trends.” I defend the audio position of my clients vehemently, and just get the job done to the best of my ability, daily circumstances of the gig notwithstanding.

I’m an old school audio guy and as such I am not really interested in lighting, video, set, designs, choreography or any other production “elements” because when I started in this business, there was none. There was backline, sound and lights. To me the only thing that exists is the sound because as far as any band is concerned it all starts with a song that has a sound and its popularity that ultimately caused a band to be on tour. Not anything else.

People that hire me hopefully do so because they want good sound. I try my damnedest to deliver that with single-minded determination at every show that I mix.

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