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Prime Time IEM: A Guide On Seizing A Band’s Late Night TV Show Moment

A step-by-step primer for success from a veteran of more than 960 episodes of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

Show Time
OK, we have a host, we have an audience, and we have a band —let’s make the magic happen. The audience just witnessed a dancing panda bear in Act 4, but now it’s Act 5 and time for your band to make their big TV debut. While you’re backstage getting your “last looks” from makeup, the stage crew is setting the risers and moving all the elements back to the floor exactly where they were from rehearsal some hours ago.

You emerge from a small back room right out into the middle of what seems like the market of a bustling metropolis. Stay focused, young Jedi. Acknowledge the host with a slight wave and smile, but then get right to work. Start doing checks as quickly as possible; tune your instrument, start checking in with your band mates, run a vocal lick or two. Most importantly, turn on your IEM pack and get your molds comfortably situated. It will be a bit cacophonous, but as things settle in and everyone is making their systems work, start to form a decorum.

Get everyone to focus. The house band will be playing through the break. You have eye contact and the world inside your IEMs to find that place of comfort. Look at your band mates, and when it feels like the machine is ready to fire, do a false start on the tracks. Make sure you can hear the intro and count off. I usually run clicks and counts on a TV show just a bit louder than normal in the IEM mix while being mindful of hearing safety.

Don’t Forget. Check Your Levels
What’s not present during camera block is a studio audience cheering. This can throw off the intro of the song and your faces will show it up until the first chorus. And there is nothing worse for a monitor engineer than the obvious “pack reach” during an on air performance. My heart still drops a little even if I’m watching from home. I find it OK to actually play along with the first few bars during the track false start exercise. You’ll know immediately if your IEM pack is at the right level for this situation.

Besides all of the musical things that are in your IEM mix, there will be an additional channel mixed in. This is the “program” channel. Most TV monitor mixers will add in this channel in order for the performers to follow along with what’s happening in the show right before and right after the performance segment. There is nothing better than hearing the intro for your band read by the host in your IEMs. “And here they are….”

This feed is generated from the A1 mixer. The A1 mixer combines all inputs except the individual musical inputs on their console. That console is the final stop before it is married with the video program and sent to air. Further down the line is the TV music mixer. This mixer is in control of all the musical inputs on the show that day. They create a typical mix that would appear on a commercial musical release. This mix is sent to the A1’s console for them to mix in with the rest of the audio program material. Really this is all about division of labor as one mixer wouldn’t be able to tend to the workload of all of those inputs.

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That’s A Wrap
Following your performance, the lights will come up, the host will usually cross to the performance area and throw to a commercial. The audience will applaud and the program feed on the in-studio TV monitors will fade to black. At this point, if it’s a taped performance, the stage manager will cross to you and ask if you’re good with the performance. There is sometimes, but not always, a chance to retake the song and the corrected take can be stitched into the show between the intro and the outro given by the host. The time to decide whether or not to rerun the segment is fleeting.

This brings me to another important organizational element. There needs to be an advocate for the band, either management or front of house engineer, in the Music Mix booth. This is where all decisions of how you will be presented to the public are made. If it’s good in that booth, then it’s the best it can be going to air. Have someone who was at the rehearsals and knows your vision in the booth. The stage manager is waiting for an OK from you on the floor and an OK from the music mixer before moving on to the next piece of the show. Some technical issues can be fixed by flying in elements from rehearsal takes, especially if a click track is used, so make sure to choose your battles carefully. If it feels great on the floor and the mixer says it’s good for them and everyone in the booth is excited, then let the rest fall under the idea that it’s a real live living band playing real live music in front of a real live audience.

At the end of the day, have fun. Having the opportunity to perform on a TV show for the first time is very powerful. It cements a moment in time for your band. I’ve seen some chill-inducing performances. They will live on for a very long time.

Thanks to the In-Ear Monitor International Trade Organization for providing this article. The mission of IEMITO is to advance the use and enjoyment of in-ear monitors. Find out more here.

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