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Reality Check: Interesting Times

On working for a support band on tour, including a visit from "Mr. Murphy"
This article is provided by SoundGirls.org

 
While continuing the journey to find my niche in this industry, I’m being exposed to many new things.

One of which is booking a front of house gig with a band that is supporting a well-known band doing underplay shows around the U.S.

Working with a support band is new to me – previously I’ve only worked with the headliner, mixing or as a system tech.

I took this gig with a whole slew of assumptions about how we, as a support band, would be treated, and you know what they say about assuming things…

Initially, I was super excited.

The prospect of mixing front of house with another, more seasoned (A-list if you will) engineer on the headliner’s crew filled my head with ideas of chatting about compression ratios and multiband compression and FX processing. I was to share the beautiful DiGiCo SD10, a console that I’ve toured with in the past as a monitor tech for Queens of the Stone Age. I was excited to get some time on a great console, with the consistency of at least traveling with our own mics and the same board at every show.

Hello Mr. Murphy
What could possibly go wrong? Well, seemingly everything, and immediately so. The hardest part for me was not being able to tech my own gear. For the very first show, the headliner’s front of house had graciously created a file for me, with inputs labeled and FX built in. Amazing. I was so stoked!

Unfortunately, as things tend to go as a support band, our allotted sound check time came, and we weren’t allowed on deck. Of course, that meant the console was not mine to fiddle with either. So we waited and waited, and then waited some more. I’ve played this game before, except on the other side. The headliner needs more time to nail down the IEM mixes or to add a song, requiring extra rehearsal time, etc.

But hey, it’s cool. I knew the PA (a beautiful d&b audiotechnik J-Series rig), and I knew the console. Even a half-hearted “throw and go” could sound great with those two components on the back end.

Finally, with about a half hour to spare before doors opened, I was given the keys to the rig. I quickly tuned it, which was just like old times with the d&b system, and the stage was pinned and ready to go. I called for the kick drum over talkback, and this was when the fun began.

“Kick drum please.” Silence. Open up the preamp, throw on headphones, nothing. Check phantom power, nothing. I turn to the headliner’s engineer, who is also the front of house tech, and ask him if the multi has been switched over because I’m not seeing/hearing signal. He calls up to his tech on stage, who confirms that we are in fact in the appropriate stage rack and are fully patched. Odd. The headliner’s engineer steps over and starts making some patching changes.

We get the first eight channels sorted; I have almost all of my drum kit coming up. Time is slipping by, and I’m now in line check mode. Confirm that the correct audio is popping up on the right channel and move on, since we barely have any time left before doors.

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Then we move onto channel nine. Nope, no signal. WTF is happening? Stay calm. I look to the headliner’s engineer and ask if he can have the stage tech please confirm the patch is correct because my overhead is definitely not coming up on channel nine. After many minutes and many, many soft patches, it becomes apparent that the stage rack is patched completely wrong and in addition to the mispatches, there’s also a bad card! Yikes.

Power Of Perseverance
Somehow, we managed to get all of my inputs to show up on the console where they were supposed to, and I had about 30 seconds of a song before doors opened. Did I mention that this was my very first show with this band? I’d sat in on rehearsals, so I knew the sources well but had never mixed them before tonight. Needless to say, this was not my favorite way to start a tour.

Throw and goes can be fun, but not when it’s a matter of gross mispatches causing my sound check to be delayed. But I stayed at front of house after doors opened and did some very basic console setup. Turned on compressors, set ratios with the thresholds high. Put high-pass filters on channels where it was appropriate and made sure the EQ was at least turned on. I let management know, very politely, that I would prefer them to give me at least half of the first song before they started giving me “mix notes.”

A few minutes later, our show starts, and I’m flying around the console, tightening gates and lowering compression thresholds. I felt pretty good about the result considering the, uh, chaotic nature of the sound check. My band records every show and gives me mix notes on how to fine tune things for future shows, and thankfully, everyone was very happy with the sound of our first show. Management only had a few suggestions throughout the show, a little boost of this, a little cut of that. All in all, success!

Now You Tell Me…
As it turns out, I learned at the next show that the second stage rack for our patch had been flipped wheels to the sky on top of the primary stage rack. So the headliner’s tech had patched my inputs as if the rack was right side up, meaning not only were my inputs coming up backward in banks of eight, they were also coming up in reverse. So my 1-8 inputs were actually patched into 48-40.

If I’d been allowed to access the stage rack or had time to go on stage myself, I think I probably would’ve realized this issue immediately when the inputs presented themselves so oddly at front of house. But since I was just the support engineer on a shared console, it wasn’t my place to demand access to “their” gear.

Lesson learned.

Chez Stock is FOH and tour manager for several independent artists, including Yuna, Dorothy, and Empress Of. Read more from her at SoundGirls.org.

SoundGirls.Org supports women working in professional audio and music production by highlighting their success and providing a place for them to connect, network, and share advice and experiences, in addition to providing career development and tools to help those working in the field advance in their careers.

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