Study Hall

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The PA Trifecta: Handing Off A Live System That Checks Out

No matter what the back-story, the guy or gal coming in only wants to know that it works and works properly...

Instead, too often, I’m treated to wildly different responses coupled with the now absolutely classic (and I actually have this printed on a T-shirt), “worked fine last night…” This statement is usually uttered with a spectacular amount of affected indifference.

My retort, now equally worn out, is a paraphrasing of a statement made by a very good friend of mine years ago—to wit; “the only difference between last night and tonight is you.” Takin’ it right to third grade…

I guess, given my nature, what I really want is intense concern. You know, a significant “Hmmm…” from the system tech, a quick confab with his second, and a suggestion to me that I go get a coconut donut and all will be better when I return.

It’s how I handle the situation when I‘m the system guy. Abject internal mortification coupled with a smooth verbal map of the directions to catering.

Then, engineer properly shooed… warp 3 triage. After all, whether you own everything or work for a PA company, when the keys are handed off to a guest engineer, you are effectively saying, “I’ve checked this through and it meets with my approval”.

If something is wrong, three things are assumed: 1) You didn’t check it through carefully enough; 2) The problem is beyond your skill level; 3) You own your own big floppy shoes and red nose and “know what? I think they match my cape very nicely.”

In all fairness, I’ve been handed rigs by a shop that I had no part in prepping. Many times it was as if the shop manager sat me down, looked deeply into my eyes and told me he was putting a long piece of splintery two by four in the truck and I would know what to do with it when the time came.

On days like that it’s sometimes easier to introduce myself as the LD who’s actually only helping out with sound… but I can’t. No matter what the back-story, the guy or gal coming in today only wants to know that it works and works properly. No excuses. My reputation that day will be tied to the functioning state of that rig.

But back to the “L&R and which one of these things is not like the other.” There are, without a doubt, very subjective aspects of our field. What sounds good to one person may sound like two ferrets mamboing on glass to another.

Equally there are simply some cold hard objective facts as well. Things like… your PA is not time aligned. That is a trademark. (If time could be aligned, I’d be rich and you would be my slave.

I’d also have a giant Sweet Tart dispenser in my bedroom. Or should 13 of 26 drivers be blown on one side of the PA finding half out of polarity on the other side does not make things a wash and give you time for a nap.

Without tuning this into a very special episode, here’s my basic idea. Before anyone you could look foolish in front of shows up (excluding video), turn the PA on and listen to it.

Even if it sounded great last night, do a band-pass check and then turn the whole thing on together. If it sounds different, now’s a great time to figure out why. If the PA is flown, press the big button under the down arrow on the motor control. You might as well check this ahead of time since you really only have a two in five chance somebody won’t say something later.

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Here’s another tip. If you’re running late and have just discovered a discrepancy; tell the band engineer straight up, “Hey, there’s something here I need to sort out, sorry. Can you give me a couple minutes?”

Say this even if it’s a complete lie and you have no idea what’s wrong. I guarantee if the guy (or gal) is qualified and professional, they will immediately add 10 “attaboys” into your petty cash fund just for caring.

Look earnest enough and they might even get you water and do helpful things like tell road stories that have no bearing on anything except tacitly coupling their name with someone famous. (Ooooh… just the thought of it makes me yearn for tomorrow.)

I’m attending a meeting later this week with all of the band engineers on the planet. After the pre-screening (just like at the airport except it weeds out whining, complaining, and technically incompetent FOH guys), I’ll shout over the gate to the three people that make it through and discuss these issues with them.

Here’s my proposal; I’ll try and get them not torture your PA so badly that it gets in a snit and stomps off, if all the system engineers on the planet vow to stop trying the Jedi mind trick on us when we walk in…

“There is nothing wrong with this PA, let us pass… there is nothing wrong with this PA, let us pass.”

As the kids say… Peace. I hope they mean it.

Sully is a veteran live sound engineer who now works with L-Acoustics.

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