A recent assignment placed me behind a monitor console once again. It had been a while since I stage-mixed on a regular basis, so I enjoyed the change of scenery. But this end of the snake presents a very different challenge from a front of house mix or a system engineering position.
Here, the fruits of my labors were not intended for the masses, but rather, were tailored to specific individuals and each of his or her needs, wants, desires… and idiosyncrasies. And yes, IEM has fully come of age, but not everyone will go there.
Here are some of my rules for setting up successful stage mixes.
To me, the first and most important stage-mixing rule is to understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish. (As with most things in life!)
The objective is for the player or artist to hear what they need or want to hear, in a way that makes sense to them. Do not confuse this with the idea that you are there to make it sound good to you! The two do not necessarily coincide. Wedge mixes do not generally sound like front of house mixes.
Face it; on a one-off with an unfamiliar band all you can do is give it your best shot. If it’s a couple of folks with acoustic guitars, you’re probably “in there.” If it’s Godzilla meets Metalhead, well… set up accordingly.
If you’re going on tour with a band, try to find out as much as possible about them. Perhaps the guy who was sitting in the seat before you got there would be a good place to start.
Make a plan, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel on the first day. Many musicians get used to their mixes sounding a certain way, and right or wrong be prepared to leave it that way. But if you’re lucky enough to tour with some receptive players, you’ll have plenty of time to try different things and fine-tune your “stage sound” as you go!
First Things First
Assuming this is a tour, you’ll probably receive information about what goes in to the mixes, but it’s best to speak directly to the band members if possible. This is your starting point. Following that initial information, you set up for your first sound check.
When they begin playing and I am comfortable with my initial mixes, the next thing I like to do is walk around to the various positions and listen. I mean really LISTEN carefully to what everyone is hearing. It will change as you move around depending on your proximity to various instruments, amplifiers and wedges.
It may change from song to song depending on the volume of the instruments. Make mental notes of what you hear. This will be the foundation for building a successful “stage sound” later.
You must also play psychiatrist a bit and try to get inside the player’s heads.
It’s important to understand the difference between a guy who will ask for his guitar in the wedge in front of him while standing in front of a Marshall stack turned up to eleven, and the guy who wants a taste of the keyboards because they are on the opposite side of the stage. If it’s all about volume and ego… (fill in the blank).