Well I just got back from mixing at a 3 day festival. I have almost 20 years behind the board, my cohorts had lots of experience too. We had a “state of the art” PA, it was large enough for headroom and very high quality, we had great, self powered monitors, top of the line mixers and mics… Even the cable was the highest quality!
Yet, for the majority of the bands there the experience was only marginal. Now, I am as sorry to have to say this as you may be surprised to read it. “Why?” a thoughtful person might ask.
The answer is very simple, and its not what you may think. A lot of these bands are like the majority of bands that gig, or may go into the studio in that they are not to the point where they have proper management, or even a representative. When asked to supply advance information often there was little beyond a stage plot. When asked about things like mix preferences or who likes what and how, we were greeted with blank stares. They had never been asked this before and had no idea how to reply. A lot of them simply said, “Man, I dunno- just mix us please.” Talk about being on the spot!
When you come to the gig (or session) without presenting clear communication to the production people around you, it is a guarantee for dissatisfaction. During a festival there are no “sound checks.” The poor monitor engineer has been there for 12 hours without a break already, and he has only heard a few of your songs maybe a couple of times at best. He doesn’t know not to put that wedge there because your keyboard player is nearly deaf in that ear, or that if the lead vocalist hears the slightest bit of bass guitar though the PA on stage he will fly into a public temper tantrum. Frowns all around, and the worst part is that your first gig in front of that many people has gone from an unforgettable moment of joy to an unforgettable night in hell.
Meanwhile, the next act’s point person approaches the mixer, smiles, holds out his hand and says “Hi, I’m Robert with. I have a few things you are going to want to be aware of. They need the lead vocal spread around, the tall blonde projects way louder than the other backing singers so watch her, they need kick in the drum wedge and sidefills, but not the front vocal wedges, the clarinet player needs more of the sax than the clarinet- the sax player needs them to be even and they need to hear the sampler loud and proud. Also, the acoustic guitar is going to be annoying at 5Khz, you might want to bring it down a bit. We need a 120ms. slap echo with one repeat (think Elvis) on the lead vocals.
There – in the 5 minutes while they are setting up their instruments they now have their monitors set up for them, the front of house engineer knows what effects are appropriate, and in just a couple of minutes into the first song the entire act is solid and they are playing a great set. All because of a little communication.