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Mix Blog Live: The Zombie Zone

What do you do when you show up to a gig and the mix position is, uh, less than desirable, and a bunch of headphone-wearing young fans from the show upstairs start wandering in?

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension where there are no audio minds. A dimension where the rules of sight and sound are ignored. You are about to enter The Zombie Zone.

Dates and names have been changed to protect those whose brain cells are few and far between.

We’re getting ready to do a gig in Reno, NV, and way ahead of time I know it’s a weird one. I can’t get anything advanced, the promoter is not returning calls, and two days out I still don’t have contact info for the backline vendor —all the earmarks of aggravation. I’m ready on show day, ready for an adventure.

I walk into the venue and see this view from the mix position…

It’s a lovely overlook of the bar. The problem is that the stage is 90 degrees to the left of the mix position, as shown here:

I guess no one really noticed or cared that engineers mixing a show would hear the P.A. only in their left ear, and would be looking over their shoulder the entire night. Isn’t it bad enough that I have to look over my shoulder some nights when the P.A. is directly in front of me? I briefly consider the idea of setting up some mirrors so I can watch the stage without craning my neck for two hours, but then that’s probably not practical. Maybe I can find a holiday sale on a video camera. Do you think I could get away with adding an on-site chiropractor to the band’s hospitality rider?

The P.A. is absolutely horrendous, even more than I expected when I saw the specs. No amount of EQ stops the high end from slicing off what’s left of my hair. I shudder at the thought of hearing distorted guitars through this system; so I proceed with soundcheck.

Soundcheck goes oaky. Well, not really. One of my techs and I have to patch the stage because the house guy is out of his league dealing with the concept of using a split and a separate desk for monitors. We eventually get it sorted while I fight for parking spots for the band.

Read more Mix Blog Live: Why Does an Advance Have to Be So Difficult?

When the show starts, the audience doesn’t seem to mind the brutal top end, maybe because the patrons at this fine establishment are accustomed to that kind of sound or maybe because they’re deaf. As the show progresses, I notice that the audience is… weird (even for a BÖC show). There are way too many young people, a large portion of whom are women, and many of whom are wearing headphones with illuminated earcups. Why are they wearing cans?

The house sound guy hips me to the fact that there’s another room upstairs and they’re having a silent disco (can I get jumbo shrimp at that silent disco?). As the dance crowd files in, they’re given wireless headphones that access one of three channels, each of which carries the mix from a different DJ.

Our show continues and the fashionable crowd slithers past me as they head for the staircase. It’s hilarious to watch because—depending upon which DJ they are hearing—they’re grooving to very different drummers. When you combine that with the band’s fans (none of whom can dance), it looks kind of like a zombie dance party scene from Dawn of the Dead. I’m laughing my arse off.

When the band starts to play “… Reaper.” a few of the dance crowd folks recognize the song and stop to watch, but security ushers them upstairs. I can read their lips saying, “You can’t stay down here.”

I briefly wonder if there are subwoofers helping these youngsters shake their booties, although I seriously doubt they need any help in that department. The house sound guy explains that there are no subs providing low end for the dance crowd. When our show is over, one of the DJ streams will be pumped into the subs of the system I’m using for the band, so the kids will be spared hearing the top end from this P.A. that would otherwise vaporize their hair gel. Patrons listening to either of the other two DJs can go upstairs and listen to a different stream, sans low end. Or they can remain downstairs and hear the subs from one DJ while they listen to a different DJ in the ‘phones (though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that).

Right now, the dance crowd is hearing the low end from our show (which is surely thumping the room upstairs), while they listen to the remainder of the frequency range from one of the three DJs. I don’t think they noticed. Very strange. Maybe tomorrow will be more… normal.