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Mix Live Blog: Pluses and Minuses

Mix columnist Steve La Cerra writes in from Blue Oyster Cult's FOH console and reports he's not the only one a little rusty from the pandemic.

blue oyster cult, from the foh desk
Blue öyster Cult, from the FOH desk.

Getting back into the groove of doing shows is proving to be a mixed bag of tricks. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, not all of the audio synapses are firing yet—and apparently it’s not just me.

One of the things we recently encountered on the minus side was a stage tech who forgot how to identify the front of a side-address microphone. My monitor tech and I were puzzled as to why the cymbals sounded so dull at soundcheck, and when we looked closely at the mics we found that the diaphragms were facing the roof of the stage. That’ll do it. It was amazing how much better the cymbals sounded when we turned the mics around to face the kit (!). Sounds silly, but I’d say eight out of 10 times, when side-address mics are used for overheads, they’re placed upside-down.

Also on the minus side, we’ve run into two venues (both small amphitheaters) where the installed P.A. systems were pretty well botched.

Mix Blog Live: At Home, On Tour

The first was a system with traditional trapezoidal boxes that were placed way too close to the front of the stage and didn’t provide enough vertical coverage to reach the seats at the top of the bowl. The result was an epic battle with feedback in the vocal microphones that required us first to move the front line farther upstage, followed by hacking away at the graphic EQ on the main outs, as well as carving up the EQs on the vocal channels until they sounded like they were coming through the AM transistor radio I listened to when I was a kid.

I briefly ran into the promoter of the venue who (without solicitation) volunteered, “Yeah, we had a really nice line array in here. It was so good that the neighbors behind the venue could hear every show loud and clear, so we changed to this system.” Yikes! I guess that line array wasn’t properly deployed either.

Mix Blog Live: Rental Gouge

We visited a second venue a few days ago that had a very nice line array that was also installed improperly. The left and right mains were set way too far apart, pointing away from the center of the venue. The result was a lack of coverage in the middle.

At line check, I played music through the system and it sounded sort of like when you’ve just taken a long flight on a plane and your ears haven’t popped. No high end. I even made the systems tech confirm that all of the amplifiers were turned on because I thought maybe the highs were turned off. Or maybe my ears were turned off. No such luck. It’s interesting how you can play 10 seconds of music through a P.A. system and think this is going to be a tough night….

The front fills added to this system helped marginally, but they were different boxes from the array elements and sounded nothing like the main P.A. hang. At show time, people stood in front of those fills, preventing whatever sound was coming out of them from reaching the rest of the audience. The mix position was at the bottom of the “bowl,” and coverage from the main P.A. projected over the top of and to the sides of this portion of the venue. In other words, there was no way to hear the main P.A. from the mix position. Brilliant!

Mix Blog Live: Ready, Set, Go

As I walked the venue while playing music, “no high end” turned into “here’s high end that will rip your head off” in the main seating areas. The difference between what I heard at the mix position versus what I heard in the main seating areas was unlike anything I’d encountered before. It was not fun.

In contrast, there were two other shows we did on this run where the systems techs were on it, big time.

The first was in Albany, Ore., and it was one of those days when stupid travel + long distance = getting to the gig way too late for comfort. When we arrived at the venue sometime around 3:00 PM, Louis, Jeff, and the guys at Cascade Sound were ready for us. The P.A. was properly hung, tested and tuned, our backline was roughed into place, and the stage was almost completely pinned (no point pinning the drum mics before we got there because our tech would need to move the drums around anyway). The Cascade guys had even checked the routing for our IEM mixes, all of which helped take the sting out of an otherwise difficult day.

Similarly, our show at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles went as well as anyone could ask, with Patricio, Tom and the crew from R&R Sound on the case. By the time we arrived, they had their system dialed in like an Indy race car. It’s amazing how you can play 10 seconds of music through a PA system and think this is going to sound great…. And it did.

Shows where the variables fall on the plus side hinge upon the efforts of the house crews who work their butts off all day to make it right. A heartfelt thanks to all of you for making our lives a little easier.