Steve La Cerra, Mix Technology Editor—Live Sound, Brings Commentary and Expertise to Weekly Post

“Peabody, set the Wayback Machine for August 1995…”

I’m in my studio soldering patch bays, doing my best not to burn my fingers, when the phone rings. It’s my buddy Chris Fenn who, at the time, was a guitar tech for Blue Öyster Cult. We’d met two years earlier when I subbed as a drum tech for the band. I’d been hoping that at some point they’d call me to do front of house, but so far, no such luck.

Chris: What’re you doing on Thursday? (I could hear the sly grin in his voice)

Me: Please tell me you need me to mix BÖC.

Chris: Yes. We have shows in Indy and Chicago this week. Are you free?

Me (jumping up and down): Hell, YES!

Chris: I’ll give your number to Rick Downey (tour manger), and he’ll get you the details.

I was psyched! I had been itching to mix BÖC since I started working with them, and here it was—only four days away!

The show was at the Brickyard at Indianapolis, and we were opening for Cheap Trick. It was a complete disaster. No soundcheck, mispatched lines from the stage to FOH, and no set list (at the time the band usually called audibles). Rick was screaming at me at front-of-house during the show, and with a song-and-a-half remaining in the set, I discovered that Allen Lanier’s guitar was coming down the hi-hat channel. No wonder I couldn’t find it! It was the first time I mixed on a Yamaha PM3000, and I clearly remember that I couldn’t rest my hands on the wrist pad because it was scorching hot and the gear had been in the sun all day (it was a daytime show). Good grief. I was sure I’d be sent home, pronto.

The author on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

The author on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

But Rick, God bless him, made sure that the band soundchecked before the next show (Chicago Navy Pier) so I could sort it out. That second show was a complete 180 and I’ve never looked back. I estimate that I’ve now mixed more than 2,000 shows for the band, but I can still remember that one clear as day.

How times have changed. I still have one foot in the studio, one foot on the road and half a foot in the grave, but I haven’t mixed on a PM3000 in a lifetime, and the switch has long since flipped from analog to digital desks. Snakes are disappearing, line arrays are the norm (even in small venues), and wireless bandwidth for the audio industry is shrinking on a daily basis. Networked audio is moving down the food chain, guitar amp simulators are replacing Marshall stacks, and the overall quality of live sound has grown in leaps and bounds. Now I get a rush out of starting a show without a soundcheck, knowing that it’s still going to be good.

And that’s why we do it.

Call it professionalism, tenacity, a defective gene or a combination of the three.

All of us working in the audio industry have our successes and failures, stories to share of triumph and agony, 36-hour days, near-disasters, shows that smoked (figuratively) and gear that smoked (literally). It’s in our DNA to work through it and shine in those moments. It’s why we debate endlessly over which mic to use on a guitar amp, or which compressor sounds best on bass, or whether it makes sense to fly or drive when the trip is 350 miles.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the audio industry. There’s great gear being rolled out all the time, new techniques to debate, rapid changes coming at us from every angle, technologies to discuss, and always new things to learn.

I’m here to be your home base. If you’re a studio or FOH or monitor engineer working on something interesting—tell me about it. If you’re a manufacturer and have new technology, I want to know. If you see an interesting development in the laws that affect us (FCC anyone?), speak up. If you want to moan about the way the airlines treat your gear, I’ll listen. Eyes and ears open. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

—Steve La Cerra