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  • An open question to sound techs:

    What drives certain techs to want no guitar cabinets onstage? What possesses them to think that this is OK?

    I start rehearsals for a theater gig next week as part of a 21-piece pit orchestra in a theater I've never worked before. The bandleader tells me that the soundtech is mandating that bass and guitars all go direct and use headphones to monitor - no amps allowed. [Apparently there was a bass player at some point in the past who didn't know how to take direction, so now they think that all guitar players are idiots.]



    I'm really struggling to see how this can possibly work, given that (obviously) the horns, percussion and strings aren't going to be going direct. To top it off, the show is Jesus Christ Superstar, which is probably the most guitar-heavy book in the business (with the possible exception of Grease); it is also a very dynamic score, with a VERY wide range of volumes from light acoustic to balls-out horns and heavy guitar. I foresee a whole lot of problems with dynamics and level-setting within the ensemble, as well as a lack of proper cues for the stage performers (if you've ever listened to the soundtrack or worked the show, you know that there are several scenes where the guitar is the only timing cue the stage gets).

    Anybody got any ideas about how to manage this? In my 30+ years of playing, I've never been asked to do this in a large ensemble setting with so many instruments - it just seems like it's destined to fail.......am I missing something? The good news is that the other pit players that I know are all very experienced, so it probably won't be a complete disaster.

    [Of course there is also the fact that the sound quality of direct-only guitars generally sucks, but that's really just a technical challenge for me to solve in my rack. The GAS solution is the Torpedo Live which UPS is bringing my way as I write this....]

    Any and all input would be appreciated.
    Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 12-28-2016, 01:35 PM.
    "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

  • #2
    The last theater show I did was keyboards in Pump Boys and Dinettes last Fall.

    I think that theater folks have a very different set of ideas than musicians when it comes to how things work. I don't think that is especially bad. As a musician I tend to look at is 'the theater folks show' where they know what they want, so my impulse is to just work with them.

    The request to go direct doesn't seem all that strange to me, though I do play guitar and I do understand that it's not as flexible as going through an amp. I also understand that tonally it is different, even if (as I get older) I care less and less about 'tone' and more about the notes and arrangements. Going direct is never going to feel like playing an amp, especially if you're playing rock and roll like in JCS.

    However, from the standpoint of the person managing the audio, I can understand why they'd want more control. No matter how important you see your parts, they are still just the support for what the actors do, and the theater folks understand that to be the whole point of the show. That's usually why we're in a pit and not on the stage.

    On top of that, volume levels for theater are usually (at least where I am) way lower than those for most concert sound. The typical audience (once again, at least where I am) is little old ladies, and they really, really don't want it even approaching 'loud'. Going direct and monitoring through headphones may actually be more comfortable for you than having to turn down to meet the requirements for stage volume. I personally like my keys louder in my IEMs than they are in the sidefills for the 20-piece jazz band I'm playing with on NYE.

    In the last show I was in, it was an ensemble piece where the actors were the band, and even then sound was more or less an afterthought compared to the visuals. We ended up playing amps on stage with mics, but it was a really small (~120 seat) theater and the TD (who I had limited faith in) had another show running on the larger stage... so I just brought in a little PA. As in, there were 2 12" powered speakers behind the stageing, and that's all the vocal reinforcement.

    So I don't think that it sounds like a crazy request out of hand, just normal priorities in a theater.

    As to "is it going to be a horrible cluster****************" question, that has more to do with the techs and music director. It's entirely possible that if they have a reasonable setup and equipment it will be fine. I like headphone monitoring, especially if I have some control over my mix (which has become a lot more common as folks switch to digital mixers).

    It's also possible that you'll be dealing with a bunch of less than ideal situations where you have to come to the best compromise between what you want to do artistically and the constraints of the group, but that's normal in my world.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Luckenbacher View Post
      The last theater show I did was keyboards in Pump Boys and Dinettes last Fall.

      I think that theater folks have a very different set of ideas than musicians when it comes to how things work. I don't think that is especially bad. As a musician I tend to look at is 'the theater folks show' where they know what they want, so my impulse is to just work with them.
      I do theater on a regular basis - did a run of "9 to 5" just a few weeks ago, and I have another one booked after this show's run. I have also acted, so I understand that theater is different from club gigs, recording, symphonic, etc. That's actually part of my concern - I've played/sung "Judas" in this show before, and I was VERY concerned about hearing the guitar, as there are several scenes where the guitar line is the primary cue.

      The request to go direct doesn't seem all that strange to me, though I do play guitar and I do understand that it's not as flexible as going through an amp.
      It's not flexibility I'm wondering about. My concern is how the heck can you get any sense for dynamics in a 21-piece group where the majority will be acoustic instruments? Generally the loudest things in a pit are trombone and tympani, right? Why does it make sense to cripple three of the instruments when you're starting out with a normal acoustic setup (brass / winds / percussion)? If we were talking about a 4-piece with electronic drums, sure - but no matter what we do we're at the mercy of the brass. Why not just go ahead and let everything run a good acoustic mix, so that the relative levels will be balanced throughout the show?

      I also understand that tonally it is different,
      I can fix that. As I stated, that's a pain, but it's my responsibility as a player to give the sound tech a good signal. I generally bring my own mics and direct boxes, too, so that all the sound guy needs to do is give me a mic line.

      However, from the standpoint of the person managing the audio, I can understand why they'd want more control.
      Managing the dynamics and mix of the pit orchestra is the conductor's and music director's job, not the sound guy's.

      From the sound guy's perspective, the pit should be a "set and forget" with everything run into a single sub-mix that can go up and down as a unit. If the sound guy is riding individual instrument levels, he's doing something wrong - and probably working against what the directors are trying to do. ......which is where I find it surprising that they would want to do it this way.

      On top of that, volume levels for theater are usually (at least where I am) way lower than those for most concert sound.
      Absolutely true. That has nothing to do with headphones vs. speaker, particularly when the majority of the pit is traditional acoustic instruments.

      Going direct and monitoring through headphones may actually be more comfortable for you than having to turn down to meet the requirements for stage volume.
      Absolutely not. Hearing everything "live" is for me the most comfortable situation, as it allows me to know where I am in the mix - to bring out parts that need to be brought out, and lay back where it should be laid back. Only a begginer or fool thinks he needs to be loud to sound good. Sounding good means having a good blend - and you can't do that if you can't hear what everyone else is doing, and vice versa.

      So I don't think that it sounds like a crazy request out of hand, just normal priorities in a theater.
      Interesting. As I said, I've been doing this for 30+ years, and this is the first time I've ever been told I cannot run a monitor cabinet. I have had to run at ridiculously low volume levels (like having to pull pack on my steel-string volume), and I don't find that unusual....but it doesn't make much sense when you have a pair of trombones sitting next to you blowing full tilt. There's no real value in not getting a good mix inside the pit, IMO. If that blend is good from the start, then all you have to worry about is overall volume of the ensemble. When you start trying to micro-manage individual instruments with an intentionally out-of-balance audible blend, I just don't see how that makes any sense.....
      Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 12-28-2016, 03:36 PM.
      "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

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      • #4
        Do you have input on your monitor mix?
        Is the pit mic'd?
        If so, it seems like a reasonable request to me.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by popgadget View Post
          Do you have input on your monitor mix?
          Is the pit mic'd?
          If so, it seems like a reasonable request to me.
          That's not really the question.

          If 18 instruments are already acoustic, what is the problem with letting the last three be acoustic as well, so that we can get an ensemble blend?

          No matter how much you may love the idea of tons of electronics in the middle, the reality is that there is no substitute for musicians using their ears and listening to each other.

          You may think it's "reasonable", but why? What is the justification, when you can't get total volume below brass and percussion to begin with? Why accept the loss of acoustic blend and ensemble feel? What is there to be gained?
          "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

          Comment


          • #6
            Well, if it doesn't make sense to you, maybe ask the music director and TD or whoever what their thoughts and plans are, and maybe they can explain it better.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Luckenbacher View Post
              Well, if it doesn't make sense to you, maybe ask the music director and TD or whoever what their thoughts and plans are, and maybe they can explain it better.
              Honestly, that's why I came here first. Given that it makes no sense on the surface and I've already heard one other player complain about it (before rehearsals have even started), I don't want to "pick a fight" or "start a mutiny" by bringing it up without understanding what the motivation might be. The only thing I have yet heard is that there was one bass player in the past who had a volume problem; this means that there is a history, and my cynical guess is that the sound tech hates guitars as a result.

              Again, I can see where it might make sense if you could run the whole group direct-only and have zero "stage volume" - but that's not possible when the majority of the instruments are acoustic by nature - and some are louder than the guitars should ever be.

              I just honestly don't understand the benefit, and the problems it can cause are clear, so I was hoping someone could give me an idea of why it might make sense. I just honestly don't see why anyone would ever want something other than a good stage mix as a starting point.....
              Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 12-29-2016, 09:50 AM.
              "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

              Comment


              • #8
                If I were you (I played in the band for a production of JCSS in 1977) I would request a production meeting where evryone can state their concerns. In reading your posts, I must say your concerns are legitimate and perhaps those requesting 'no amplifiers' have legitimate concerns as well. Hoefully you can find a workable solution through dialogue.

                Maybe it is because they are afraid of loud guitars drowning out the singers and you just need to let them know that you can avoide doing that and still have the amplification that you require.

                One New Year's Eve I played in a show band and my amplifier was on the front of the riser the horn section was on. At times, the blend of the horns and the amplified guitar was exquisite - we worked it because we could hear it.


                .
                Last edited by onelife; 12-29-2016, 03:08 PM.
                As a human being, you come with the whole range of inner possibilities
                from the deepest hell to the highest states.

                It is up to you which one you choose to explore
                .

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by onelife View Post
                  If I were you (I played in the band for a production of JCSS in 1977) I would request a production meeting where evryone can state their concerns. In reading your posts, I must say your concerns are legitimate and perhaps those requesting 'no amplifiers' have legitimate concerns as well. Hoefully you can find a workable solution through dialogue.
                  Good thought. If I can make that happen, we could probably make something work.

                  Maybe it is because they are afraid of loud guitars drowning out the singers and you just need to let them know that you can avoide doing that and still have the amplification that you require.
                  I'm betting that you are correct, but to me that's a bit of a cop-out. If someone isn't doing the job, we should deal with the player and help them learn instead of trying to cover up the problem with a misplaced technical restriction.

                  One New Year's Eve I played in a show band and my amplifier was on the front of the riser the horn section was on. At times, the blend of the horns and the amplified guitar was exquisite - we worked it because we could hear it.
                  .
                  Exactly. I love playing with a brass section for exactly this reason - their volume levels are SO easy to match and create a great sense of dynamics. If you set your maximum level at just a bit below the max of the brass section, I find that it should be close to perfect...YMMV.
                  "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    IMO - coming at this as a big band musician - you are absolutely correct.

                    If I was in your shoes, I would ask that they tell you what their artistic needs are, and to let you provide the guitar solution to meet said needs. They do not need to and should not specify the solution, they should only care about the out front sound.

                    If stage volume comes up as an objection, ask them what they will do if the trumpets are too loud? (ask the trumpets to play more quietly)

                    It is absolutely critical, musically, that musicians be allowed to create a good stage mix. A good out front mix starts with a good stage mix. Full stop. No exceptions. If the sound tech wants to create your sound, perhaps you could just let him borrow your guitar for the show.

                    A friend of mine just finished 9 to 5 and did JCSS last year. Mic'd AC30 in a small community theatre. Sounded great. He's a pro, and knows that the volume knob has positions below 11. Sounds like you do, too.

                    That said, I also had a sound tech once ask me to stop using the expression pedal on my organ, and to let him set my out-front volume. I told him no, and explained that the pedal is the only control over dynamics I have, and that it functions as a tone control as much as a level control. Apparently it was three songs into the set before he routed me to the mains. Jerk.

                    Wes
                    Do daemons dream of electric sleep()?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by wesg View Post
                      IMO - coming at this as a big band musician - you are absolutely correct.

                      [...]
                      If stage volume comes up as an objection, ask them what they will do if the trumpets are too loud? (ask the trumpets to play more quietly)
                      This is the direction I am taking - and thanks for the support. As is turns out, the lead trombone player is a good friend of mine whom I have done a number of gigs with, and I'm betting he'll help me work this issue.

                      It is absolutely critical, musically, that musicians be allowed to create a good stage mix. A good out front mix starts with a good stage mix. Full stop. No exceptions. If the sound tech wants to create your sound, perhaps you could just let him borrow your guitar for the show.
                      Precisely. The issue is getting this accomplished without being "that guy" and ruining the cameraderie in the pit (which will actually be onstage).

                      A friend of mine just finished 9 to 5 and did JCSS last year.
                      Hah! Just did 9 to 5 a couple of months ago....not my favorite show, but we had a great bunch of musicians.

                      He's a pro, and knows that the volume knob has positions below 11. Sounds like you do, too.
                      Exactly. Serious players understand this, and we don't need a sound tech micro-managing the dynamics.

                      That said, I also had a sound tech once ask me to stop using the expression pedal on my organ, and to let him set my out-front volume. I told him no, and explained that the pedal is the only control over dynamics I have, and that it functions as a tone control as much as a level control. Apparently it was three songs into the set before he routed me to the mains. Jerk.
                      Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 01-02-2017, 09:36 PM.
                      "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I did a fair amount of pro level theatre back 10-20 years ago, handled all of the audio.

                        I can understand the sound guy's concern, because there are PLENTY of guitarists, bass players and drummers who have little sense of what adequate volume is relative to everything else going on on stage. Nothing worse than battling pit band volume when the actors lines and lyrics can't be heard, especially with wireless omni's at the hairline. That's almost certainly the concern, and it wouldn't surprise me if the drummer was being asked to play with brushes or hot rods either.

                        Now in professional theatre (including awards shows and televised shows with a house band), things are very different. Everybody is on the same page, everybody is getting paid scale or better, the music director has control of all aspects of the band, especially volume/blend. These gigs often do use amps, but everybody plays as an ensemble, everybody gets it, the in's & outs are scripted, dynamics is scripted, and frankly I prefer mixing this way better because I am not fighting anybody.

                        Now that I am more or less retired, I don't have to deal with this BS anymore, but I understand his concern. He is worried that you guys will have a "runaway" and take him with you.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by agedhorse View Post
                          I did a fair amount of pro level theatre back 10-20 years ago, handled all of the audio.

                          I can understand the sound guy's concern, because there are PLENTY of guitarists, bass players and drummers who have little sense of what adequate volume is relative to everything else going on on stage
                          I think that those guys are best described as "amateurs". I would have been that way when I was playing my first theater gig at age 17, but none of us are in that camp. It's up to the music director to let us know where our levels are supposed to be, and our job to take direction.

                          Perhaps this is the problem. This is a smallish theater group that doesn't generally bring in anywhere near this many instruments, nor at this pay level....and I'd bet that the entire budget is much higher than they are used to. In short, they are hiring a large group of pros, and it's probably not something they have done before. [I'd love to know who the "angel" is who gave them access to the funding for this show....but that's another topic entirely]

                          The good news is that since I started this thread, I've found out who a few more of the players are, and it will be a bit of a "family reunion". We may never have all played together, but many of us have experience working together in alternate groupings. We'll make it work.

                          "Everything's all right now, everything's fine........"
                          Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 01-02-2017, 09:46 PM.
                          "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Follow-up:

                            Two rehearsals in, it's the most frustrating, stressful gig I've ever dealt with, on a variety of levels.

                            My past experience in first tech rehearsals:

                            Show up at 90. Rig set up and active by 9:10. Plug mic and steel-string into cables or pit feeds as requested. Check level at about 9:15. Overture downbeat at 9:20. Occasional stops between numbers to check stage and pit monitor levels. End of run-through about 120

                            This one:

                            Show up at 90. Rig set up and active by 9:10. Level checks for guitars was 9:30. Then the screwing around with everyone's monitors began. We didn't play the first note as a group until 10:45. Then the tweaking of the monitors began. End result, we didn't wrap up until 20 - two hours over the scheduled end time, all due to tech issues.

                            As I was packing up to leave, the sound tech walks up and tells me that he needs me to stay for a while so that he can "levelize the guitar patches". banghead.gif

                            It took every bit of restraint I had not to blow my stack and quit the show right then and there. I believe that he honestly has no clue that he is making this show an order of magnitude harder than it needs to be for every single person in the pit.

                            Problem is, the show opens this Friday. If I walk out now, the entire organization is screwed, which I just don't want to do. I'm betting he'll come to us again about wanting to spend a few hours re-program our rigs; I'm thinking my response will be "Write up your notes on issues you're having and e-mail to me so that I can deal with them".

                            In any case, I will not accept a gig like this again. FAR more extra effort than it's worth, and it's about as much fun as a root canal.
                            Last edited by SteinbergerHack; 01-09-2017, 07:46 AM.
                            "The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency." ------------------ Pope John Paul II

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Has anybody mentioned a monitor and/or the amp shielded then going into a monitor? I've played a few theatre shows back in the day, including Grease and JCSS. Both times I used an amp and the band was suitably placed so that sound wasn't an issue. And you are right about the sound palette in JCSS, I used a small Marshall rig with a lot of pedals, as well as acoustic guitar(s). I can't imagine headphones, especially if everything else is live. All the techs I worked with were pros, and we were pros so no worries. Hopefully saner heads will prevail.

                              I recall really enjoying the book, especially the different time signatures.

                              EDIT; I see you are already at it. IME guys that whine about guitar levels are like guys who whine about too much sun in the desert. You just can't please 'em. My attitude if I'm mixing is to turn things up and down - that's why I'm there. Guess I'm old fashioned...
                              Last edited by Shaster; 01-10-2017, 06:49 AM.

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