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What drives certain techs to want no guitar cabinets onstage? What possesses them to think that this is OK? icon_confused2.gif

 

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.]

 

banghead.gif

 

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.

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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{censored}" 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.

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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.....

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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?

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Well' date=' 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.[/quote']

 

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.....:idk:

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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.

 

 

.

Edited by onelife
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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' date=' 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.[/quote']

 

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.

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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

 

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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.

 

:angry47:angry02:barf::bangheadonwall:

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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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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........"

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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 9:00. 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 12:00

 

This one:

 

Show up at 9:00. 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 2:00 - 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.

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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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...

Edited by Shaster
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Has anybody mentioned a monitor and/or the amp shielded then going into a monitor?

The tech is dead-set against it. No live volume is the mandate.

 

Hopefully saner heads will prevail.

 

Unfortunately, no. Last night it got worse. After spending 5 hours on tech Saturday, the sound guy wanted half the pit to stay late last night to work levels even more. Of course, we had just spent three hours running the entire show....what had he been doing for all that time?

 

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

 

Yes, and it gets even better when you have strings and horns - their parts are very well written.

 

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...
:lol:

To be fair, there are plenty of players who don't use dynamics properly...but you shouldn't assume up-front that all are part of the same problem.

 

Intersting aside: They have actually built a small fully enclosed hut for the drums so that they cannot be heard "live".

 

:facepalm:

 

Meanwhile, I have a trumpet and trombone right behind me, pointing straight at my head.

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So how are the horns and other folks monitoring the drums / guitar?

 

Headphones for all.

 

How are the actors monitoring you and the rest of the pit (or, since you're on stage, are they just getting the stage sound)?

 

 

Not 100% sure, but I think they have wedges on stage. There were some clear mis-cues last night, so it seems incomplete.

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Is he maybe trying to program the pit mix as a series of cues in a digital board?

 

I don't know sound guys that do that, but I know some theater lighting folks program their lighting cues so they just sit along with the script and push the "next cue" button (assuming nothing goes wrong). That works really well because it's a lot saner that trying to hit 20 dimmers at a given point on the script.

 

If that's how the sound guy wants to operate, I could see that causing the problems that you're seeing... personally it sounds like a nutty way to run a show, but I'm also not a theater tech person, so I dunno if that's even "a thing" in that world. I can see how it's useful if you're trying to mute actors on scene changes, but it woudl be a bad idea in a lot of circumstances to try and apply that to musicians.

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All that work with monitoring, going direct, shielding and so on could have been avoided if they had just let the musicians sort it out themselves. I played a Jimi Hendrix/Gil Evans tribute a few years back. Probably had eight or more horns with full "Rock" band. We performed the tribute in three or more venues and always got the sound sorted out quickly. Hire the right people and let them do their job. Don't fix what doesn't need fixing. Rant over...

Edited by Shaster
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A really great bunch of musicians can and will control their dynamics appropriately. That said I have run into more players (nationally known acts with years of experience and multiple hits) that don't get it right than ones that do. Not to say some of these guys aren't great players but playing is so subjective that often the big picture gets lost in the mix (small joke here :). In the end, what's wrong with putting your speaker off stage (hint - if you have a separate head & speaker you can keep the head onstage for tweaking and remote the speaker only (less issues with the long cables as well))? If you have it folded back through your monitors then you still should be able to control the dynamics to get that blend you're talking about. If the sound tech is worth his/her salt then they should place you in the mix where that same blend is sent to the audience. Possibly you are one of the few who really understands dynamics. If so you are the exception rather than the rule.

 

I don't mean to burst any bubbles here. This has just been my experience over the years (as both an engineer and a musician). I know that as a musician there is a tendency to play just a tiny bit louder to make sure you're playing your part right (not saying over the top - just so you can hear yourself). If you're buried in the mix, this can be difficult BUT sometimes you should be buried in the mix (it all depends on the material of the moment). Let the sound person do this for you. That's their job.

 

I resisted posting on this for a while as I didn't want to bruise any egos. Think what you want of my post. It's only my .02 worth

 

Cheers

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A really great bunch of musicians can and will control their dynamics appropriately.

 

Yes, and if they don't, it is the conductor/director's job to deal with it.

 

In the end, what's wrong with putting your speaker off stage (hint - if you have a separate head & speaker you can keep the head onstage for tweaking and remote the speaker only (less issues with the long cables as well))?

 

How does that solve the problem of hearing relative levels with the rest of the group? That's just another way to add a problem into the middle of the feedback loop among all the musicians.

 

If you have it folded back through your monitors then you still should be able to control the dynamics to get that blend you're talking about.

 

Sorry, but that's just nonsense. I've got a trumpet and trombone playing straight at my head. What SHOULD be happening is that we all match together, playing at the dynamics set by the score and the director. Having 15 instruments live and 6 neutered doesn't allow this.

 

In any case, the mix in our headphones seems to be moving around every night, and I have no direct way to adjust it. The bottom line is that we have no reliable basic level reference. With a horn, percussion or string instrument, you know very directly how to control and get p, mp, mf, f, ff, etc.; with an electric instrument, you MUST have a dynamic reference in order to level-set. For me, I tend to use the brass instruments, because a full trumpet/trombone blast should be a bit louder than my max level (fff). Once I have that baseline, I can manage everything else from there, all the way down to pp.

 

If the sound tech is worth his/her salt then they should place you in the mix where that same blend is sent to the audience.

 

Simply not possible - and in any case, you've got the cart before the horse. What the audience hears should mirror what is being played and heard by the performers, not the other way 'round.

 

Setting relative levels and dynamics is not the sound tech's job. This is the job of the director/conductor. The sound tech isn't reading the score, and is not responsible for dynamics - neither relative nor overall.

 

Imagine a symphony orchestra playing a Brahms work. Is it the sound tech's job to determine what level the french horns should be in the "mix"? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The sound tech's job is to precisely mirror what the musicians are creating under the director's guidance, not to pick and choose him/herself what he/she wants to hear. A "perfect" mix is one that changes nothing other than the volume level - the amplified sound should be no different from the stage sound - just louder.

 

Possibly you are one of the few who really understands dynamics. If so you are the exception rather than the rule.

 

Perhaps. I played symphonic violin before I switched to guitar, so my views come from a traditional music approach, not from bar-bands.

 

I know that as a musician there is a tendency to play just a tiny bit louder to make sure you're playing your part right (not saying over the top - just so you can hear yourself).

 

Right. This is why you point your cabinet at yourself, so that you hear yourself louder than anyone else does. This is no different from playing violin, where it's close enough to your ear that it will always be a few dB louder than anything else.

 

If you're buried in the mix, this can be difficult BUT sometimes you should be buried in the mix (it all depends on the material of the moment). Let the sound person do this for you. That's their job.

 

Yes, there are places where every instrument should be layered in the mix, and places where they should be on top. This is written in the score, and/or directed by the conductor. It is decidedly NOT the sound tech's job to make that happen, though. It is the conductor's job, working through the individual musicians.

 

An interesting thing happened last night. About 10 minutes before curtain, the sound tech came to me with a couple of very specific (and impossible) requests to "change my patches". Given the way my rig is structured, what he was asking for was basically nonsense....so I asked him what problem he was trying to solve. He told me what he was hearing, and I made some adjustments. Here's the upshot - he wanted me to reprogram a bunch of stuff when what was needed was a pickup change or a picking adjustment. The good news is that he's a decent guy and I get the impression that he has a good sense of what sounds good out front, so the end result is all good.

 

IMO, part of the trouble comes in when a tech guy thinks that a guitar's sound and level are all governed by programming in a rack unit, and that each "patch" is a set, specific volume level. A real player has TONS of dynamic control, from picking technique, guitar volume, pickup selection, and a whole host of other inputs that have nothing to do with the programmable electronics or amp settings. Sound guys think in terms of electronics and programming, while players think in terms of their instrument, You'd never try to micro-manage a violinist to change to a different bow or move their bridge position, would you? Of course not! You would tell them if their instrument sounded too dark or too brittle, and let them adjust their playing, right? Why is it that sound techs always think they can micro-manage the guitars, but don't attempt to do this with any other instrument?

 

I resisted posting on this for a while as I didn't want to bruise any egos.

No worries - no ego issues here. It's all about trying to make the performance the best it can be - with the least stress imposed on the largest number of people.

 

IMO, this is a healthy discussion topic that's probably easier to hash out in a forum like that than in person or in a performance situation where tempers can get frayed due to pressure and stress. YMMV.

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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Is he maybe trying to program the pit mix as a series of cues in a digital board?

 

I don't know sound guys that do that, but I know some theater lighting folks program their lighting cues so they just sit along with the script and push the "next cue" button (assuming nothing goes wrong). That works really well because it's a lot saner that trying to hit 20 dimmers at a given point on the script.

 

If that's how the sound guy wants to operate, I could see that causing the problems that you're seeing... personally it sounds like a nutty way to run a show, but I'm also not a theater tech person, so I dunno if that's even "a thing" in that world. I can see how it's useful if you're trying to mute actors on scene changes, but it woudl be a bad idea in a lot of circumstances to try and apply that to musicians.

 

I've worked next to (thankfully not participated in ;)) several production/review shows that run 6 month+ Absolutely that's how it's done. For one thing this allows training of a less qualified substitute for those 6 ~ 7 day show runs while still maintaining some consistency. Whoever the operator is does have to make minor adjustments show to the show due to: performer substitution, performer's physical state (tired singers don't push as hard), etc...... One of the early automated consoles was made by Amek. As soon as they were available, one was in a casino showroom doing production shows exactly like you mentioned. This is the reason most digital consoles have a quick scene + or - button and a quick recall button hardwired on the front panel. Obviously scene recall is great for multiple band shows (when you can sound check each band) but this never takes up the hundreds of scene slots available in most boards and doesn't require the quick recall function. Yup this feature kills for production work like that.

 

 

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SteinbergerHack: It sounds like you are one of the few I spoke of. Yes it is ultimately the conductor's job to control the internal dynamics of the orchestra. He may also be having conversations with the sound tech in how to balance said orchestra. Rarely is that internal balance perfect (nor is the balance to the audience as we do live in an imperfect world :). I've done many jobs with full orchestra's and short of a full symphony can't remember ever having enough strings in the mix. In a big band, woodwinds almost always are buried by the brass. When the brass uses mutes, as a rule, their level comes up. Piano is nearly non existent with a big band without amplification. These are examples of the sound tech fixing the dynamics of the band (usually at the conductors behest). You are playing in a Broadway show that was high tech from the beginning (it IS a ROCK opera). I'm pretty sure Andrew Lloyd Webber had a studio mix in mind when it was written.

 

Going back through the ages acoustic guitar was played with some orchestras (Flamenco comes to mind along with early big bands with large Gretch style guitars). Unfortunately, often they were not heard well. IMHO sound reinforcement has become an integral part of most all live music heard today. I agree that a technician that twiddles throughout the show is probably doing more harm than good (it depends on the musicians ;)). That said, possibly the sound engineer's credo should be "firstly, do no harm". I'd probably love working with a musician like you because I could (for the most part) set and forget you in the mix. There is however IMHO a credible reason for giving some dynamic control to the sound tech. Trust my friend. Trust! :)

 

Cheers

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One of the challenges facing the FOH audio guy is that it is going to sound different in the audience than it does in the pit and at the conductor's position. This perception might change based on audience noise (there are some participation or sing-along type shows touring where this is a big deal), solos where the balance isn't quite right and the conductor is not in the position to judge this, may need on the fly adjustment, etc.

 

My favorite shows to mix are those where the band's dynamics is right on. That allows me to concentrate on overall tone, fine tuning blend versus room coverage, and such.

 

A series of shows I did many years ago was with Bob Hope theatrical type show with a small orchestra. I listened to the rehearsal and how everything fit into the room (these were all in the round small arena shows, 6,000-14,000 seaters) and decided that the most effective way for me to achieve what the music director was looking for was to mic the rhythm section (in this case traveling with him was piano, bass, and drums) since they had solo bits apart from the rest of the orchestra, then area mic the orchestra (probably with either 414's or 451's or a combination) and use that to balance with the rhythm section. Of course, Bob's vocal was always front and center, plus whatever background vocal positions and guests were used. Having the music director get a solid (but understanding not perfect) stage balance allowed me to balance things based on what was necessary at each point in the show. When the audience was louder, I was able to bring the entire mix level up accordingly to maintain balance WITH THE AUDIENCE.

 

These are all judgement call situations. If you do this a lot, and you are perceptive, you get that gut feeling based on the audience you are mixing for, what is the right balance and level. Otherwise, you get complains... the kiss of career death.

 

The only time (I remember) I was fooled a bit and mixed lower than I should have to start was a surprise reunion of the New Christy Minstrels that occurred maybe 12-15 years ago during the largest jazz festival on the west coast. I was handling one of the headline stages, venue was sold out, and I found out about the plans during set change. Igor and the Jazz Cowboys were scheduled to play (I knew Igor from before because he plays an amp that I designed, and had worked with him before) and he takes me aside to tell me what's going down so that I can be prepared (always nice) for the increase in volume and of course his guest artists. Igor opens the set with a few of his own tunes, then brings up two of the surviving New Christy Minstrels (Igor had played bass in NCM), he introduces then as a couple of buddies from the good 'ol days, then they launch into a rockin' version of their hit "Green, Green" which I start mixing somewhat under rock volume because the average age of the audience is close to 70. I realize about 8 bars into the tune that I'm ok and it could be louder so sneak it up to rock volume (about 12dBa louder than anything else I mix for that festival). Audience is digging it, they then hit with the Woodie Guthrie tune "This Land is Your Land" followed up by some Kingston Trio song in medley fashion and their set is done, they exit the stage but the audience is begging for an encore, They come back and close with a ballad, their other big hit "Today". This is an example of where most bands balance their own stage sound pretty well, there was no way that this could be possible for this set. I'm also lucky that I had plenty of PA, because I used it all for this set only, all other sets were WAY below this volume.

 

Incidentally, this is the same festival that, for 5 years I mixed FOH for the band that produced the NPR syndicated radio show Riverwalk Jazz. From all of those sets played, they ended up with about 50 complete radio programs (some made up from bits and pieces of 2 or 3 sets as needed). Those players did an excellent job of balancing from the stage, though the clarinet needed help balancing with the brass due to the sheer difference in acoustic output.

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