Sunday, April 9, 2017

More Me!

One of the great curses of being on the providing end of everything in audio from live sound to recording engineering is the “I need more of me syndrome.” Even in the recording studio, the concept of serving the music is a vanishing idea. Everyone who has a place at the table, regardless of how insignificant, feels the need to be treated like a star.

For example, out of the insanity of the moment I recent volunteered (for the third mindless time) to be “production manager” for a local college’s annual variety show. This isn’t even a music school, but a technical college that has one of the country’s rare and precious musical instrument and repair programs. While many of the students are extremely talented musicians and a few are even composers, arrangers, and one-time music program students, very few are planning any sort of career as performers. The show is a wild mix of everything from classical woodwind and horn groups to singer-songerwritters to large horn bands with a full rhythm section. There is about 3-5 minutes of setup time allowed between acts and often that will involve tearing down a set with a dozen chairs and music stands, moving a few large instruments (piano, drum kit), and setting up microphones. To put it mildly, there isn’t any time for either precision or fine tuning, either during the sound check/rehersal or the show. The performers have a couple of months to get their act together, but the crew sees everything for the first time the afternoon of the show.

To simplify a lot of the setup, the microphone system for the show is a pair of Earthworks cardioid condensers in X/Y configuration centered downstage and many of the acts are just positioned quickly around that microphone pair. Instruments like the piano, drum kit(s), guitar, electric bass, etc often are handled with a single well-placed (hopefully) microphone. There are no stage monitors for anyone. The house speaker system has about 170o of dispersion and the house speakers are angled toward the center of the facility (don’t ask) which provides about 100% coverage to around 10kHz to the front 15’ of the stage.

Did I mention that I do this gig for free?

The sound check is performed in reverse order so we can leave the first act’s setup on the stage at the end. This year’s show, and most years are the same, the final act (first up for the sound check) was a decent sized band: three trumpets, four saxes, four trombones, three saxes, piano, drums, bass, and guitar. They made a run through their song and one of the sax players said, “I need a monitor and a mic. Traditionally, everyone on stage would have his own mic and monitor.” My response was, “’Traditionally,’ I shouldn’t have to mic or reinforce a band this big.” There were some laughs from the adults in the room, some whining from the kiddies, and we moved on. I’m always tempted to turn moments like this into teaching opportunities, but I’m trying to learn that I am not the jackass whisperer.

Did I mention that I do this gig for free?

BroadwayBigBandStyle Band BestQualityThe show went fine, I survived it. Afterwards, when I was whining to my wife about having to put up with punk kids who think they are junior college rock stars, she said, “He’s probably confusing those music stands they used to put in front of the musicians for monitors.” I really wanted to tell her she was wrong, but I half-suspect she isn’t. Holy crap! Some dumb kid thinks every guy in Tommy Dorsey’s band had a mic and a monitor? Never underestimate the stupidity of your fellow Americans; it will cost you money.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.