The LIVE SOUND MIXING
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Sometimes less is more, but mainly it's less!
All Rights Reserved © 1996 Duncan R Fry
One of the worst things when you're touring on a shoestring is for something to go horribly, irreversibly wrong, something you can do nothing whatsoever about. And that something is usually an amplifier! They work hardest and get looked after the least - I'm convinced that most amp maintenance is done only when one of them curls up its toes and heads off to Mosfet heaven!
And so it was on the last gig of a small country tour I once did in the early 80's.
We rolled up to this club, running late of course, to be confronted with four flights of stairs, a double four way in the truck to carry up them, and a two man crew. Jim my trusty assistant and I climbed up the stairs, only to be confronted by the biggest room I'd yet done a gig in! All our hopes of maybe only having to bring up half the system disappeared before our eyes!
"Nice place," I said to the manager. I figured if we were lucky we might just be able to get the system to fill the place up.
"Thanks," he replied, "And when we get a big crowd in here we can open the folding doors!"
Folding doors? What folding doors?
He walked down to the end of the room, pressed a button and the back wall folded away to reveal another area equally as big! Jeez - the place looked like it doubled as an emergency Qantas 747 hangar.
"Expecting a big crowd tonight?" I squeaked, hoping that he'd say no this was the quietest night of the week.
"Sure am," he said "We've been booked out for weeks!"
Well, let's hope they all have extremely sensitive hearing and don't like it too loud, I thought! We went downstairs and caught the band sneaking off to their motel.
"Right, who's going to help us load in?" I asked
"Oh my back hurts Dunk" "I've twisted my leg" "I've got something in my shoe" "I think I've broken a fingernail" You get the picture? What a pack of whingers.
"OK then but the piano stays in the truck" I said. The piano was the infamous Yamaha CP 80. Not the more common 70 but its big brother. It sounded just like a concert grand and also weighed as much as one.
The band, especially the keyboard player, was horrified.
"But we need it," they all chorused
I stood firm. "Well, if you need it then you can carry it!"
Ah, this was a very different matter, and caused much soul searching and discussion.
"Hmm. Well, maybe we could just use the DX 7 after all!"
So Jim and I left them to it, dragged the PA up the stairs and set it all up.
We called the tour manager Dick Turpin, because the tiny amount he was paying us was highway robbery. Knowing that he always stood next to me so he could tell me how to mix, I assembled the FOH bunker on the edge of the dance floor, right in front of the band so it would sound as loud as possible to him.
Then I popped a tape on for a quick system check. There seemed to be a noticible lack of bottom end.
For front of house we were running 2 Perreaux 2000s on mids and highs, and a 4000 on the bottom end. At 400 watts this was the 'big' amp!
"Jim, can you go and wind up the big Perreaux?" I asked
"Sure" he said...then a couple of seconds later "It's already turned up."
The sinking feeling in my guts heralded a natural disaster on the scale of the Exxon Valdez.
I dashed down to the amp racks.
"Let's check the fuses," suggested Jim. No, they were OK. "Try the power switch" No, it lit up brightly "Check the speakers are plugged in - check the leads - check this - check that."
It was no good - the amp just didn't want to work.
Aaaagh! The last gig of the tour - traditionally the day we'd get paid, a room that 5,000 Moonies could have got married in, no bottom end and no spare amps!
We were in deep shit.
Working on the basis that no sound equals no money, Jim and I feverishly re patched the system so at least something would come out of all the speakers. One side of one 2000 handled all four horns, the other side of it did 2 of the 4560's, and the other 2000 looked after the W's. There was no way I was going to risk anything running on 2 ohms - I wanted the system to see the night out!
I set the compressors on hard limit, and pushed up the faders on the console. Well, it was loud enough in the empty room, but I dreaded to think how it would go with several hundred drunks later on. Still, on a positive note, there was no need to turn the desk lamp on - so many LEDs on the pair of 160x's were lit up that their warm glow was easily enough to mix by!
At the show that night Dick Turpin, the Road Worrier, came and stood next to me as usual. Even with the onstage volume of the band the sound just ran to the edge of the dance floor and dribbled away into the carpet.
"Why are we so close to the front?" he asked
"Oh, I'm a bit worried by phase cancellation and reflections off the back wall in a room this size," I waffled glibly.
Fat chance! It'd be lucky to even reach the back wall, let alone be loud enough to bounce back! The only thing that you might possibly hear from the back would be the sound of people yelling to turn it up!
"Yes, good idea," he said, nodding his head wisely without having the vaguest idea of what I was talking about.
Dick looked around the room at the crowd, and I could see he was just about to go for a little wander. Whoops, we can't have that, I thought, so I tapped him on the shoulder.
"Can you keep an eye on things while I nick off to the dunny?" I asked. "Got an urgent delivery to make!"
"Sure" said Dick. He loved to think he could mix and by crikey I was going to make sure he got his chance.
I disappeared into the crowd, and hung around the back of the room for the next hour until the band was just finishing their last song. Then I rushed up to him
"Jeez, you wouldn't believe it - I got stuck in the dunny. The door jammed and no-one could open it. I've just banged it open now! Thank heavens you were here Dick, I don't know what we would have done otherwise. How did it go?"
Dick's ego filled the room and he tried to look knowledgeable. "It went really well...sounded great. You know, I think we ought to mix from this position every time!"
Aussie Slangwatch - dunny: a common expression for lavatory, toilet, bathroom; as in "Jeez this place stinks like an outback dunny!"
This story first appeared in Connections magazine