The LIVE SOUND MIXING
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The Times They Are a-changin
©1997 Duncan R Fry
Most music enthusiasts would agree that Bob Dylans 1975 World Tour was a watershed for popular music. His appearance at the Monterey Folk Festival with an electric backing band was sheer heresy to folk purists at the time. For them, Bob instantly went from the new Messiah to the Antichrist in the space of an amplified G chord.
Being a bit of a Dylan fan, I went along to see him at Festival Hall when he toured Downunder the following year. Mind you, not having a wispy beard, ragged grey/black old jumper and B.O. that would stop a clock I was in a bit of a minority.
The first half of the show was his regular folkie set, with all the bearded ones nodding their heads and puffing their pipes in time with the music (smoking wasnt the social crime then that it is today). Listening to that stuff now, you can see how Alanis Morrissette figured that if Bob could get away with wheezing into a harmonica, then she could too!
But it was the second half that galvanised the audience. Jeez he had a shitkicker of a group backing him! Im pretty sure it was The Band, but Im happy to be corrected on that. They ground into a blistering version of Like a rollin' stone' followed by 'Highway 61 Revisited, the audience leapt to their feet and half of them kept right on moving, straight out the door, choking on self-righteous indignation (and their pipes!), shaking their fists and yelling that he had sold out. That was fine with me...I slid into a couple of freshly vacated seats in the front row and had a ball.
Well, youd have to have your head stuck up your fundamental orifice not to see that live production is a-changing just as much as Bobs music did back then. You cant be like the folk purists and hope that it doesnt because it already has!
The days of driving around in a truck, loading a complete system in and out of clubs and pubs night after night are long gone. The places that have not succumbed to the lure of poker machines and other forms of involuntary wealth redistribution have fitted their lounges out with house systems. Sure, it costs them more per week, but they dont have to hang around all night while the PA and lights are all packed up and dragged by grunting sweaty persons through their neat carpeted foyer.
Where this leaves the independent PA meisters is out in the cold if they dont see the winds of change a-blowing! If I was in that business now Id be busy installing systems in every possible place that would have one, and mixing on them at night.
A freelance mixer touring with a band these days really has their work cut out for them. No more using your own system every night, the one that you knew its every quirk and nuance and could drag a decent sound out of even if you were half asleep! Now you have a different system of varying quality every night, and somehow you have to make it a gig that the audience will remember.
What they end up remembering it for it another matter! An evening can go from just ordinary to memorable in a split second.
Some years ago, young Jim my trusty assistant had taken the PA and truck down to Phillip Island by himself to do a pub gig with a local blues and boogie band. Being locals, they were very popular and the place was jammed. Jim was mixing his little heart out, the band was playing away happily and everyone was dancing and jumping up and down. From his mix position Jim could just see the bands heads over the audience as they all bopped away on stage.
Suddenly, without any warning the drummer and drums just disappeared, rapidly followed by the rest of the band imploding into the centre of the stage! The music stopped and there was an uneasy silence. Jim pushed his way to the stage, fearing an alien abduction had taken place!
The stage had consisted of worn out sheets of chipboard, gaffer-taped together and stacked up on 2 layers of milk crates. This no expense spared combination had suddenly and jointly come to the end of its working life, and it was not a pretty sight! Guitar amps, mic stands, drums and musicians all tipped over, folded up and disappeared as if into some musical black hole!
Luckily the PA system itself was unscathed as there had been no room for it on the stage so Jim had popped it up on tables each side.
After Jim picked himself up off the floor where he had fallen after laughing so much he couldnt stand up, he went over to the band who were crawling out of the hole in the stage.
Jeez that was really great, guys, he said, helping them to their feet. What do you do for an encore?
This story first appeared in Connections magazine