Today is the last of the 4 shows here and it has been a bit of a journey. I started out in near horror of the acoustics and ended up with a mild affinity or acquired taste for the venue. Like driving a different car, there is a feel to each venue and with each song or day, familiarity grows. From day to day we made subtle changes, nothing drastic but refinements that when combined together seemed to bring things to a balanced state. Either that or the parts that bothered me became like sound of an air conditioner in the background, where I just don't notice it after a while. As my expectations slipped away and the enjoyment of the beauty of situation at hand replaced them, I can say I enjoyed the adventure immensely.
Oh, and though I rarely if ever get star struck, partially because I can never recognize anyone and partially because there are not many stars that would strike me, I did feel a bit of awe when Jimmy Page stood behind me and watched the entire show from the sound board area. I was honored to meet him and his son and some things just transcend time. Who would have guessed that 29 years after seeing him at work with his bow in hand on Song Remains the Same tour in '77 (my very first rock concert), that he would come see a show that I am working and turning knobs through a towel! And not only that, he was friendly, sincere and amazingly cool, that rules!
Being a sound engineer can be quite challenging. If you think about it, the people that know most clearly what the show should sound like will never actually hear/experience the show from the audience perspective because they will be on stage. The audience is comprised of humans with vastly differing preferences, some favoring guitar, some want tons of bass, some love the drums and lots and lots that only care about vocals. Now splash in the fact that a portion of the audience is younger and want it loud, a portion are older and want it lower in volume and some of the older ones are going deaf and want it loud like the younger crowd. Now screw with their hearing by dumping in thousands of gallons of beer and drinks into a portion of the audience while leaving the rest completely sober and grab a hand full and cook their brains with whatever other mind altering substance they chose to consume. Now stir in the opinions of the girlfriends or wives of the band members and surround yourself with the bands management. The end result is a sonically diverse perspective concoction with an opinion set as varied as the critters that inhabit the earth.
The key to being a successful sound engineer is confidence and clarity. Your own confidence so you don't get drowned in the sea of opinions and even more importantly, earning the confidence of the artists so that when they walk on stage they know that it will be the best it can be given the variables at hand. Combine that with the clarity of knowing the difference between the things you can and can not control, The clarity to know that the gear is just a tool and never responsible for good sound. And the clarity to find that balance that keeps as many people as possible happy while maintaining the sonic presentation the band wishes to be presented.
Years ago I used to dread when band girlfriends and management would stand out front with me, and I had seen all too many shows where an off hand opinion brought much grief. Now things are different and truly I enjoy being surrounded by people that know the music and know the band and are discerning and care about it being right. Of all the people that come hang out there is one that really enjoys keeping us FOH (front of house) humans on our toes. Here you can see that I marked off and correctly labeled his favorite place to stand:
Thank you Peter for coming to hang out and keeping things interesting!
In order to reduce the likelyhood of a show stopping beer cup bomb, Nick and I have obtained some high quality mixing towels and placed them upon the console. They theoretically should absorb and reduce damage from a direct hit from an incoming liquid bomb. They will not protect from airborne humans. May to my glee, I also discovered that I can actually mix through them. The faint glow of the lights below combined with the creases I formed in the towels around the EQ section are good enough to find everything I need to get to. Plus I can turn the knobs right through the towel so I am good to go and mix the show towels in place.
Now either I am really figuring this room out or I am just getting used to it or the band/audience combo has just really hit a stride or all of the above but it seems to be all falling into place. The strange thing is that I really have changed so little. We did do some work on dialing in the delay clusters but even that was not drastic alteration. Anyway, each show I am enjoying more than the last and tomorrow is the grand finally!