Have you ever wondered what the working life of a live sound engineer is like? Jim Parsons, the course leader for our popular Live Sound degree course has recently been placing his hands on the live sound rigs of the band Reef and has been keeping a tour diary for the dBs Music blog.
"You often hear musicians or crew types saying that they are “going on a tour”, but what does this involve from the sound engineers’ point of view? Well, there are basically two types of touring, the first kind is reserved for acts who have the status and pulling power to have nightly audiences from around 2,000 and above. This is called a ‘production tour’ and all sound and lighting equipment (even the staging sometimes) is carried by road from venue to venue for each ‘production’ show. This enables a consistent result and the performance quality should be the same every night.
"Acts who attract smaller audiences normally play in venues which have permanently installed sound and lighting systems and this is what I have been doing this week between teaching and lectures, with Somerset rock band Reef.
"So, four sold out shows this week in Bath, Reading, Falmouth and Bridport, featuring different mixing desks and speaker systems and varying venue acoustics with an average audience size of 700 excitable fans who sing along with all the older material.
"All speaker systems were point source, not line array, and all consoles were digital. So wildly varying challenges each day as well as coping with the venues being in city centres (often in pedestrianised zones) making travel and parking a major niggle, and that’s before I even walk into the venue and discover various parts of the sound system are mysteriously not working properly. So I spent a lot of time each day testing stuff and working out a plan to make the gig a success."
The venue is a large restored theatre club with high vaulted ceiling, an in-house 4 camera video team and friendly technical crew. Unfortunately there were various problems which meant the soundcheck was fraught with delays caused by bad cables and mis-patches. The band played brilliantly and the unbranded sound system made a suitably deafening and impressive noise. You will notice that I am keeping the banjo rather quiet in the mix.
"This show was initially notable for my sat. nav. taking me into a pedestrianised dead-end road. However once at the venue I found myself in a long dark room with a low ceiling full of crew that I knew previously and a vast heavy metal style Nexo system that extended right up to the roof. Gary, our front man and excellent vocalist managed to throw his microphone in the air and get it stuck around the lighting truss during the concert to great amusement from the crew. We are not travelling with a monitor engineer and rely on local staff. But luckily, we had a very experienced operator and the band rocked while the audience shouted and sang along with enthusiasm. I am an Avid Venue Instructor and so the desk was very familiar and I had a prepared showfile."
"I travelled down from dBs Music Plymouth with second year Live Sound student Adam Gilbert who shadowed me during the day and helped with stage patching and by reminding me when I had forgotten something. Falmouth is of course the HQ for console manufacturer Allen & Heath and Carey Davies who works for them and also at the venue managed to get a demo dLive S5000 console for me to use on the show. Strange that we had one of the best and most advanced digital mixing systems coupled to a huge and ancient Opus speaker system!
"The gig was excellent and I really enjoyed the sonic clarity, facilities and layout of the Allen & Heath dLive and it's become my new favourite digital desk. At one point I was rather off put to notice that there were four A&H staff standing around the mix position watching me!"
"I remember this 1930s art deco hall from my childhood as I lived about 4 miles away and it was my local cinema. Now restored and rammed full of Dorsets’ finest this was a triumph for the band despite some guitar amplifier problems.
"The venue has a noise problem with the council and grumpy neighbours and so I was working to a set decibel noise level which can be tricky with a loud band like Reef. I ended up ignoring it as the audience shouting and cheering was hitting the 100dBA limit between numbers. The venue manageress told me it was the best gig that had ever happened in Bridport and that the sound made her all wobbly so I must have been doing something right!"