This October I'm out on tour with the folk trio Faustus. I have been working with these guys for a few years now and this tour is an exciting one. The band have just released their third album Death And Other Animals.
To check out more about Faustus go to www.faustusband.com
The set up is a simple one comprising of melodeon, violin, cor anglais, guitar, bouzouki and three vocals. On the technical side we tour with a Behringer x32 rack mixer, 4 x QSC k10 monitors, an iPad and a laptop. We plug into whatever PA system the house has and away we go. Audience numbers average between 75 and 150 people most days and it is a fully acoustic show.
Day 1 The Performing Arts Centre Lincoln
It's my first time in this venue, it's nice, an RCF system is permanently installed here 2 subs, 2 ground stacked tops, 2 flown tops and delayed spots hung under the balcony. To my shock it seems to be well time aligned and the installers have done a great job of getting even coverage around most of the room. Normally this type of venue is terribly kitted out. Old knackered gear that is only useful in a skip, repair work done so badly that speakers are sometimes wired out of phase or re-drivered with the cheapest parts they could find so the left and right never match. I run into a slight snag early on with one of the subs lower in volume than the other but it turns out it's only turned down on the amp and so its an easy fix.
We load our gear in quickly, the room was in use for a piano recital until 5pm and doors for our show open at 7:30pm. We don't have a lot of time to get things going. Luckily, I have been touring my x32 and monitors with these guys for a few years now so I have a show file that is already pretty good for the stage sound. I just need to make a few adjustments with the FOH eq and we are ready to go. It's a very dry sounding room which makes things easy to mix FOH...most of the time. It also often makes the stage feel a little lifeless, as is the case today. To combat this I have to make a few eq changes on a couple of monitor mixes and turn them all up 5db from the previous show a few weeks ago. It doesn't solve the problem but it helps things. Sometimes in this situation adding a bit of reverb in the monitors (something that as a general rule I am completely against doing) can help to give it a bit of life but we don't have a lot of time and the guys need to rehearse parts from the new album for the show. We decide to go with it and make do tonight. I do also find the P.A. sound is louder stage right than it is stage left. Normally I try to sort these problems out before I start soundcheck but with todays time constraints I just boost the desks output on one side to compensate and run with it.
Everything is new for all four of us today. The guys are going to play every song on the new album and for almost all the tracks, it is their very first public performance so we don't quite know what is going to happen. No matter how much rehearsal time you manage there is nothing quite like actually playing or mixing a gig to find out what you don't know about a song. Bands often need to rearrange music for a live performance compared to what they recorded in the studio because things don't always translate that well. You never find out for sure what will work until you get in front of a crowd and go for it.
Faustus are three extremely talented musicians Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick from Bellowhead fame and Saul Rose from The Wayward band, Whapweasel and many more. The new album is full of very technically demanding stuff to play. I too have to learn the new material along with them. Mixing is a performance just like playing an instrument. You help create feel, dynamics and texture in the music and you are doing everything you can to get each song across to the audience in the best way possible. With these guys I need to learn the feel of all the new songs, where the solos are and most importantly how to layer the vocals. They create a huge sound both musically and vocally, all three of them sing lead vocals at different points and they do absolutely killer three part harmonies. On top of that, the new material is a little more rock orientated. With this in mind I'm pushing things a bit more aggressively than perhaps I have on previous tours. You have to be careful with a folk audience, they often don't like things "too loud". Over the last few years I have found that volume is not really the issue though. Its all about "CLARITY".
Folk is about stories, history and social issues. The words are extremely important, way more than your average throw away pop lyric. Above all the crowd want to hear every single word crystal clear. When you hear folk normally it often sounds weak and bland, just the very basics of turning it up so the audience can hear. Faustus on the other hand got me mixing their sound for a very good reason;
They don't want to sound like folk.
Before I started working with them we discussed what they were looking for. A much more in your face upfront sound than you get from your local folk engineers. To satisfy both sides of the equation I need to bring my A game every night. I need to get it loud and in your face to have the energy of a rock gig; while keeping clarity in everything so that the audience can follow the stories from start to finish. All this while often using some pretty shocking P.A. systems.
Tonight is a great start though, having subs on FOH helps to add power to the mix. The PA is very clear all night so its easy to hear every word. A couple of times in the first half it feels like the stage left stack drops in volume briefly almost like dry joints on cabling or amplifiers. Near the end of the first half the subs jump up in volume by about 5 db for no apparent reason. Although these issues are both out of the blue and a little disconcerting they don't really spoil the show and the second half is completely stable.
It is a sad state of affairs but sound quality is an afterthought for most venues. Many places like this will pour a lot more money into visual aspects e.g. lighting and decor, while doing the cheapest thing they can get away with on the audio side. The same goes for technical staff. They often learn the lighting and visual aspects reasonably well but when it comes to repair, maintenance and operating sound equipment they are usually lacking (it never ceases to amaze me that in house technicians often have no idea that parts of their P.A. systems are faulty or completely broken, and care even less when you tell them). The irony is that if you are putting on a music concert the primary thing that needs to be good is the sound. You can leave the house lights on or turn them all off (as long as the band can play in the dark) and you can still have a great concert if it sounds good. If it sounds crap the concert will be crap, you can't get away from that.
Tonight goes swimmingly well though. The venue tech guys were very helpful and the show ran pretty smoothly. The crowd had a great time, the new music kicks ass and I'm happy with the way it sounded. It's an away win for Team Faustus and we are rewarded with a........
very long day tomorrow.