We have a warning this morning. A friend of the band was at todays venue last night watching another gig and said there were serious problems with the P.A. system. It’s always good to get a heads up like this although I don’t know anything other than that so who knows what we are walking into. Luckily we have loads of gear with us if we need it.
Its only a couple of hours drive to Priddy in Somerset so we set off after lunch. A nice gentle day before the next few long drives that are coming up. When we arrive at the venue I’m surprised to see a DB technologies rig with Crown amps ready and waiting for us. Unless its all knackered gear there shouldn’t be any problem with the sound tonight………..
We start our soundcheck. It doesn’t take me long to realise the problem is not the P.A. This is just a really harsh sounding room and I have to butcher the FOH E.Q. to get it sounding workable. The guys are right up against the back wall, so the reflection from the monitors with the previous nights settings is sending so much violin out from the stage that I don’t need any in the main system. These are the gigs where you really earn your money. Any half decent engineer can get a great sound in an ideal environment. What separates the men from the boys is doing it in difficult conditions. I’ve been in much worse sounding rooms in my time, places like Wembley Arena and the Royal Albert Hall are tough rooms to work. Tonight is going to be easier than that………..I hope.
We get soundcheck done and it's loud. I'm having to push the level quite hard to get over the stage volume and also throw the sound down the long room. We have no delay speakers to cover the second half of the audience area today and to top it all off it's not looking like it's going to be a very busy night. The venue seating is set out in a cafe style with groups of 4 or 5 chairs around each table. This is usually a tell tale sign that the gig has not sold very well. Unfortunately, from a sound point of view it means that we are not going to have a lot of bodies in the room to help soak up the reflections and make it easier to mix the show. By the end of our sound check however, I’ve got it pretty good and very loud. I drop the overall level down 4 or 5 db to see how the mix works at different volumes. I like to check this out early so if there are volume complaints during the gig I know I can pull the volume down without being too detrimental to the sound (turning down a mix can cause you as many problems as trying to turn it up especially if you are fighting for clarity over a loud stage). It’s all good though so we stop for dinner.
Fifteen mins before the gig and it's looking like a slow night. There are people in but not enough to create a great atmosphere here. I’m starting to think it's going to be a bit of a let down of a show. A woman comes over and asks if I’m going to blow them away with the volume tonight. I warn her that it was very loud during soundcheck and she may want to move back a table or 2 if she doesn’t want it to be too uncomfortable. It has become apparent from a few conversations I’ve had today that it is well known, that this room doesn’t sound very good, but it’s the only place for gigs locally so they don’t have a choice if they want to hear live music.
Luckily people do not stop coming in to the venue. With five minutes to go the place is starting to get full and I can hear that the room sound is softening. This is going to help me loads. Unfortunately it has a detrimental effect for the stage sound. Faustus take to the stage and within a couple of songs they are starting to need things turned up in their monitors. During soundcheck the guys were hearing a lot of reflections from the room which have now disappeared. In this case the reflections were giving them the definition in sound that they wanted on stage. Now those reflections have gone so has all the clarity. Turning them up on stage then creates a problem with the FOH sound as their monitors reflect more off the back wall and the sound then fires into the audience louder.
At this point an engineer needs to be disciplined with what he does next. The temptation is to turn up the FOH sound to get over the top of the stage. Two problems can occur if you do this repeatedly. First you will eventually get to a point where the sound is uncomfortable for the audience and they want it to be turned down. Secondly, turning up the front of house sound will make the sound on stage messier for the band, in turn they will want their monitors turned up and the problem just gets worse.
For the rest of the first half I make careful adjustments to both the monitor and FOH sounds to find the best overall way of mixing it all together. It’s sounding good out front and the guys are coping on stage and playing really well although it’s never going to be a really comfortable gig for them. At half time I discuss the situation with them and rather than turning things up more we agree on some E.Q. changes to give more definition. The second half starts and the crowd now with a couple of beers down them are getting into the swing of things nicely, lots of banter, stamping and clapping along ensues and the atmosphere is great. The show comes to it’s conclusion and the reaction is great. Loads of people comment on how good it sounded which as usual makes me happy.
Another cracking gig done and dusted. We follow it with a couple of relaxed drinks at the hotel before a relatively early night.