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Saturday, August 12, 2006

First Blog - A really good gig story

My first ever blog :) I've been meaning to get around to this for months now. We'll see if I'm able to stick with it, I have a tendency to get bored sometimes.

Anyway, I had a really good show on Thursday night. I'm a sound engineer for a regional theatre near Brisbane, Australia. On Thursday we had Aled Jones, a well known singer from Wales, performing at our theatre. Normally an international act like his would be touring with their own production crew and equipment, but on this tour he is doing whistlestop shows all over the country back to back so he is using in house engineers and gear to save on the logistics involved.

For me, this was a bonus. Most times I set up the PA and mics, assist the touring engineer with anything they need during soundchecks and then I head backstage to watch the show and then pack it all up. I probably get to mix about 10 or 12 decent acts a year and the rest of the time it is community groups/schools and corporate events with 2 lectern microphones and a CD player.

On this show I got to spec all the equipment we would need to hire in, organise the crew we would need and mix front of house sound. To be honest, I had never heard of Aled prior to the show being advertised for the theatre. I didn't know what his music was like, whether he would be a prima-donna, or if I would hate every minute of it.

To my great joy, Aled and his crew were great to work with. He and his musical director were perfectionists, but that is to be expected in this industry. I guess deep down I am a perfectionist also when it comes to live sound, because I know that when a crowd walks out of a great show they give credit to the performer, when it's a bad show they credit it to the venue. I've always tried to do the absolute best that I can so that my venue keeps a good name. The better the punters think of the venue the more tickets they buy. The better name we have with touring crew and promoters, the more shows that come to our venue. Both things keep me and my crew in work and helps me get new and expensive toys from the Boss :)

This was the first show on the tour so we had a few hassles getting their gear integrated into our rig and figuring out how the show would run etc. The biggest problem was fitting a 75 person choir onto a stage that already had a harp, a string quartet, a grand piano, Aled, and 11 foldback wedges on it. We eventually added extra risers and stood the choir around the string quartet. The choir director wasn’t overly pleased with the situation but I left it to the Tour manager to solve that problem. Sometimes it’s nice being able to handball the nasty stuff up a level.

We had a really long soundcheck/rehearsal due to the musicians being new to the music, and never having performed with Aled prior to this show. As with most professional classical musicians though, the MD gave them music and they played it as though they had been playing it for the last 10 years. It amazes me to this day that people are that talented. It also makes me wish I’d stuck at it when I started learning guitar instead of getting lazy and playing everything by ear. We started sound check at about 4pm and finished at 7:25pm, just 5 minutes before doors opened for the audience.

That gave me 20 minutes to chain smoke as many cigarettes as I could before I needed to be back at the FOH position. I don’t know why but I always smoke more just before a show than I ever do any other time.

The show started with the choir for 20 mins which was a pretty easy mix. Just 2 shotgun mics on the choir and the piano. Aled came on and the job got interesting. I had originally thought that this was going to be set and forget for most of the show. Instead I found dynamic changes throughout the performance that kept me on my toes, watching the musicians, spotting the person who just started playing the main melody, keeping them all balanced and most importantly making sure that every single member of the audience could hear Aled clearly over the top of it all. In our venue, which for that show was set with seats on the flat auditorium floor and seats in the balcony it becomes an interesting exercise in guesstimation. I was set on the floor at the back of the audience and so I knew what I was hearing was pretty close for the 3-400 people downstairs. The 150 or so in the balcony meant I had to guess how loud it was upstairs, and how loud I could get downstairs without annoying the crowd while still ensuring it was loud and clear in the balcony. At interval I had a few punters come and do the standard, “We can’t hear this, we can’t hear that”, comments. I just didn’t have the heart to tell them that most of the times they couldn’t hear the harp was because she was miming to a backing track and wasn’t actually playing.

At the end of the show I got great reports from my manager, the tour manager, the MD and Aled about the sound. It’s always nice to hear from the people who actually know what it should sound like that you got it right. Even better was the tour manager delivering a 30 pack of beer to our crew for a job well done. Now that’s the way to show your appreciation!

All in all this gig went from one where I expected a standard senior citizens entertainment evening, to a gig where I was challenged at every turn, and even more surprisingly, I enjoyed the music.

So that ends the good gig story. Fear not that bad gig stories will follow, and in fact will be more prevalent than good gigs. But, I figured that this gig was worthy of a first blog because it shows that my job is fun, and reminds me why I keep going back for the 14 hour days :)


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