The live music festival – a battleground of wet socks, sunburn, dehydration, challenging personalities, and the biggie: limited time.
Let’s dive right into techniques at (and away from) the console that can help insure a great mix, dry clothes, a killer tan, sufficient hydration, and time to use the bathroom, along with the opportunity to be personable and professional.
As someone who’s worked dozens of festivals over the years, I’ve found that true success in this arena always revolves around preparation, fundamentals, and a tried-and-true workflow.
I’m going to look at this from two perspectives: that of the front of house engineer who’s mixing most/all of the programming, as well as that of the hybrid role of FOH engineer and A1 tech. Both share skill sets yet are distinct; it’s also vital to understand your specific role well in advance of the event.
Before jumping into the technical side of things, the single factor that seems to most impact success in this environment most is the “advance.” This is the work done before the gig either by yourself, the production manager, or both. Load-in details, day-of-show contact details, stage plots and input lists, gear list, personnel, and so much more need to be sussed out.
Paperwork (in analog and/or digital form) and being very organized with what to expect is crucial. Day-of-show surprises are inevitable and for the most part, should be expected. With the right advance work ahead of the gig, many surprises don’t have to be surprises, which lead to added stress.
I also work up a separate spreadsheet that calculates how many microphones, cables, DI boxes, and mic stands will be needed. The point is to be proactive – pick up the phone, make gear lists, spreadsheets and whatever else will be helpful in the organizational sense, and send some emails. I covered several of these things previously in “Advancing The Show” (December 2015 LSI).
How To Not Collapse
Step back a bit and look at the typical festival day from the health perspective. Early mornings after late nights, hot and/or maybe wet days, packed schedules with no real clear view on when, if at all, there will be time to eat. Packing sunscreen, snacks like nutrition bars, bottles of water, band-aids, aspirin/pain relievers, a spare shirt, hat and socks, and extra earplugs is a great start.
Although not your sole job, being aware of what time it is as well as what’s happening now and next is crucial to each day moving along smooth and on-time. I wear a wristwatch, which helps keep me on track even though my phone also provides the time. Having a large clock for the stage helps both with the crew and the performers. Keep in mind that the crucial info entertainers most need is how much time is left until they’re off.
Making The Connection
Quite often I’ve not heard the acts I’m about to mix. Taking a few minutes to introduce myself to the band on a change-over helps put everyone on a good footing and the same page.
I also ask how the band wants the mix to sound and if I need to know anything out of the ordinary (like ambitious lead signers climbing the truss), along with simple mix suggestions like additional reverb of vocals, mixing a track on top (or below) everything else, and so on.
This quick effort to connect can do wonders for everyone involved.
Stop Yelling At Me!
Communication between FOH and the deck is crucial. Wired “com” via the usual players is a huge help, and to ensure/enhance wireless communication to/from the deck regardless of what the event or client is able to provide, I deploy my own 2-way radios.
I also dig using a “squawk box,” which for me, most days, is a small loudspeaker with a switched mic hard-lined to FOH and another for the monitor position.
These lines come down the snake line via copper as a few XLR drive lines or analog snake line return. The key here is to try and maintain communication (without yelling) in the event of a console or stage box failure.