Thursday, March 31, 2011

Garbage in, Garbage out

I had the opportunity to chat with Robert Scovill in May last year about mixing and ministry. You can read that blog post here. Robert has accrued more than 3,000 live event mixing credits during the course of a 30-year career. He has worked with such bands as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Matchbox Twenty, Prince, Rush Def Leppard, and Alice Cooper.

One question I had for him was What are your favorite mic’s to use on Drums? Vocals? Guitar Amps? His answer was pure gold for me.

Uh … I hate to be vague here … but at the end of the day, many times I just use what is available. The key is making the source sound good before it gets to the mic. If not, the mic is just a better or worse deliverer of a poor sounding instrument. I just don’t think or work like that where I carry a tool box of my favorite tools. I’ll listen to an instrument and think … hmm let’s try this … I’ll bet that would work well. Now that said, I do tend to gravitate toward certain mics on certain instruments but many times the style of music or the style of the player will dictate what mic I use as much as anything.
I have a mantra that I tell the audio guys on my tech team…my wife even knows it by heart. ‘Garbage in Garbage out.’ Robert reminded me that even a high quality, expensive microphone would simply capture the source well. But if that source did not sound right or good, the great mic, great preamp, great eq would not do the source any good. If that amp, instrument or vocal sounds wrong take the time to make it better. That will mean working with the musician or vocalist or your producer or music director.

You have the responsibility to know your tones and your musicians. I have found that I have to get up on stage and take some time listening. The first part of soundcheck for me actually starts on the stage. I always try to be the first one in the room and have the audio console ready for sound check and all the wireless packs and mics on stage awaiting their users. I also take this time to prepare my heart. I realize the role the audio guy plays in communicating the Gospel on the weekend and pray that I don’t get in the way of that – as I fill that role. This allows me to be relaxed and ready for the musicians and volunteers that arrive on stage. I get to greet them, chat about their week and help them find their place. As I take this time to really listen to them I get to be a part of their life from the past week, while we setup their gear. I will also help them in whatever way they need (moving their cases when needed, cable control as they set up and even grabbing a bottle of water for them). I make it known to them that I am there to serve them. I’m also building that a relationship and an open line of conversation that is a benefit throughout the rehearsal and services

Once they are ready I will take some time to listen to amp tones, drum sounds and voices. This helps me really know what and how they are playing and how that should be replicated through the amplified house sound. It also helps me communicate better to the producer, music director or even the musician if I feel that the sound needs more adjustment than what I can do at the audio console. If tweaks are needed, I’d much rather ask the musician to help make those tweaks from stage, if possible, than having to only manipulate it electronically from the console.

Putting the work into the front end of the sound check like this really helps us control that ‘Garbage in Garbage out’ issue as well as develop strong relationships between the stage and the tech booth.

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