Prepping for a show- a case study
I wrote several articles on specific elements of getting ready for a show, but I never wrote about the entire procedure from the booking call to the event itself. In this article I will break down my process for a specific show I did a short while ago for a legendary singer/songwriter from Slovenia.
This is the second show I have had the privilege to work on for this artist. We met earlier this year when he commissioned me to do sound for his big concert, which included guest star bands and musicians, his own band, a symphony orchestra and a 30-piece choir. The show I will discuss, however, was just him and his band, with the addition of two 2 guest stars.
I got the booking call in May, with the show scheduled for September. The only information I got was the date and the location of the event, but it was still early days, so I decided to wait with getting the rest of the information, as I was certain there would be changes that I would have to account for later. I started actively preparing for the show about 3 weeks before the date of the show.
The first call went out to the artist. I got the information about the band line up, confirmed the date and location and got the contacts for the venue and the band leader.
The second call went out to the venue, as we would be using the sound system that was already installed and provided by them. I received a list of all the audio gear we could use. I had the good fortune of working there previously, so I knew the location, basic dimensions and layout of the venue. I also consulted my notes for that location, which haven’t proven to be very helpful as we were using a different audio setup at my previous visit. The information also included the contacts for the staff members that were in charge of audio, which were noted and saved in my contacts list.
The third call went out to the band leader to get the input list and monitoring needs. As we have worked together once before, I pulled up my old input list and stage plot and adjusted them for this occasion. Then I sent the entire thing via email for confirmation to the band leader.
Adjusting for changes
This step varies in vastness and implications from show to show, but I find it to be almost always present. There will always be minor to moderate changes to your initial plans, so I am always prepared for that by marking every document that I draw up or receive with a version number and date of creation. This helps me keep track of the changes and gives me a reference for communicating with other project members.
The big change for this project was the fact that due to booking issues the original band was changed for another accompanying band. So the input list, the stage plot, the entire communication effort up until that point had to be thrown away. We agreed that I would be present at the rehearsal 3 days prior to the show to meet the band, figure out their input list and monitoring demands and listen to the changed arrangements that would help me mix more efficiently on the day of the event. During that rehearsal I drew up all of the documents with the help of the band’s technicians. We also figured out what additional gear we would need to provide, coordinated our time tables for setup and exchanged contact information. While we were doing all that, I also had my ear glued to the songs and creating simple notes for certain tracks. This was made much easier by the fact that I knew most of the songs beforehand and had a reference point for all my notes.
I went through the stage plot and input list one final time and made final corrections before sending them to everyone involved the next morning. A quick note here- the final change I made had nothing to do with audio, but with the visual impact of placing band members on the stage, creating a balanced look with their placement. After having all communication files sent, it was time for me to do my final technical prep before the show.
Pre-show technical prep
The final technical prep meant checking that I have access to all data about the PA system so I could have a reference on the day if needed (here I am focusing on coverage angles, SPL data and frequency response charts) and creating a session file for the digital mixer I would be using. When I am creating a session file for a band I haven’t worked with yet, I include only organisational and routing components that allow me to move quickly and efficiently through sound check. This means naming and labeling all inputs and outputs, creating matrices and groups, assigning effects, creating proper routing paths, setting up preferences for console behaviour and assigning DCA faders. On inputs, I engage all EQs, engage HPFs on the channels that need them and set them to a uniform frequency of 100Hz. On the dynamics side, I set the make-up gain on compressors for channels that I know I will be treating dynamically (usually 3dB of make up gain, as I initially shoot for 3dB of gain reduction as my compression starting point). I save the session to 2 separate USB drives and also have a file ready on my computer.
I created a session for multitrack recording and then packed all my gear, double checking I have everything I need. Since I have a system for placing items in their own compartments in my suitcase and my backpack, I can quickly determine if something is missing, but it never hurts to double check anyway.
The last thing to do was to check the weather forecast, since this was a covered open air theatre, meaning we would be subjected to outside temperatures and humidity. It suggested heavy rain and quite cold weather, which also meant I had to adjust my wardrobe choices. Quick tip - layers are lifesavers!
On the day
The final check on the day is focused more on the logistics. I scanned the traffic report for possible delays on my route, cheched I had enough power bars in my bag (tip - make sure you bring something to eat with you in case solving potential problems might make you miss out on meal time, plus they make a great gift for your fellow crew members if you want to express your gratitude for a job well done) and off I went.
The documentation I sent in earlier meant that the band techs could prep the stage with minimal need for additional questions, which allowed me to do PA system verification and alignment without much disturbance. We got to run a full line check and perform basic monitor ring out before the act got on stage, which meant that our schedule worked out as planned. It didn’t hurt that we all got there a half hour before the agreed upon time, which is always a good strategy to aim for.
I am glad to report that all that prep resulted in a great show. It was not without its difficulties, as we were battling heavy rain during load in and setup, low temperatures and a guitar amp that decided that ground hum noise is going to be an integral part of its sound for that show, but the artist and the band were satisfied and that is the ultimate goal I strive for.
I hope this insight gives you an idea of my workflow and maybe suggests something you can try out for yourself. Final tip - above all else, don’t forget to bring a smile and loads of good energy to a gig. I found them to be the most useful tools I could have.