The Glitch Blog #9 – Euro!

Ok, so this entry is way overdue!  We completed the first Euro tour last week and I’m lucky to have a bit of downtime today to finally log it while still fresh!  This entry could easily become a photo dump; there was an infinite amount of stuff to see and these days I always have my trusty Phomera at my side.

Enjoying some legit Currywurst with the boys!  As seen on the official Glitch Mob Food Blog - The Glitch Nom http://theglitchnom.tumblr.com/

Enjoying some late-night Currywurst with the boys edIT, Ooah and Chris! As seen on the official Glitch Mob Food Blog – The Glitch Nom http://theglitchnom.tumblr.com/

Where to begin?  After a quick layover in France, we touched down in Vienna for our first show the following day.  It was a Sunday, and although I brought a handy US -> Euro power converter, I needed one with 3 prongs for my Macbook charger.  Easy, right?  Nope, it’s Sunday!

Euro travel tip – it’s Sunday, EVERYTHING is closed.  Ok, not quite everything…if you’re looking for a bite to eat, or a hotel to sleep, you’re probably all right.  If you’re looking to buy, hypothetically, a power converter, or toothpaste, or a sweater, you’re probably out of luck.  It must be nice though – a day every week to unwind and truly spend with the fam, friends, and leave the wallet on your dresser at home.

Or hotel room - if that's your thing?

Or hotel room – if that’s your thing?

The responsibilities of a FOH engineer touring locally versus in another country are a bit different.  For starters, I wasn’t traveling with any sound equipment…no speakers, no subs, no console.  The only weapon in my arsenal was my laptop, which does aid in tuning the PA, though for that I rely on my ears and some well-loved tracks more than anything (I don’t recommend tuning a sound system to music you don’t like.  It can only end badly.  Love the music and the system will shine through!).

We did have a road case with In-Ear-Monitors for the band, which keeps things consistent for our boys The Glitch Mob.  Monitors are, arguably, the most crucial element of a live show; if the band can’t hear themselves and coordinate, there is no structure and there is no show.

For about half this run, I was controlling Monitors from Front of House, as well as the house mix.  For those of you new to the game, Front of House (FOH, aka my job) controls what the audience hears – monitors are the means for the performing artists to hear what they, and their bandmates, are playing.  Each band member often has a different “mix” of the show tailored to their specific needs and parts.

Typical FOH Point of View

Typical FOH Point of View – this was at one of our festivals in France

In our case, Ableton automates each mix individually based on at what point we are in the set.  Really amazing stuff, big props to Nerdmatics and [namethemachine] for a killer rig!  She is also known as Kim…

This is Kim.

"Lil" Kim

“Lil” Kim

She’s about 600 pounds.

Backside

Backside

She’s also the “brain” of our entire show, processing and distributing every bit of information The Blade throws at her.

Kim...I am your father

Kim…I am your father

 

She absolutely, positively, most definitely can not be flipped on her side or head, even for a second, ever.  Wheels down is a must at all times.  This made for a very interesting couple Euro shows where there was no elevator, and only stairs, to reach the stage, where she lives nightly.  Over the course of this leg, she was carried down, and then later up, multiple flights of stairs – probably over a hundred in total.  This is quite a task for our crew (5 total for Europe, about half the size of our US crew), but we have a lot to thank the local stagehands for!  Namely, carrying and/or helping to carry our gear.

Here’s a cheers to local stagehands everywhere, especially the ones breaking sweat and busting ace; the under-appreciated and unsung heroes, without whom the world would never see a large-scale concert in full production.  We do appreciate you!  More specifically, our backs appreciate you.  Trust me – before touring, while learning the ropes in San Francisco, I was the house engineer for many venues, and worked with touring acts all the time, hauling their heavy-ass gear from point A to B and then back again. Always remember to show some love, because it’s hard work!

All this talk of Europe and I haven’t even gotten to the first show: a well-known venue in Vienna called Flex.  One interesting characteristic is it’s built right next to a canal that runs through the heart of the city.  You don’t want to take your eyes off any rolling road cases, or you might be fishing your show out of the river.  If you ever see our monitor engineer Goose Dyrrg, ask him about fishing an amp rack out of a river (on a previous tour).

The show at Flex was amazing.  Our first of the run and it was ultra sold-out; I’m pretty sure all of the shows on the run sold out, actually.  From what I saw throughout the run, crowds in Europe are very vocal about singing along to the songs – even when there are no words!  To them, a melody is a melody, whether it’s a vocal or synth.  For the most part, their claps were locked into time as well – when the PA was loud enough to overpower them, which it sometimes wasn’t, as they have a 100dB limit on most countries in Europe – it’s the law, fun!  More on that later…

This was taken in Switzerland, not Vienna - but this was a common sign posted nearly everywhere, and who do you think it was directed toward?

This was taken in Switzerland, not Vienna – but this was a common sign posted nearly everywhere, and who do you think it was directed toward?

We even got to patch into their Video Wall, allowing fans to enjoy custom video content not possible on many of the other nights!

Not traveling with sound does carry the advantage of a light pack.  We also weren’t traveling with any lights or video walls – our truck pack was basically just merch and backline (the stage setup/instruments), and of course the lovely Kim.

Thus, our “tour bus” for the Euro run consisted of two Sprinter vans driven by our new friends Matthias and Ollie, representing Captured Live in Germany.  One van drove the gear.  The other van drove everyone, including the band – 9 seats, fully occupied by 18 cheeks.  Everyone got along well, and there was power outlets, which is to me the ultimate game-changer for travel, allowing us to work on music ’round the clock!  I have some great stuff in store, keep an eye on my Soundcloud for upcoming releases!

 

Captured Live!  Great guys!

Captured Live! Great guys!

The View

The View

It was a nice way to see the countryside, though many of the shows were fly-dates and most of the time in the Sprinter was spent sleeping (except our Tour Manager Justin, who even while he slept was still on his laptop advancing shows).

Beastmode

Beastmode

Looks like I will complete the remaining Euro entries in installments – episodes?  If I’d had the time, energy, presence of mind, and WiFi (working, not merely “connected” without actually loading anything – #europroblems) this could have been the entry I made just a few days into the Europe tour.  Expect an update within the next few days with many more pictures, good times, and tales of travel!

Make a wish - see you soon!

See you soon, til then – make a wish!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #4 – Completing the First Chapter

Capping off our first leg of the tour, last night in Austin was possibly the most electrified show yet!  Penthouse Penthouse, Ana Sia, and Glitch Mob all played dynamic and seemingly effortless sets, while technical execution behind the scenes went exactly as planned (see: Transparent).  A telling sign of a good performer is for the crowd to be moved without being able to explain why (see:  Sunset).  A telling sign of a good production team, be it sound, lighting, video or otherwise – is for the audience to never even know they are there (see: Ninja).

From the first note of the night, the crowd was hit with a flurry of 8-bit and bit-crushed melodies, cascading through a waterfall of arpeggios, initially ushered through the speakers by Penthouse Penthouse (of Team Supreme) who have supported us as openers throughout the tour.  Team Supreme are proteges of Producer-turned-teacher Steve Nalepa of Dubspot; one of The Glitch Mob’s first ever songs was a remix of Nalepa’s “Monday”, adding steam to the theory of band manager Kev Wolff that “It All Lends Itself.”

Penthouse Penthouse perfectly sets the scene for Ana Sia, crate-digging legend of the LA Beat scene, to ignite the dancefloor with her own electric spin.  As a DJ who knows her music A side to B, one song leads smoothly into another, the steady pulse of beats and bass breaking just long enough for the audience to catch their second, third, and fifth wind.

Ana Sia on decks

Ana Sia on decks

 

The combined force of two consistently solid openers creates the perfect storm for The Glitch Mob to blow open the floodgates, letting loose a maelstrom of melody.  This last show in particular – with a hyped crowd and spotless performance – was a great way to close out the first run of the tour to a sold-out room, with well over 2,000 fans lighting up the night.  Our first stretch as a team – and the first time TGM has played live in nearly 4 years – has served as a testing ground for The Blade, (pictured below), and the many elements that power it.

TGM_Bandshot2

Our next run navigates us through a winding landscape of music festivals, each with their own quirks, some tossing slow-balls and others aiming to throw a rock in the machine.  However, by sorting through the spontaneous technical challenges in these first few weeks – refining, rethinking and even overhauling our methods, we are all growing more honed in sharpening our skills and – collectively – The Blade.

While we’re only a month or so into the tour, the scope of the new things I’ve learned is hard to put into words.  The music I produce as Anoctave (if you’re interested, my Soundcloud) has already adapted, from seeing up-close how masters of the craft apply song structure, balancing different instruments and their roles in the song, while maintaining a moving and cohesive experience throughout a performance that many will retain for a lifetime.

Next up – Ultra Music Festival in Miami, followed by Coachella, Electric Forest, and many dates in between.  Aside from festivals, we will be playing venues the West Coast and Midwest, so if you’re near LA or San Francisco be sure to see it for yourself!  I’m especially looking forward to The Warfield where I’ve enjoyed life-changing performances from Amon Tobin and Skrillex, one of my absolute favorite venues in my hometown of SF!

If you have any comments/pictures to post please feel free to send – I will continue to update this blog with our next leg (starting with Coachella) and my time on the road.  Hope to see you soon!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #3 – Buku Festival

Ah, Buku – our first music festival as a team, and we are headlining our stage.  Buku takes place in beautiful New Orleans, home to a profusion of culture and Cajun food (coincidentally, two of my favorite things) – and of course the hometown of Ooah, where he first picked up the drum sticks that would roll him into the world of music and producing.

NOLA

Producer’s Corner:  Today I learned that, when producing music (and bass-driven music in particular) you need to be mindful of the sort of sound systems you plan on performing through.  For example, in the early years of your career, it’s a little tricky to successfully perform songs that focus on “deep bass”, such as 30-40hz.

When translated to the key of a song, this would be somewhere between a (very) low C and E.  Part of the reason is because smaller clubs with a capacity of, say, less than 800 people, typically don’t invest in Subwoofers that go much below 40 or 50hz, so they will be missing a large element of your song.  Until recently, it didn’t make much sense to do so, for a simple reason – typical instruments used by bands don’t go below 40 hz, which is an open low E string on a bass guitar.

It was long thought – and taught to me in school – that there isn’t musical information below 50hz, which is considered by some as merely “Sub-bass”.  This is indicative of the old-school mindset that dominated the industry before electronic dance music came to overshadow traditional bands, clearly illustrated by the many EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festivals that pull hundreds of thousands of fans in a single weekend, something the live industry (though I love it dearly) doesn’t succeed in outperforming.

What I’m getting at is there is musical information all the way down to the lowest note in the human hearing range – although it may be harder for our ears to discern slight frequency deviations at those low notes, and that it’s important to keep mind that every frequency in the entire sound spectrum relates to a musical key, and that if you’re writing a song in C – while you should try to have some presence at 30hz, the fundamental frequency C corresponds with – you will be best off focusing on its next octave, 60hz, when playing on sound systems in smaller rooms.  Just something to keep in mind (and I try to take my own advice) when writing your next banger!

PK CX800's we tour with - ultra-low frequency response!

PK CX800’s we tour with – ultra-low frequency response!

</Producer’s Corner>

Back to Buku, where we start our morning with the shuttle arriving nearly 30 minutes late to pick up the crew from the hotel.  By the time we arrive to the scene our Semi truck waits idly, still fat and loaded to the brim with an entire production’s worth of video, lighting, and sound, beckoning us to lighten its load.

It’s easy to imagine that headlining would permit an extended period of time for setup and soundcheck; to the contrary, this has to be our fastest setup yet with a total of 4 hours between load-in and cutoff.  With the entire set to bring in and ensure everything is checked and ready to roll, it’s worth noting there really is no “holding doors” for a music festival with thousands of fans foaming at the mouth to hit the multiple stages these grounds have to offer.

Fortunately the crew – seasoned professionals who are all too familiar with the importance of keeping a cool head under pressure – works together in getting the stage set with our entire production, cutting our setup time nearly in half.  It is, for me personally, an easier setup than usual – with no option of bringing my PK CX800 subs to the stage, I am mixing on a D&B rig today.  I perform a quick phase test to make sure the system is properly aligned, and to my relief I find the production company has done a good job of setting the table.

Though a “flat” sound system – one that produces an even and full frequency response across the entire human hearing range, flat with respect to the output signal matching the input signal – will sound good with virtually any type of well-produced music, tuning a system for The Glitch Mob calls for minor system adjustments that lend to their signature sound.

<Tech Talk>

Theoretically, a perfect sound system will accurately reproduce the material that is sent to it; every dB of every frequency being transmitted and evenly spread throughout the room.  However in “the real world”, where artists and techs are typically forced to operate, much like a penguin wanting to fly, we are striving to achieve a goal that is in a sense impossible to fully realize due to the laws of physics/acoustics…though that is actually part of the fun, like assembling a puzzle as close to completion as possible, while understanding that you are – and always will be – a few pieces short.  As time passes and techniques improve those pieces become less noticeable, like a blue tile missing from a puzzle of the Pacific Ocean.

Puzzle - Fingering Zen

Puzzle – Fingering Zen

Throughout the conversion process, from the sound the instrument produces acoustically, to the microphone that transmits its vibrations into electrical energy into the mixing console to be converted into a Digital signal, then out of the console and converted back into the Analog world, then sent to the sound system processors, which do yet another digital-to-analog conversion before sending the sound to the speakers, which finally convert the electrical energy back into acoustic energy into the real world (head spinning yet?) – there are bound to be minor variances that will “transform” the original signal, intentionally or otherwise, into sounding different than it did at the beginning of its journey.

Furthermore – and here’s the real caveat – any room or outdoor space that the sound system transmits acoustic energy into will “color” the overall sound, as walls and other surfaces (even trees) will reflect certain frequencies back at each other, causing dips and peaks depending on where in the room you are standing.

Try it yourself – next time you are at a concert, walk across the room and pay attention as the tonality of the music changes – even the same Lead instrument can sound completely different 5 feet to the right or left – with bass notes being especially notorious for having a mind of their own!  However in moving around, you can find your own “sweet spot” in the room, and enjoy the show like no other.  Try moving next time you are unhappy with the sound – while a good sound engineer will strive to achieve a mix that is balanced for the overall crowd, there will inevitably be better sounding areas than others.  Happy hunting!

</Tech Talk>

Buku was a massive success, and though the changeover was tight with technical issues rearing their ugly heads – we solved them before the downbeat and were able to kick the show off at the exact moment we were scheduled.  It was our biggest show yet, with multiple rows of video panels lining the hall as the sound of TGM filled the world around us.  For 90 minutes – 15 minutes longer than we were originally scheduled to play, before the festival decided they wanted the full Glitch Mob Experience – an entire hall of thousands were united as one.

Today’s Challenge:  The sound of an empty room, or hall – or whatever listening environment – versus that of a full one, is literally a world of difference.  Fledgling engineers, when put in a position of having to tune a system and make an empty room sound good, often overcompensate and feel the need to cut every offending frequency and boost the weak ones.  Usually, this has done more harm than good as when the room is full and the downbeat hits, the show takes flight in front of thousands, and an overzealous engineer is left with an unnatural and hollow sound.

I have found you are better off doing only minor adjustments to the system, taking mental (or written) note of frequencies that are seriously offensive, and save any major EQing for the show.  In other words, trust the engineers who built the system have done their job – once the room fills up with people (“water-bags”, as my Live Sound instructor fondly refers to them), the sound of the room will even out as the liquid of human insides absorbs most of the major reflections.  Yes, you too are contributing to the sound of the show, and sound engineers and artists alike thank you mightily for being there and contributing to the cause!

To summarize, a few well-placed minor tweaks – along with proper alignments techniques – are way more efficient than drastic EQ cuts and boosts!

Today’s Highlight:  I must say that mixing TGM in the heart of New Orleans, while experiencing the amazing food and culture the city has to offer, takes the award for Today’s Highlight.  I could not be happier or more appreciative to work with such an amazing crew and band, who have the most energetic and supportive fanbase I believe this world has ever seen.

TGM_BandshotBuku
Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #2: Day off in Philadelphia!

Our first day off is in Philadelphia, a few short miles from Independence Hall where the Constitution was signed.  Among other things, I am proud to have learned the proper spelling is Philadelphia, not the Urban Dictionary-esque Philidelphia (I almost found this out the hard way, as WordPress seemingly does not spellcheck blog titles, I would’ve looked a total ass to my East Coast friends – but at least I didn’t try Phillydelphia).

The crew went in their own directions, some in groups and some solo, soaking up the drinks and food and vibe and experiences of the city, others spending their day at rest.  It certainly does serve an admirable view, especially from 19 floors in the air:

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA – home of the Cheese Steak

Today’s challenge:  Waking up.  It has been a while since I was so beat!  Sleep is like a good relationship you damn-near forget to appreciate until it’s gone.

Today’s highlight:
  edIT and I went out to lunch, so we could talk about tuning the different sound systems on our tour, and touch base on how things have been going.  I brought my laptop with Ableton into the restaurant so we could go over frequency analyzers, how to best use them in conjunction with our ears and achieve a sound that will translate well through any system.  We crossed a spectrum of production topics, from shaping leads to layers of drums and fuzzy bass distortion, highly informative and relevant stuff I’m already applying to my own music as Anoctave.  If you’re interested in edIT’s production techniques, I recommend checking out his Youtube page where you will find a wealth of information, presented in his own cohesive and comprehensive terms.

Tomorrow we’re back on the bus for a 15 minute drive to the Electric Factory, an actual converted electric factory in Philadelphia, that supports up to 3000 people.  I am especially looking forward to mixing on a VDosc line array with PK Subs, driven by an incredibly dynamic band, one of the best combinations in the world.

TGM_bandshot

Hope to see you there!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog #1 – First two shows

Wow, so much to summarize in one post!  The days are already flying by, and I would like to keep this blog current, so for the sake of efficiency I will try to .zip these two days into one condensed archive.

Our first show was in Portland, Maine, with the band and crew flights touching down a little over 12 hours before load-in.  A brief round of drinks to reunite the team after our 4-day “vacation” between rehearsals and the actual tour, then the majority of us were lights-out before Midnight.

Our bodies are still reeling from the change in time zones, paired with Daylight Savings stealing an hour of our lives just days prior, but everyone manages to make it in time for our Bus call the next morning.  Our first time seeing the bus, and she is beautifully laid out with condo bunks (!) for the crew, a nice area to chill in front and back, and fully stocked with food and drink requests made days earlier.

Me in my natural element - tightly packed living quarters

Me in my natural element – tightly packed living quarters

After a short ride we arrive at the State Theater, reminiscent of The Warfield in San Francisco, and greeted by a pleasant house crew eager to help unload the semi truck with all our gear, packed from end to end with millions of dollars worth of crucial equipment.  The show went surprisingly well for the first day, with over 1600 fans filling the house with energy.  The stage setup, coined The Blade, has finally been unveiled!  I can’t post pictures yet but would imagine that you, the crafty GM fanbase, can find the show on Youtube – while it may not do full justice to the set, you will definitely feel the energy and warm reception the crowd shared through the night.

The following day at House of Blues in Boston proved to be even more successful, as the entire show went off flawlessly to a packed house.  The venue is beautiful with a seasoned and hard-working crew, a giant standing floor of General Admission tickets, and two levels of mezzanine above.  Once the doors open and the floodgates are released, its vibrancy and acoustics transform from cavernous to tight – all in a matter of minutes.

Boston House of Blues

Boston House of Blues

<Tech Talk>
Part of my job is tuning the sound system, and timing the delay between the subwoofers, sidefills, and mains.  Regardless of how you tune the system, the show will be irreparably imbalanced if it isn’t aligned down to the millisecond, due to the physics of different parts of the sound system combining.  I ensure we are perfectly aligned using phase tools found in SMAART, analyzers in Ableton, pink noise generators and oscillators, and most importantly my ears.

SMAART - not for dummies

SMAART – not for dummies

A quick and effective method is to measure the distance between the subs and mains and use that as a starting point for your delay between speakers.  Then play a sine wave with a frequency of the crossover point through the subs and one side of the PA.  Make sure it is the same relative level coming through both sets of speakers.  The sine wave should last about 100ms and loop every second, with a little “snap” on the front and back end (achieved with a -3 sustain envelope and zero release).

Then flip the subs out of phase and adjust the sub delay time until they are at their quietest.  After that point, when you flip the subs back into phase they will be at their most constructive and powerful; this is a good time to tweak the delay by samples (fractions of milliseconds) until they  match up seamlessly, if you used my recommended envelope they will “snap” simultaneously without sounding like the tone is “stretching”.  It’s vital this value is accurate to the millisecond, as one millisecond can make the difference between a terrible sounding show and a great one, the latter being what you are going for!

</Tech Talk>

Today/Yesterday’s Challenge:  The difference between mixing a band through a compact sound system vs. a line array is considerable, and takes some getting used to.  Fortunately by knowing their songs in and out, the band’s energetic performance, paired with analyzation tools such as RTA mics and SMAART, and my ears, the system was hitting in all the right places, pumping between 105dB and 110dB of A-weighted sound pressure levels (in other words, full-bodied and impactful sound without being uncomfortably loud).

Today/Yesterday’s Highlight:  Mixing the band on an Adamson and then Vertec line array with PK Subs were two of the most fun experiences I’ve had behind a console.  The energetic feedback of the audience as they sang along to songs from an album released just weeks ago, and witnessing the full-scale production The Glitch Mob conveyed a sight and sound brimming with good omens.

Looking forward to a relaxing day off tomorrow!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH

The Glitch Blog – Prologue

The Glitch Mob’s  upcoming tour for their new album Love Death Immortality is set to start May 11 2014, bussing from Maine to Miami, performing at world-class venues and Buku Music + Art Project before completing the first leg of the run at Ultra Music Festival.  Soon after is a trip clear across the US, stopping along the way for Coachella in CA, Governer’s Ball in NYC and a highly anticipated string of dates in Europe.

We are in the middle of rehearsals, at the historic Red Studios in Hollywood, home to famous video shoots from Michael Jackson to Seinfeld.  Our practice space is a massive warehouse enclosure, padded walls stretching in every direction blanketed with acoustic dampening material, held up by green-screen printed concrete floors, and a lofty wooden catwalk towering in the rafters above.

Red Studios, Hollywod

Red Studios, Hollywood

I am Glitch Mob’s FOH engineer, tuning and mixing their performance through state-of-the-art sound systems – controlling and balancing the overall mix of the band – translating their music into the analog world, for thousands to feel as a wall of sound vibrates the air and energy around us.

Worth noting is that I have admired and aspired to their work for many, many years.

The band members themselves, edIT, Ooah, and Boreta, are each legends in their own regard, known for pioneering the Beat scene in LA during the early 2000’s, putting Glitch on the map and making it a household name.  Despite massive success they’re humbly down to earth, resonating with good vibes and a strong commitment to memorable performances, conveying all that positivity and more to their fans.

They are icons – possessing an inordinate knack for talent, persistance, and patience – touring with a professional and seasoned crew who bring the combined experience of Visuals, Lighting, Ableton programming, Sound, and Management for Skrillex, Sound Tribe, and Deadmau5 to name just a few.

Their stage/set design, coined “The Blade”, will be revealed in more detail on show night.  Wish I could say more but for now I can say it is a beautiful representative of the performance, supporting an engaging show on multiple levels, and makes my job easier: accenting their massive drums (hint) and lead lines to rumble and resonate an auditorium of fanatic fans.

<Tech Talk>
Their Ableton Live rig is a cause for salivation and salvation – this is the Holy Grail of Ableton setups, charting complex paths that would make a NASA-programmer turned Cartologist’s head spin.  Fronted by Ableton pioneers Matt Davis [namethemachine], Chris Legaspi and Fred Carlton, they are pushing live performances to the next level for Bassnectar, Drake, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, and now The Glitch Mob.

Nope!  Not the workstation - just her nametag

Nope! Not the full command station – just her nametag

Partial view of the command station

Partial view of the command station

</Tech Talk>

Today’s challenge:  With rehearsals starting at 6pm, and the band running their set until 6am, our sleeping pattern is a tricky one to shift into; though it  does invoke interesting conversations at 4am, when guards are down and spirits are up.  Topics interpreted through a haze of sleep deprivation draw parallels between producing a song and cooking a feast – instruments treated as ingredients, garnishing and spicing the mix with EQ, blended and balanced to fully access the senses.  Comparing succulents to sound systems – crunchy highs, braised bass, limiting your lettuce – form amorphous definitions that vary between infinite meaning, and none at all.

Today’s highlight:  After listening intently to an advance copy of the album for nearly 2 months, ingraining rhythmic patterns, phrase changes and core elements of the song firmly into my psyche, finally being able to mix the band on a proper sound system.  A more compact representation of the line arrays we will soon be playing through, four PK Sound CX800 subs plus two CX215 tops make for a pretty badass rig, especially when all their drivers are emanating dynamic and well-produced music.

As the tour progresses, I will post updates and pictures here to log an incredible year that is sure to fly by, hopefully making history in the process!

Cast & Crew of The Glitch Mob:
edIT – Band Member
Ooah – Band Member
Boreta – Band Member
Ana Sia – Support Act
Penthouse Penthouse – Support Act
Justin – Tour Manager
Harry – Production Manager/Stage Manager
Martin – Show Designer
Brett – Lighting Director
Chris – Ableton Programmer/Tech
Fred – Ableton Programmer
Matt – Ableton Programmer
Drew – Lighting
Scott – Video
Mike – Audio
Judd – Merch
Randy – Master Semi Driver
Kevin – Management
Ian – FOH

Sig5
Ian Hicks

 

Six strategies to help you break into Live Sound

Live sound has come a long way since the 70’s – when it was only just becoming practical to balance the dynamics of a band on a massive system – and continues to evolve as the years go by.  The age-old battle is nearly over as analog gives way to digital, sound engineers are seeing a paradigm shift toward being perceived as “friendly”, and tiny monitors seated directly in the ears of performers are now an industry standard.

Fortunately, one thing will never change:  beyond technical prowess, the biggest role in entering this industry is played by personality and networking.  Here are six simple strategies for breaking into a competitive yet steady and highly rewarding line of work:

1.  Connect with the head sound engineer of the venue

The head sound engineer has the means to bring you into the fold; talking to whoever is behind the console is a good way to find out who the head engineer is.  The bar or general manager may also point you in the right direction.  Find out the next time the head engineer will be in and come back, start up a casual conversation, and try to lock in a night to shadow.   Most sound engineers are very friendly when they feel they are talking to someone who appreciates sound.

A good time to approach is sometimes between soundcheck and the show, and especially after the show during strike (wrapping cables onstage can be a lonely task – if you know how, offer to help).  Don’t just drop off a resume and leave.  Don’t just drop off a resume and leave.  They will maybe never call without first meeting you, and a successful career in live sound starts with positive interactions.  They will definitely keep in touch if you make a good first impression, and follow up every week or two with an offer to shadow!

me with Dave Chappelle

The Head Engineer of Yoshi’s SF brought me into the fold after graduation, this picture was taken two years later working with Dave Chappelle

2.  Shadow as many venues as possible

Shadowing is the easiest and most non-threatening way to get a foot in the door and a feel for the flow of the venue.  It often entails working a night or two for free, following the sound engineer and getting a feel for the flow of the venue; it’s the only way to show the head engineer your work ethic, and completely worth the resulting spot on his “Panic List”:  his call list of engineers who know the system when a shift needs to be covered and none of the regulars are available (happens more often than you’d think).  Once you pull off a night working solo, you will likely be moved to the top of the list and soon become a regular.

The most efficient way to get steady work, is by working.  It’s the best way to show your personal and technical skills, prove why you are desirable to have on-board, and get good referrals from bands and other engineers.  Once you’re in the cycle, the momentum will carry itself.

Fractal Enlightenment

Fractal Enlightenment

3.  Be personable with artists

Not only are they the ones who will pass along to management how great of a job you did, your work will be infinitely easier and more enjoyable when you are connecting with artists.  If you’ve ever practiced an instrument you will sympathize with where they’re coming from, and they will return the vibe.  If you don’t play or sing, I strongly recommend making an effort, as it will unlock a whole new level of enjoyment, patience, understanding, and appreciation for their craft and yours.

You can’t EQ an uncomfortable performance to sound good.  Artists need to feel welcome in communicating with you openly about monitors and other needs, so you can get a good source performance and focus on building an amazing sound.  When band members feel comfortable onstage, it shines through in their playing, making your mix worlds better without touching a knob.

kickin it with the mighty Souls of Mischief on Hiero Day

Good vibes make for good work!

4.  Don’t turn down work…ever

Even the worst, most punishing shows can lead to the best of opportunities.  To get consistent work and pay your rent sans student loans, you will need to build reliance with venue(s) or a sound company.  The most reliable way is to work as many gigs as possible, often at the expense of sleep and leisure time (don’t worry, by the time you’re “in”, you won’t miss it).

The ultimate goal is to be at the top of their list when an engineer is needed; be responsive to SOS emails and phone calls, that open slot will fill quickly.  During shows, you will need to be on point, punctual and friendly, with a solid knowledge of your craft.

The glorious life of a sound engineer

The glorious life of a sound engineer

5.  Have a nice business card…but don’t rely on it

How many times have you given out a business card and sat by the phone, waiting for the tone that never rang?  Most people who are busy and working won’t have time to follow up on a piece of cardboard given the night before, crumpled in a corner of their wallet, from a face they blearily remember.  In contrast, a brief follow-up email or phone call the next day will set you soaring above the competition.

A business card is to show you are serious and professional…that’s it.  I usually wait to give out (or even mention) my card until I have theirs, or at least an email address/phone number.  “Oh, by the way, here’s my card” is a comfortable way to end a conversation after you have their contact info, also setting the stage for future contact.  Bonus points if your card looks good – it’s easier than ever these days with Photoshop, and more than worth every penny for the cost of design and/or printing.

Tasteofink.com will help you design, and make great cards at a great price!

Tasteofink.com will help with your design, and make high-quality cards at a great price!

6.  Keep your eyes and ears open for a Sensei (and become one)

You reinforce known knowledge through doing and teaching.  You gain new knowledge by observing and listening.  They are equally important, and jumping at every opportunity to do either will rocket you up the right path.  If you’re lucky enough to meet someone knowledgeable who is willing to share information, ask every question you can possibly think of.

If someone asks you questions and you have enough of an understanding to answer, do so as thoroughly as possible.  Even if you can’t, try.  You will learn very quickly which chapters in your mental encyclopedia are strongest, and which need work, refining until you’re an audio Jedi – able to summon willpower when needed, and become an unstoppable machine during shows.

A good sensei helps guide his students

A good instructor offers guidance to his students

Lastly…

Live Sound is one of the very few professions where, if you do everything right, the night can be a total win/win for everyone in the venue (and beyond).  Having a show go off smoothly where fans, artists and management leave the night fulfilled and energized, is one of the greatest and most inspiring feelings in the world.

These strategies will help you find work, achieve victory on a nightly basis, and grow exponentially as the scale and scope of your shows increase.  Please feel free to email me any questions you have, technical or otherwise – now, during, or after shows, and I will do my best to help as quickly as possible: 8@anoctaveproductions.com.

I look forward to hearing from you, best of luck, remember to have fun and enjoy the music – it’s why we’re in this industry!

Doing sound for my favorite band, The Glitch Mob - I couldn't ask for a better job in the world!

I couldn’t ask for a better job in the world – doing sound for my favorite band!

Sig5
Ian Hicks – FOH