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