Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Swappin Stories - Emergency Keyboard Mic

Every once in a while I like to get away from the serious business of perfecting our craft and just tell a story.  A lot of the good ones you accumulate over the years will have to do with something stupid you or another person did at a gig or on a project, but once in a great while there's a piece of gold in there that can serve to do more than just provide a laugh and a shake of the head.

The audio world is full of rules of thumb, some more serious than others.  The thing about rules in this game is that you should always, always obey them... except when you don't.  Here's an example not so much of a rule but of doing something a little out of the box to make a show work.

Years ago I had been adopted by a large worship group that would play out a couple times a month.  They were friends from around town and they were getting into some bigger venues so it was a nice stretch, also there were up to thirteen of them on stage at any given time and those gigs were some of the best mental workouts I've ever had.  The gig on the night in question was an album release party.  They had sold out a 1000 seat venue and the crowd was really excited.  We had over 50 people on the production team, way more than just the few techs we usually traveled with so it was an adventure from the get go.

The opening act was a ten member gospel choir with a backing band.  We were already using a good bit of the capacity on the FOH and monitor mixes, as well as straining the mic collections of everyone involved by the time we had provided for that many vocalists.  Monitoring was another challenge given that the dozen band members were all on IEMs, some of them stereo, so monitor world where I was working was a busy place.  The real challenge came down to the pair of keyboard players that were the center pieces of the backing band.

Of course they showed up late.  Almost too late to get any kind of sound check in.  We were already loading the crowd in by the time we were line checking so there was really no time to spare.  The second key player showed up with his axe wrapped in a towel.  He slapped it down on a stand and fired it up.  We plugged in to his DI and got nothing.  We spent ten minutes checking the sub snakes and the split, going over the consoles with a fine toothed comb trying to find the issue.  He swore it had worked earlier that day (if he jiggled it enough).  

We finally reached a point where I just knew we couldn't mess with it any more and have the gig go on time. Usually I take no notice of the crowd but suddenly the murmur of hundreds of concert goers was in my ears.  More importantly the eyes of the stage manager and FOH crew were starting to warm things up from afar and it was suddenly make or break time for me and the house tech down on stage.

"Grab a 609 and a roll of gaff!" I declared.  Eyebrows went up. "You're still here, go get em!" I said.

There was no way that keyboard was going to give us a direct signal without some serious surgery but there was also no way we could start without it.  The Sennheiser e609 has a flat form factor and a pretty warm frequency response.  It was also the only spare mic we had at the time.  We laid it flat on top of this cheap keyboard's speaker, cocooned it in gaff and checked the line.

Signal. Drastic EQ measures. Bring it up in the wedges. OK. Let's do this.

I always advocate for doing things right. If you're bodging together every input in your mix you're not going to make anybody happy.  (And on a line array system that's been tuned to the nines there's no place to hide so your inputs better be sex-ay!) But when there's something critical that has to be there then you just have to get creative and start doing things the wrong way, the best possible way you can manage.

That's all for now.  Please please please hit the comments link and share your stories.  Or if you've got a longer one hit me up to do a guest post.  Till next time my Brethren of the Knob and Fader... stick to the rules, except... ya know.

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1 comment:

  1. Predicted the ending, but well-told... could almost have been lengthened a bit with more backstory & suspense.


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