Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Notes for Live Mixing

I've been wanting to do a post on the hieroglyphics I use when taking notes for a live performance for a little while now. The problem is, I keep changing the note system that I use. I just got around to creating a purpose built tracking sheet for mixing services at work. I figured with a shot of my old way of doing things, the new tracking sheet, and some of my most commonly used glyphs I could do a pretty good job showing you how I track things.

Here's a copy of an old set of service notes. Those of you who work in churches will likely recognize the Planning Center Online format. These were a pretty handy starting point because they encompass the whole service and there was a fair amount of room for me to take notes on things I wanted to remember to do during songs.

The problem was, as things got more and more demanding, I was having to write smaller and smaller to fit everything in. Even my custom made glyphs were becoming hard to recognize with a quick glance. With things like lead singer, solo instrument, playback volume, delay tempo and possible quite a few other things changing from song to song, I needed a better way.

Enter Libre Ofice (which is an open source suite of apps that I highly recommend) and with a few tweaks of a spread sheet I fabbed up a custom tracking sheet. I print one out every week right before rehearsal and start to fill things in. I still keep a copy of the Planning Center document handy, but quite often I just write between the lines if there's something particular that I need to remember.

Now when a song is about to start, I've got my eye trained to scan across the top row for that number. In less than a second I can take in the delay times, backing track volume, lead singer, and first instrument. With that set, I'll look over the lower lines to see if there's anything I need to watch, and balances to be careful of. One last glance will tell me who's got the solo and if there are any big changes at the bridge.

At the top there's space for information like projected service length and actual length for each service. That helps us tighten things up if we need to. At the bottom I left a few boxes for random notes or changes I need to make to the lighting.

The one in this example got a little sloppy. I had a young intern in training along for the ride this week. Also, the notes are a little more sparse than I would usually have. This week our youth band was up and they tend to pretty much play a song straight through. One thing you'll see is that I often use three letter abbreviations for names. Less writing, more mixing. You can see in this example that I created a map at the bottom of all the musicians, their positions on stage, and what monitor mix they were on. Often I know them by sight but with a relatively unfamiliar group on stage this was a real life saver.

The last thing I'll share is a clip of a few of the symbols I use most commonly. The symbols for instruments tend to get replaced with names when I'm at work but I do use those when I'm out on a festival stage. The rest tend to be obvious, or at least they're obvious once you catch on to how I use them. I try to use graphical images as much as possible. Less reading, less writing, more mixing. I can't say that enough.
One that I use quite often is the little cloud. Architects use clouds to indicate changes in drawings. They're very good at drawing your eye to something that would normally blend into the background. I use them most often for indicating that a different singer is coming up and I'll need to make changes to the monitoring situation.
Another favorite trick is to use little horizontal lines to indicate relative fader positions. I get asked why I don't just use numbers to indicate the gain structure but looking at - _ _ -  to know where four guitar channels need to sit is a lot quicker than reading +2, -3, -3, +2. That, and musicians can be a bit inconsistent from performance to performance. So depending on how enthusiastic those players themselves are, or how enthusiastic the rest of the band is, those values can run up or down a couple dB. Knowing the relative position allows me to form my hand to a close value and then adjust slightly by ear as things get going.

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