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Hear Here!

by George Petersen • in
  • Editor's Note
  • July 2019
• Created: July 16, 2019

Mixing FOH is one of the most amazing experiences in the pro audio realm. As the direct connection (and sonic interpreter) between the stage and the house, there’s an immediate sense of oneness of bringing it all together. Of course, no one ever said it was going to be easy — and dealing with any (or many) idiosyncrasies of individual players onstage can be a challenge. At the same time, there can be technical deficits of the available gear, where you may not have enough mics, inputs, buses, outboard or P.A. itself to meet various situations that may (and do) raise their ugly head at some point — before, during or throughout the gig.

‡‡         Technology to the Rescue

Fortunately, a plethora of modern technologies — whether in the form of affordable consoles with 64 or more inputs (i.e., the PreSonus StudioLive 64S reviewed in this issue on page 38), a near-limitless number of available plug-in instantiations to meet any need, and other perks — such as available acoustical measurement tools and the ability to tweak room/mix parameters via a Wi-Fi connected tablet — can simplify life in the FOH lane. In fact, we uncovered a huge selection of useful new toys at last month’s InfoComm show — see the report on page 18 for full details.

While each of these advances make the house engineer’s life easier, it doesn’t necessarily mean ensure smooth sailing every time you pull away from the dock and into the unknown. And despite our detailed pre-production preparations, there are certain unpredictable elements that are impossible to plan for. One issue we are all familiar with is guitar players who kick their amps up to 11 before the first chord, even though that amp was at 8 during the sound check. This is far more common with club-level musicians than professional players, but it leaves the house mixer in a quandary of having to raising everyone else to get a balance with the too-loud guitar — or leave things as-is, and have everyone suffer listening to a mix with one out of control element.

In a stadium or arena, this is unlikely to happen, but in a small-medium sized venue, a loud blasting amp can overpower the P.A. I once attended an event (ironically during an AES convention) sponsored by a major console manufacturer, where the band was way too loud for the space. I went to talk to the FOH engineer about the levels and noticed that only one fader — lead vocal — was up on the 32-channel mixer, leaving the FOH with no control over the situation. No easy answers there…

Another issue can stem from the audience itself. While a responsible FOH engineer strives to keep playback levels within sane (and healthy) levels, that task can be pretty hard to manage when the crowd is screaming, singing along or yelling, and your SPL meter is reading 105 dB — even before the P.A. kicks in. Rather than trying to fight the crowd noise, one sometimes-effective solution is running the show at a lower level, and then hope that in their effort to hear the music, the audience actually settles down. Unfortunately — such as in the case of The Beatles’ American tours — this ploy doesn’t always work.

‡‡         How Loud Is It, Anyway?

Aside from the many interactions FOH mixers can have with audience members — “What do all those knobs do,” “Can you get me backstage,” “Can I charge my cell phone here” — perhaps most annoying are comments about the show level. And this situation will no doubt increase with the new Noise app on the upcoming watchOS 6 for the Apple Watch. Noise visually monitors SPLs with a real-time display and can send the wearer a hearing impact notification if levels exceed 90 dB, with a warning that 30 minutes exposure at that level can cause temporary hearing loss. Besides the joy of having 1,500 (or 50) audience members coming to FOH to point out that it’s too loud, there’s also the specter of an entire venue of people (who, of course refuse to consider wearing earplugs) suddenly becoming
“experts” on sound exposure and the inevitable lawsuits to follow. I can’t wait.

‡‡         Thanks, TimelessJobs.com!

There’s definitely good news on the horizon, particularly for anyone in the industry who is looking for a job or wants to step up to the next level. About a month ago, FRONT of HOUSE publisher Terry Lowe launched TimelessJobs.com, a free job search portal catering to the event technology industry. So far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, as it opened with 63 available jobs and it has grown since then. So if you’re a pro in the fields of Audio, Venues, Lighting, Musical Instruments, Projection/Video, Sales/Marketing, Rental/Staging, Scenic/Stagecraft and Theatrical technology, drop by, check it out and pass the word on to your friends. It might just be one of the best decisions you ever made!

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