Mixing Muse—Marc Carolan talks with Robb Allan

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Marc Carolan on Mixing Muse

by Robb Allan

Ok, So I’ve been at a gig or two over the years and scribbled the odd thought down on the back of a ciggie packet. You’ll find the early albums here.


As T.S. Eliot almost said:

In the gig the roadies come and go.

Talking of all-things audio


So, all and all, I must have watched hundreds of engineers mix thousands of bands. Can’t say I remember all of it, or even most of it, but it seems to me the best FOH mixers break down into two camps. Some engineers are very technical and bring a lot of deep domain knowledge, understand the physics and bring a clear analytical head to the job. Other engineers have a natural talent, come from a musical background, and are full of musical empathy for the artist they work with. Rarely do engineers combine both traits.

I first met Marc Carolan, or “MC” as everyone calls him, twenty something years ago. At the time we worked for different bands with the same management company. It was obvious to me from the beginning that he was the rarest of roadies that had both the musical talent and the technical ability. The life of touring engineers is such, that you may do a couple of tours with someone, spending 24 hours a day together, then not see each other for a while. Usually though—and I think this is one of the best things in a rock and roll life—when you do reconnect, it’s like you’ve just seen each other five minutes ago rather than a year or a decade or however long the while is. MC and I, obsessive audiophiles both, have always zoomed straight back into all things audio when we’ve bumped into each other over the years.

Robb Allan with Marc Carolan

The videos above are the result of just one of these types of catch-ups. No script or set questions—just two audio friends catching up and having a typical back-lounge chat on all things live sound. My colleague Chris Lambrechts and I turned up at a huge Muse open air show in Nijmegen, Netherlands, where Chris set up the cameras with our padawan Michael and filmed us ranging freestyle over a huge range of audio topics. We sat in the FOH position late into the night the evening before the show. It was a little creepy, to be honest, as we were the only people in this outdoor enormodome. We get all over the desk and MC was very generous in sharing everything about his complex and original set up. We were, of course, very interested in his thoughts on the Avid S6L he is using on the tour, but we also talked of many other things that are hopefully of interest to the general audio citizenry. The future of our industry, moving between analogue and digital, plugins, DAW recording, and effects units. We also touched on the pressures of being responsible for the audience enjoyment of large shows, and how as an industry we can improve the experience for our clients and their audience. MC also shows us around his show file, snapshots, events, gainsharing and all of his external kit. There are lots of cool tips and tricks included in the conversation.

We filmed for four hours, and because there is so much content we’ve split the session up into the nine videos above.

As I said earlier, I’ve known MC man and boy, he’s way younger than me. We’ve had adventures mixing different bands on the same tour, we’ve even mixed a couple of bands in common over the years, sharing FOH duties whilst covering for each other. Before the cameras started rolling and after we’d caught up on each other’s families, we were reminiscing about some of those bands and tours. In particular we both spent a lot of time mixing a great Dublin band whose first album is still one of my favourites. We both had some mad stories with them fellas. They love a laugh and were always playing pranks on each other and everyone around them, even random people they’d pull into the madness. They had a really surreal sense of humour. I have so many roadie stories about those tours, I’ve been known to share after a small dry sherry, often apparently. Ask me sometime about the time they met a very famous ambient songstress backstage at a festival, or the mystery of Risteard’s eyebrow!

I remember them once going into a pet shop somewhere in the US and asking to buy a dog. The guy behind the counter asked them what kind of dog they’d like. They answered, “It doesn’t matter, any dog will do.” The guy said, “Well we have all kinds of dogs—what do you need a dog for?”

“Spare parts” they answered.

This was said with great seriousness as they secretly filmed the encounter. The storekeeper is now horrified, “What do you mean spare parts? You can’t buy a dog for spare parts. I must have misheard you.”

“No, spare parts are what we need it for, so if you’d just get us your cheapest dog we’ll be on our way.”

The tears were streaming down my cheeks it was so hard not to laugh.

“You can’t buy a dog for spare parts!”

“Why not, is it because we’re Irish? Are you saying our money is no good here?” This went on and on and eventually he just exploded and threw us out and asked us never to cross his door again. “Crazy Irish maniacs!” Genius.

Sorry, got a bit side-tracked, back to the vids. Hope you enjoy this video series as much as we did in making it. It’s very rare to be able to speak to one of the worlds top engineers, mixing arguably the biggest rock band in the world, right at his desk, candidly sharing all his audio secrets. More blogs and videos soon.

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As a live sound engineer, I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing artists including Coldplay, Massive Attack, Manic Street Preachers, Natalie Imbruglia, Richard Ashcroft and Lisa Stansfield. I have also mixed broadcast sound on David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno, the Brit Awards, the MTV Music Awards and the 2010 World Cup Kickoff Concert.