Music: My 11th Hour Call to Mix at the Paradise Music Festival

By in Live Sound, Music Creation

How many times have you been asked, last minute, to mix a band you’ve never heard of, on a PA you’ve never listened too, by someone who has never met you? If you’ve been mixing for any amount of time this has probably happened a lot. As “exciting” as it is, it can also be detrimental to your career—most 11th hour calls are. If you blow it, whether it was your fault, a terrible band, or a bad PA, you will most likely not get a call to come back.

It’s crazy. Bands will spend months in the studio working hand-in-hand with the recording engineer on the minutia of their record in an attempt to make it to sound “perfect.”  However, when it comes to a live gig with thousands of people maybe listening for the first time, it’s like, “Hey, let’s get some guy we’ve never met or heard mix to run sound for our show tonight.” What?!?!?!?! While the recording engineer has had the privilege to mix the band’s songs as many times as they’d like before committing to a final version, the mixer du jour might not have even heard of the band. At best you may get to hear a song or two during a brief line/sound check, but you’ll still be expected to make the whole set sound like the recorded product.

Music: The Story Behind My 11th Hour Call to Mix the Paradise Music Festival

Another thing often overlooked by the band is the tremendous amount of prep work that is required just to get them up and running: patching inputs, labeling inputs/outputs, setting gain, routing to busses and VCAs, inserting processing, etc., etc.—this takes time. For an opening band on one-offs, this work is typically happening during soundcheck and is a terrible distraction for the engineer who is trying get a good mix.  Also, it doesn’t leave much time for making inputs actually sound good. And, of course, this typically happens while the spouses, partners, family members, managers, etc. are looking over your shoulder and providing their “helpful” input. A few minutes later the band is gone and doors will be opening soon. Good luck! So, what can we do to have a good sounding successful show under these circumstances?  Answer: Work like the recording engineer and mix until you are satisfied! This is where VENUE’s Virtual Soundcheck comes into play in a very big way.

“The [VENUE] board is one of the most intuitive digital boards in the market today, not to mention that it sounds amazing. Getting around on it is effortless, letting me focus more on the mix rather than trying to remember what layer or page I’m on.”

—Joel Jiménez FOH engineer

I recently had the pleasure of helping out at the Paradise Music Festival held at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas where I mixed a couple of the opening bands. Zamar Audio Visual and Productions provided a mix of VENUE | D-Show and Profile systems to support the various acts, including Dierks Bentley, Jewel, and Rascal Flatts. I did not plan on this because I was there for audio support, but when I was asked asked to mix two of the opening bands, Casey James and Striking Matches, I said, “Sure!”

I was unfamiliar with both acts, so I quickly ran to a quiet spot, got online and listened to a couple of their songs. This way I could at least familiarize myself with their sound. Knowing that I was only going to be able to hear a few minutes of the band during soundcheck, I grabbed my  Pro Tools HD | Native rig, MacBook Pro and connected them to the VENUE HDx card. I was ready. I recorded just enough to get through all of the instruments and some dynamic variation of the material, but that was sufficient to use post soundcheck to listen to (headphones only) and cleanup my inputs.

If you’ve never tried this, you would be absolutely astonished by how much work you can do and how much of an impact this can have on your overall mix. Within 15 minutes I was able to set better gain structure, set filters (which cleared up a tremendous amount of low and high frequency noise), listen to compression, check gates, and listen to my delays and reverbs, as well as setup some automation for the show. With limited time and being under pressure it’s easy to make excuses like, “There isn’t time for Virtual Soundcheck,” or “It just won’t make that big of a difference.” Whether you are a mixing novice or a veteran, I suggest you try it—I’m certain you will be surprised. I believe there is no better way to improve your skillset as an engineer. We now have the tools to improve our mixes immediately and become better engineers overall. I have yet to meet an audio engineer that can say, “Yep, I’m done, I simply cannot learn more or get any better.”

This was a great show and I was able to meet some fantastic engineers for the other bands.  I want to sincerely thank Chris Meyer, audio manager from Zamar Productions, the console and PA provider for the indoor events. I had a chance to catch up with an old acquaintance, Joel Jiménez, who is FOH engineer and production manager for Jewel. I was sharing what a great tool Virtual Soundcheck was for the bands I was mixing, and he shared similar experiences. “I love the ability to have most of my heavy lifting done via the offline editor even before I walk into rehearsals. Plus, the ability to seamlessly hook up a laptop with no fuss at all and multi-track the show.” He explained that this gig was special since Jewel hadn’t had a band out since 2008, so having the ability to archive the performance was very important. I asked Joel why he was still mixing on VENUE systems after all these years, and I guess his answer didn’t surprise me. He said, “The board is one of the most intuitive digital boards in the market today, not to mention that it sounds amazing. Getting around on it is effortless, letting me focus more on the mix rather than trying to remember what layer or page I’m on.”

“The physical controls and racks are straightforward and user friendly—a joy to sculpt a mix with.”

—Chris Meyer, Audio Manager Zamar Productions

When I spoke with Chris Meyer after the festival, he shared similar thoughts about why VENUE systems cover 90% of the riders that Zamar receives for events across the Bahamas. “VENUE consoles are the industry standard. We cater to most of the acts coming here as fly-ins: we’re providing back line, mics and DIs, PA, monitors, in ears, wireless, etc., and while all these items can vary from band to band, VENUE consoles, as choice, do not.”  Chris credits the same intuitive workflows as Joel for VENUE’s industry adoption. “I love the layout—it’s all there to touch and find my way to whatever I need. The physical controls and racks are straightforward and user friendly—a joy to sculpt a mix with.”

With over 20 years of experience as a sound reinforcement mixer, studio recording engineer, and as a higher education curriculum developer and instructor, I'm now contributing to the world of Avid Live Sound as the Market Development Manager.