How Sound Will Travel
By John Bruce Affleck
After 12 years of touring with artists like The Glorious Sons , Death From Above 1979 , Great Big Sea , Ariana Grande , and The Tenors , I ’ m going to share some processes I value to get a consistently great front-of-house mix for every show .
1 . The Money Channel For the majority of concert-goers , the sound quality of the show comes down to one thing , the lead vocal — or as I like to call it , “ The Money Channel .” Ninety-nine percent of the time , the audience ’ s connection with the lead singer is the most crucial thing the live sound engineer has to achieve , and I ’ ve spent a lot of my life trying to make that so . When I started with The Glorious Sons , we did a large variety of performances , including U . S . support tours , headline Canadian shows , and fly-in festivals . I got so frustrated with the main vocal not being exactly the same every day that I started carrying an outboard vocal chain . It started with a Radial Power Strip with a Neve 511 preamp , a Neve 545 , and a Maag Eq . Whenever possible , I would take the vocal analog to FOH or do a send return off the console de jour . This allowed me to get my vocal loud , clean , and upfront , and once I got everything metering the way I wanted , I could build my mix around it . Having that sound quality and visual metering everyday saved me so much time and let me be proud of my lead vocal sound at every show .
2 . The Art of Compromise When spec ’ ing a gear list almost always involves some compromise , whether be it sound quality , cost , size , weight , or reliability . This is where the art of creating your gear list or tech specs comes in . For me , it boils down to : getting the on-stage source as accurate and clean as possible ; the right microphone choice ; the preamp in your stage rack ; the quality of your console ’ s A / D conversion ; and if the delay compensation and summing is accurate on your console . This year I started using a Yamaha Rivage PM3 , combined with my stage rack of Rupert Neve RMP D8 preamps running at
96kHz . In my opinion , this pairing gives me the smallest footprint with the best sound quality in the industry . As far as price goes , sometimes you get what you pay for . As Toby Francis would say , “ Do you want it to sound good or do you want it to sound affordable ?”
3 . Analog Matters , Even in a Digital World Although we all enjoy the recallability and flexibility of digital consoles , it ’ s important to think critically about how we use them . At the end of the day , it ’ s about what comes out of the speakers , not about what operating system the console is running . Plug-ins and onboard effects have come a very long way , but at their core , plug-ins are just emulations of the real thing . I love combining cutting-edge technology ( like the Yamaha PM3 ) with choice pieces of analog outboard gear to help give my sound a unique flavour and let me mix in a tactical way . I use a Delta Labs Effectron II for my slap vocal effect in addition to a Boss RE-202 Space Echo for one of my vocal delays . I love finding a part of the show where I can crank the feedback volume with one hand and turn the saturation knob with the other – it really lets me play with the delays in real time and gives the mix so much more movement . The other outboard gear I use is an IGS S- Type 500 series Compressor and an IGS RB 500 ME Pultec-style EQ for my master bus . I used plug-in versions of this style of effect for years , but now making them outboard in a small format 500 series rack has added so much weight and depth to the mix . It lets me look over and see what my compressor is doing without digging through a bunch of screens on my digital console .
4 . Consistency is More Important than Perfection Having one good show is easy , but having an entire tour of good shows is hard . Getting consistent results is the main challenge of being a touring engineer and it can make your mind play tricks on you . Being tired , burned out , frustrated , home sick , or even sometimes hungover are all things that rear their ugly head at some point on the road and it ’ s your responsibility to put systems in place to help
get you through those days . Once I ’ ve been happy with my mix for a while , I trust how it should look on the console or outboard gear meters . So , when my ears don ’ t feel 100 %, I rely on this comparison to the good days . I also use an SPL meter at soundcheck earlier in the day and make sure the overall show is within 1db or so of the previous day ’ s show . When you ’ re tired , it ’ s easier to make the show louder but it ’ s your job as a live sound engineer to give audiences a similar experience every night of the tour . Find the process that make that venue and PA feel like yours every day , whether it be with pink noise , virtual soundcheck , or your PA tuning songs ( it doesn ’ t have to be Sting or Steely Dan , by the way ). Trust your gut . At the end of the day , you are standing behind the console so be proud of the work you do .
John Bruce Affleck is a touring Live Sound Engineer , Tour Manager , and Production Manager . Hailing from Charlottetown , Prince Edward Island , Canada , he moved to Toronto , Ontario in 2006 to chase his goal of working in the concert industry . Starting from the humble beginnings of pushing cases and loading trucks , John Bruce made the most of every opportunity that came his way leading to an exciting 14-year journey . John Bruce has mixed both FOH & Monitors for a variety of artists over his career , namely The Glorious Sons , Misterwives , The Blue Stones , The Tenors , Kelsea Ballerini , Justin Bieber , Ariana Grande , Great Big Sea , Alan Doyle , Charice , Matt Mays , and more . He can be reached at johnbruceaffleck @ gmail . com .
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