Fixing Sound For The Band 1

music-159868_640Getting the sound right for the band is a critical element of any musical production at the blackbox.  The music director and the musicians should expect nothing less.

But an interesting thing occurred during tech for A Broadway Christmas.   I came to my first rehearsal to discover that the band (kybd, bass/guitar, drums) was behind a wall.  The music director asked hesitantly about the possibility of  a monitor system so the band could hear the on-stage vocals.  The request had a definite tone of hesitancy which I initially thought was just politeness.  A similar situation had happened earlier this year, so I had a solution ready, although I continue to be surprised that the production team forgets to mention it to me ahead of time.

We also decided to add some keyboards and bass/guitar into the house system to make them a bit more present in the room.  Pre-tech, someone had done a quick patch of the keyboard output directly into the audio snake for some early rehearsals.  As soon as I started listening though, I heard a  bad (really b-a-d) hum.  When I walked down to the band pit I could hear the same annoying hum coming from the keyboard amp she was using in the pit.  When I mentioned this to her, she said “yeah, but I can live with it”.  And so we did… for the rest of the night.  But the next night I got there early and started debugging the problem.  I very quickly discovered that an unshielded cable was being used to send the signal to the board.  One DI box (I love Radial products by the way) and a proper cable later, we had a nice clean keyboard sound in the pit and a nice clean signal coming up to the board.

The technical issue itself was easily fixable.  But the I-can-live-with-the-lousy-sound thing continued to bother me.  I’m guessing that this came from previous experiences with some sound engineers who couldn’t be bothered or were too busy to help fix the situation.  I try to avoid judging others who struggle with the same things I do.  And yes we all have too many things to do during tech week.  But part of what we do as a sound engineering resource for a theatre is to make sure that everyone sounds good.  I took it upon myself to “reprimand” the music director for not demanding that I fix the problem.

Upon further reflection, I was surprised by the musician’s willingness to live with a dramatically degraded sound.  This is even stranger given that most musicians are absolutely obsessed, as they should be, about their sound.  I know that there has to be a degree of trust on a musician’s part that the sound engineer understands how important that sound is and that it will be projected to the audience in the best condition possible.  But they should also feel comfortable asking for help if they aren’t happy.

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