Friday, June 12, 2015

Another Improvised Setup

Seems like a lot of theaters are asking for "A Sound Tech." I had one recently who asked for "A Light Board Operator," which was even more specific but just as wrong.

In the latter case, I got there only to find out I'd be setting the looks. Which is to say; I was the Lighting Designer on that show. Of course not getting the pay -- or the respect -- for designing the show, even if "designing" was constrained due to having to work within a Rep Plot.

Board Op is a trained monkey job. Literally; Ham the Space Chimp could handle sitting in a room with a headset on, pressing a single button over and over when told to.

Designing a show requires not just the expectations of being worth more or the mental preparation of having to do more than sit around doing crossword puzzles between cues, it requires being prepared. Packing a gear bag with such things as gel books and note paper, but also having the mental gear bag packed with the theater's inventory, manuals of the equipment, and oh yes, you probably should have read the script. Several times.

This is also true for sound.

Thing is, most of these groups just don't get it. They really think they can walk in, "plug a mic in" (because there must be a place to "plug mics in," right?) and then tell the tech (over headset!) how far to turn it up. Half the time, in these budget spaces, the gear is incomplete or broken anyway, and almost all the time it is so non-standard you are having to play archaeologist to figure out how it works.

Indeed. This latest gig, half the equipment was in storage and almost nothing was documented. With help from someone who did sound there last year I got it all set up and working. It sounded horrible. And fortunately I'd packed as Sound Engineer. Pack just full of cable testers, spare cable, adaptors, etc., etc. Even an RTA microphone. And, pretty much, everything else I could spare that wasn't being rented that same week to a graduation exercise across town.

So I got the system basically up, minimally acceptable, and hooked up the show needs as described. And with thirty minutes to go to rehearsal...the client finally found time to come back and tell me what they needed. Which was of course not what was on the paperwork, nor what the gear was set up for, or even what the gear supported.

For instance, they demanded an FOH position. I agreed, in principle...but the building wouldn't let us move the board. Fortunately (!) I just so happened to have anticipated something like this and had a Behringer baby board in my bags, along with an audio snake and a handful of turn-arounds.

Two shotguns. Four hand-helds. CD playback. And I had a Xenyx1002 with two mic preamps and 4 stereo ins. So right. Barely enough; use the stereo ins in mono mode -- fortunately the handhelds are Shure UR2's that can output at line level. Run the "CD" (rather, QLab on my laptop) direct, bypassing the board completely. The one single Aux bus sent up as monitor feed.

Ten minutes to go, and the client ambles back again and says, "So we need a lot of reverb for these dream moments we have." Err, right. The baby Behringer has internal FX but plugging into the Aux bypasses it. So...split the feed, with Left Main being "dry" and Right Main adding an arbitrary amount of monitor to the signal. So now I can control monitor level by panning my now mono output, and the FX bus is free. And the computer bypasses the Behringer so the backing tracks are still in stereo.

And, yes -- instead of the nice Allen&Heath I'm stuck with the ludicrous EQ options of the Xenyx, with no EQ at all on the handhelds. And no compression options either. Which could have been death. Fortunately, when we got into tech, it turned out the kind of vocal performance was okay with that. If they had been doing American Idol vocal stylings it would be impossible. But for relatively controlled spoken word it is working okay without any of the usual vocal conditioning tools.

So of course after rehearsal they drop a mention in a passing email that I need to come up with another stereo feed for the videographer.

Because all of these is nothing. You don't need any skill, you don't need to spend hours studying the manuals of weird vintage gear, and you certainly don't need to hump a pack of $2,000 of personal audio gear around on BART.

All you have to do is "plug in a mic" and then press a button when ordered to over headset. Ham the Space Chimp could do it easily. And you'd pay him in bananas.

No comments:

Post a Comment