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Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Lode » Mon May 23, 2011 10:26 pm

Hi good people. First of all let me quickly explain my situation. I am a keyboard player who plays live with many different bands of all qualities.

Now, I recently almost walked off stage during a performance because I could not hear anything through my monitor - there were no sound men visible for me to get their attention. After all, there was no pont in me being there. Being a small community festival, one could hardly be annoyed with the guys controlling the wattage through the speakers. Butr surely my fellow cohort-musicians should have been aware and dynamically adjusted their playing accordingly? No?

So, let me cut straight through to my point. I firmly believe each musician's purpose, as well as all the amazing scales and improvisational skills he or she may posess, is to also have the wits about them to be self-aware and aware of others around them. Can I hear the flute? Can I hear vocals OK? Am I playing too loud? I cannot hear Simon over there... I wonder if I should play softer? Should I signal to others to play quieter?

These are surely obvious thought processes most musicians should be thinking whilst playing. But it appears not. Who taught those naiive ignorant musicians? Surely the most fundamental and important rule of playing with other musicians is to ask oneself socratically whether every person can be heard at every dynamic range whilst playing together as a band.

Is it just bad musicians who are to blame for not thinking any of the above - or generally just stupid peole who are unable to question common and relevant threads of information at short quirky bursts through their brain cells?

Any fool can play through an amplifier loud. So why is it that so many people who like to think of themselves as musicians cannot play properly in a dynanic and expressive way without the need of a 200 watt amp.

You can tell I'm angry and almost left one of the bands I perform with. Please someone, tell me I am being reasonable!
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby seablade » Mon May 23, 2011 10:42 pm

Heh keep in mind I am an engineer and not a musician.

You are being reasonable, but only after you pass a certain quality level of musician in my experience.

As an engineer I can tell exactly how good a musician is typically but how easy they are to mix, with monitoring demands being a tell-tale sign of what my night is going to be like.

Many younger musicians especially in the pop circuits have grown up depending on monitors and never had the experience of playing without them. As a result you will get them not even thinking like this. On the other side of things, it is interesting to read articles from bands like Pink Floyd that describe monitors on their stage as a 'virus' that spread from additional musicians they brought on to eventually encompass the stage as they needed to compensate for additional stage noise from the monitors....

http://www.pinkfloyd-co.com/band/interviews/art-rev/art-sos1.html

Yet when I get bands in that are used to playing without monitors or with minimal monitors, and used to balancing themselves acoustically, and listening to each other on stage, my life on the console becomes SO much easier. But for many musicians these days that is the exception rather than the rule, and they haven't ever really played in such a situation to know HOW to play in that situation I think.

But then again I am just an engineer giving my 'outside' perspective on things.

Seablade

PS I am still of the mindset that someone should have been minding the mix to be able to help with your monitors to, don't get me wrong.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby shufflebeat » Mon May 23, 2011 11:33 pm

Lode wrote:Please someone, tell me I am being reasonable!

...You're being reasonable.

If you were to play in the same line-up for an extended period of time I feel strongly this would be the subject of the first serious argument between band members. I have been in a few bands, duos and trios and have regularly depped (Gtr and Vocals) in other peoples' bands. In the latter situation I have little long term investment and as such can accept one or two members hogging the headroom because I don't need to deal with it every night. These days I take my fairly basic in ear system along and have a quiet word with the engineer beforehand. S/He is usually only too happy to accommodate me because it is one less person fighting for sound onstage. It's even been known for others to ask for more of me through the wedges, not something they're used to.

My Dad was a bass player and had a good chuckle when I asked him about this some years ago when we were having trouble with a drummer. "So how can he hear you?" He asked. "He can't because our wedges aren't up to much" I replied, "what are wedges?" he asked.

His answer to this and most problems was - "the world is full of drummers who think they're indispensable."

Take heart. Eventually we all gravitate towards those we should.

+1 to Seablade, btw.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Mike Stranks » Tue May 24, 2011 9:05 am

seablade wrote:Heh keep in mind I am an engineer and not a musician.

You are being reasonable, but only after you pass a certain quality level of musician in my experience.

As an engineer I can tell exactly how good a musician is typically but how easy they are to mix, with monitoring demands being a tell-tale sign of what my night is going to be like.

Many younger musicians especially in the pop circuits have grown up depending on monitors and never had the experience of playing without them. As a result you will get them not even thinking like this. On the other side of things, it is interesting to read articles from bands like Pink Floyd that describe monitors on their stage as a 'virus' that spread from additional musicians they brought on to eventually encompass the stage as they needed to compensate for additional stage noise from the monitors....

http://www.pinkfloyd-co.com/band/interviews/art-rev/art-sos1.html

Yet when I get bands in that are used to playing without monitors or with minimal monitors, and used to balancing themselves acoustically, and listening to each other on stage, my life on the console becomes SO much easier. But for many musicians these days that is the exception rather than the rule, and they haven't ever really played in such a situation to know HOW to play in that situation I think.

But then again I am just an engineer giving my 'outside' perspective on things.

Seablade

PS I am still of the mindset that someone should have been minding the mix to be able to help with your monitors to, don't get me wrong.

Excellent post! Found myself saying "Yes!" again and again as I read it.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Scramble » Tue May 24, 2011 9:08 am

I now take my own dedicated keyboard monitor on stage (whatever the gig) and control the volume of it myself.

Remember, though, that it's not always obvious what your fellow band members can hear. From their side of the stage it might appear to them that you have plenty of keyboard volume when in fact you don't. But like you say, decent musicians should be sensitive to levels and not blast everyone else with their own sounds.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Octopussy » Tue May 24, 2011 9:13 am

You never know what you're going to get when you trust your sound to a sound engineer that doesn't know your music.

Most sound engineer are used to guitar, bass and drums. Keyboard are rarely something they do well.

On top of this, some sound engineers give you a brilliant stage mix while others will not! They might be giving you an amazing live FOH mix but the stage might have people missing from the monitor, feedback through the monitors that doesn't make it to FOH etc.

You can blame your fellow musicians all you like but... You are probably playing in a new room under the pressure to perform where people are either concentrating on getting through their parts or delivering some stage presence. If you haven't got an amp then YOU are dependent on the monitors. So grow a pair and communicate to make sure you are in the foldback or take care of business by either buying an amp or a small mixer (keyboard into mixer into DI) and some headphones or earbuds.

In an ideal world you will be working with a sound engineer who knows and likes your music. Heck you might have hired them! You would turn up to the venue before the audience at the allotted time for soundcheck and got everything ready in advance.

It's even better working with experienced musicians who have the inner zen to listen critically in order to miss the missing elements from the balance of your ensemble.

IMO it is up to you to make the necessary provisions in order to deliver your performance at show time. I'd bite the bullet and buy an amp. Then you can turn it up to the required volume in the rehearsal room and balance the levels of your patch changes properly.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Tue May 24, 2011 9:18 am

Lode wrote:So, let me cut straight through to my point. I firmly believe each musician's purpose, as well as all the amazing scales and improvisational skills he or she may posess, is to also have the wits about them to be self-aware and aware of others around them. Can I hear the flute? Can I hear vocals OK? Am I playing too loud? I cannot hear Simon over there... I wonder if I should play softer? Should I signal to others to play quieter?

I'm also a keyboard player, and I also play for various bands of varying ability, but I think you've missed the obvious point here: many musicians simply don't have the ability to concentrate on anything but their own performance, that's why even the best bands still need a FOH engineer to mix the overall performance.

You are right though, most gigging musicians don't understand light and shade, and without labelling any one instrument, it's normally guitarists that appreciate this aspect the least.

Truly class players can drop in a couple of notes, the odd motif, or even just a percussive chop, and still it sounds amazing. The other side of the coin is the player that keeps things so busy that it sounds like he's evacuating a gigantic musical turd as quickly as he possibly can.

For the reason above, I've stuck with the same 4 or 5 guys for years, we all know each others style and so it's not hard to make the band sound good.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Dave Rowles » Tue May 24, 2011 9:32 am

+1 to all above

Yes, with cheaper and cheaper PAs available, people are just so used to having their own voice/instrument blaring through the wedges that they don't think about hearing things any other way.

I remember an interview with Matt Belamy from Muse and he was asked "When did you know you had that voice" he said "What voice? heh, well in the practice room we had no PA, so I had to sing like that to make myself heard over the rest of them". Imagine some of the softly spoken singers we get these days trying to beat a rock band in level?

As a multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer, I've had to deal with varying degrees of stupidity on stage, but one thing that always amazes me is drummers asking for their snare in the monitor. I can cope with kick for bottom end feel (if you have a sub on the drum fill) but surely, if a drummer can't hear his snare without a monitor then the stage is too loud!!! When I'm playing drums, and on a wedge, I give the engineer a simple instruction - no drums in the wedge. no need, I'm loud enough. If I'm not loud enough, then the others need to turn down!

I was out on a tour recently as monitor engineer, and everyone apart from the man with his name on the bill, was on in-ears. The sound on stage was so quiet it was great! And yet, for the guy on a wedge, the stage was almost completely balanced. Just needed his voice, a bit of kick and snare (he was quite a distance from the kit), keys, and playback. Everything else was balanced, or he could hear enough as backwash from the PA. A joy to work with such great musicians

I've not quite got around to putting together an IEM system for myself, but my gigging as a musician has tailed off a bit. If I get into a band regularly again, it's going to be the first thing I buy. Really all you need are some isolating in-ear headphones, and a mixer with aux out. Put all your keys into the mixer, send the mix out to the PA, and get a return from the PA into the mixer (don't accidentally send it back to the PA ). Then use the aux sends to do your own monitor mix. Get a mix without keys from the PA, then mix your own keys in. You'll never have the problem of not hearing yourself again.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Tue May 24, 2011 10:39 am

Exavior Music wrote:Get a mix without keys from the PA, then mix your own keys in. You'll never have the problem of not hearing yourself again.

You can use "more me" and send band/ambient to left, keyboards to right, but I've started using the HP60 and having the overall band as the main stereo in, my stereo keyboards from a sub group into the HP60, and that way I can no only listen in stereo to everything, but I still essentially have the "more me" balance in stereo too(albeit from the HP60).

+1 for in ears for your keyboard mix, however you choose to do it, I couldn't live with on-stage keyboard monitoring now - I've removed myself from the "more volume game" that people tend to do with their backline on stage.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby shufflebeat » Tue May 24, 2011 10:40 am

Scramble wrote:I now take my own dedicated keyboard monitor on stage (whatever the gig) and control the volume of it myself.


http://www.dv247.com/pa-systems-and-live-sound/yamaha-msr100-active-pa-speaker-single--20294

Bit dear but quite elegant. Tiny bit bloated in the bottom end (like many of us) but not fatiguing overall. It's very small but plenty of poke.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Tue May 24, 2011 10:44 am

shufflebeat wrote:Bit dear but quite elegant. Tiny bit bloated in the bottom end (like many of us) but not fatiguing overall.

When, at gun point, I've been forced to use on-stage monitoring, I've used the Tapco Thump TH15 - £100-£125 secondhand, decent range, and it even has reasonable EQ too.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby shufflebeat » Tue May 24, 2011 10:48 am

TheChorltonWheelie wrote:
shufflebeat wrote:Bit dear but quite elegant. Tiny bit bloated in the bottom end (like many of us) but not fatiguing overall.


When, at gun point, I've been forced to use on-stage monitoring, I've used the Tapco Thump TH15 - £100-£125 secondhand, decent range, and it even has reasonable EQ too.


So you've been gigging in Wythenshawe then...

Looks cute but for a single keyboard?
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Lode » Tue May 24, 2011 8:35 pm

Thanks to all for taking the time to reply. Many wise words of comfort and advice!

:O)
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby grab » Wed May 25, 2011 8:35 am

Lode wrote:Being a small community festival, one could hardly be annoyed with the guys controlling the wattage through the speakers.


Yes you can.

You shouldn't get annoyed from the monitor mix being wrong in the first place. At festivals the soundman is just fielding them as they come, with at best a line check, and his first priority is getting FOH sorted before monitors. It's every musician's responsibility to ask for changes to the monitor mix if they need something different. No decent soundman will object to that - but they *will* be seriously pissed off if you get to the end of the set and then go badmouthing them for not having done what you didn't ask them to do in the first place.

But what you can get righteously angry about is a soundman buggering off and just leaving the band to it. For sure it can be useful to have a walk around the area and check sound coverage, but you shouldn't be gone too long, and really there should always be someone left on station. Quite apart from anything else, there's always the risk of some drunk deciding to mess with the gear. Very few things piss me off more than a soundman who just puts the faders up and then legs it to the beer tent (or worse, turns round and has a chat with his mates). It's plain ignorant and disrespectful to the musicians.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby seablade » Wed May 25, 2011 11:34 am

grab wrote:Very few things piss me off more than a soundman who just puts the faders up and then legs it to the beer tent (or worse, turns round and has a chat with his mates).

Had an act come in when I was the venue engineer at a place several years back, halfway through the set I look down to my console, where they were tying in at, and noticed their sound guy walking off. I got on the radio and asked if anyone saw where he was going...

"Um he's getting a beer..."

Hmm ok, me being in a booth upstairs by the amps and main power my response was, ok if something goes wrong I guess they just lose all their power as I am not going to take the 2 minutes it would take to sprint to that location to pull down a fader when feedback kills something.

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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby TSH-Tim » Wed May 25, 2011 7:59 pm

''Very few things piss me off more than a soundman who just puts the faders up and then legs it to the beer tent (or worse, turns round and has a chat with his mates)''

Thats not a soundman thats a piss taking joker ....
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Dave Rowles » Wed May 25, 2011 10:16 pm

+1

But we all know they exist, and for some bizarre reason manage to not only get jobs, but keep them. Crap sound engineers piss me off, when I know there are good engineers out there who can't get work. "he's who we always use" is not a good reason to keep on using him if he's crap.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Thu May 26, 2011 6:27 am

shufflebeat wrote:
TheChorltonWheelie wrote:
shufflebeat wrote:Bit dear but quite elegant. Tiny bit bloated in the bottom end (like many of us) but not fatiguing overall.

When, at gun point, I've been forced to use on-stage monitoring, I've used the Tapco Thump TH15 - £100-£125 secondhand, decent range, and it even has reasonable EQ too.

So you've been gigging in Wythenshawe then...

Looks cute but for a single keyboard?

No, I actually use a pair of them as I prefer to monitor my keyboards in stereo when I have to use backline.

I've never been threatened at gun point, however, I have been made the "offer" to desist with the current musicla performance or suffer the indignance of having my Fantom rammed up my arse - that's what happens when you over-run the set into the meat raffle slot.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Dr R » Thu May 26, 2011 1:25 pm

Lode wrote:
You shouldn't get annoyed from the monitor mix being wrong in the first place. At festivals the soundman is just fielding them as they come, with at best a line check, and his first priority is getting FOH sorted before monitors. It's every musician's responsibility to ask for changes to the monitor mix if they need something different. No decent soundman will object to that ...

I've never done sound for a festival, but having to sort FOH ahead of stage sound is something I'd never thought of. Is that usual? I guess the bands just set up have a couple of minutes to sort themselves out, then play?

Usually with the bands I work with we spend what seems like ages getting the on-stage sound right, then while they run through the set to practice/finalise/learn the songs, I sort the FOH without interruption. I'll count my blessings in future - seems like festivals could be hard work for everyone.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Exalted Wombat » Thu May 26, 2011 1:41 pm

We've all had to perform after a quick change-over at times. And there's often just one sound guy, rushing around between stage and desk. Things could be made much more fool-proof if the default setup was to put "the mix" in everyone's monitor. Assume everyone wants to hear everything (at least that way performance is POSSIBLE) then tweak from there if there's time.

Too often the default is to send NOTHING to the monitors - you have to ask for everything individually.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby grab » Thu May 26, 2011 2:50 pm

As a weekend warrior, I'm only doing small local festivals, not Glasto! Typically you'll have 5-10 minutes turnaround between bands, and that's it. By the time you've got one band's gear off and the other band's gear on, that really only leaves time for line-checks and quick EQing, and the audience are out front waiting anyway so you couldn't let the band run through a number anyway. So the band just have to kick off, and the first priority is getting something acceptable to the audience as fast as possible.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby shufflebeat » Thu May 26, 2011 3:20 pm

Fair enough but as a singer I need to hear what I'm doing or I might not get as far as the second song without being bottled off.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu May 26, 2011 5:18 pm

I think I know what everyone's saying in the last three posts and don't disagree in principle with all the sentiments expressed. However, I think there's a risk of misunderstandings happening because people may be reading into posts more than is actually there. I won't start a phrase-by-phrase critique as that will lead to me, in turn, being picked-up for things I never actually said!

Quick turnrounds are a pain in the proverbial for everyone and are the most stressy situation I know for me as a soundtech.

So.... quick line-check incl gain structure if poss (difficult for singers if there's an audience standing there)... make sure the monitors are positioned right for the band and then get something appropriate into each monitor. (I do concentrate on mons rather than FoH in the time I have available, so that the band has some prospect of keeping together while I'm fine-tuning the system.) So singers need to hear each other and lead instruments... leads need to hear bass-lines... etc etc. Can't generalise too much as it's very band-dependent. One priority is to tell the band what signals to give me for monitor adjustments.

Then off we go if we have to. Watch the band like a hawk during the first few songs gently adjusting monitors according to their directions as well as fine-tuning FoH. First priority with FoH is vocs and lead instruments.

It's a nightmare and I hate it! Always high-fives from me for sound-techs who seem to spend most of their lives doing this - fortunately I don't have to!

With two bands in a concert with an interval of say 20 mins between I try and 'split' the desk between the two so that I can 'set and forget' gain structure, monitor-sends etc. at sound-check and just mute and unmute at half-time. Not always possible though if you have two bands that need many channels.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby grab » Thu May 26, 2011 10:52 pm

What Mike said - put *something* in the monitors to start with, and hope it's OK to get the band through until you get round to doing a better job of it. But fixing monitors is secondary to getting it OK at FOH.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby shufflebeat » Fri May 27, 2011 6:49 am

+1 to Mike.

It's usually possible for a singer to waffle on for 20-30 seconds in introduction while people gather themselves and adjust their studded codpieces before the band kicks in. If that's co-ordinated with getting a rough level then everybody's happy.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby James Perrett » Fri May 27, 2011 9:21 am

grab wrote:What Mike said - put *something* in the monitors to start with, and hope it's OK to get the band through until you get round to doing a better job of it. But fixing monitors is secondary to getting it OK at FOH.

If you have the misfortune to mix our band you will soon know if the monitors are wrong - we'll just stop playing until it is right. It just so happened that for our first few gigs we had some great monitor engineers who had the knack of getting things right straight away so now our lead singer expects every sound engineer to live up to that standard. Oddly enough - all the good monitor engineers we know trained by the same PA guy in Portsmouth.

James.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby ginge6000 » Fri May 27, 2011 9:58 am

James Perrett wrote:
If you have the misfortune to mix our band you will soon know if the monitors are wrong - we'll just stop playing until it is right.

I believe that it's those kind of actions that cause techies to start complaining about "effing prima donna musicians"!

(This from an "effing prima donna musician"!)
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby Dave Rowles » Fri May 27, 2011 10:04 am

James Perrett wrote:It just so happened that for our first few gigs we had some great monitor engineers who had the knack of getting things right straight away so now our lead singer expects every sound engineer to live up to that standard. Oddly enough - all the good monitor engineers we know trained by the same PA guy in Portsmouth.

Proper training, and professional attitude. Hope those people continue to stay in work
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby grab » Fri May 27, 2011 11:41 am

Sounds like a challenge, James!

For a regular gig, that's entirely justified, and at a larger festival with a dedicated monitor engineer it's also completely justified. If your monitor mix is no good there, someone's not doing their job. But a small festival where one poor sod is having to do everything, this may be an unrealistically-high expectation. Depending on how wrong it is, of course - complete lack of keys or vocals is more serious than "a bit more me".

As a by-the-way on this, I never used to watch festival coverage on the TV, but last year I decided to. I was horrified by the number of times a band would kick off and I'd realise "hang on, that guitar/keyboard/backing singer isn't anywhere". It could take as much as a couple of songs before the FOH bloke realised he was missing something. Or in one notable case, they started a song, found there were no keys, and a bunch of crew spent the next couple of songs rewiring stuff - guess someone forgot a line-check there! I'd be embarrassed to do this for a student band in a pub, never mind a "professional" team doing this to globally-famous acts in front of umpty-tum thousand people.
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Re: Live Stage Monitoring and Musicians

Postby James Perrett » Fri May 27, 2011 2:56 pm

grab wrote:But a small festival where one poor sod is having to do everything, this may be an unrealistically-high expectation.

That's why this guy gets plenty of work. He'll use a separate monitor desk for small festivals so that there is always someone looking after the band. While he only does the PA work part time, he's got a very impressive client list, probably thanks to the way he looks after the performers.

James.
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