Mike Lethby takes a look at the background to Soundcraft's popular Going Live series of live sound short courses, and gives a run‑down on the events planned for the next course, taking place at the University of Manchester at the end of April.
The fourth in the Soundcraft‑sponsored series of live sound training weekends — Going Live — rolls into Manchester on April 22‑24. And if you're keen to improve your understanding of the subject, there's still a chance to grab a place. Due to popular demand, the two‑day residential courses have been expanded to include an optional 'basics' day (on the Friday) .
Going Live has turned out to be a runaway success, with each weekend well‑filled weeks in advance. The popularity of these courses reflects the shortage of instant, convenient formal training as a short‑cut to learning the art and science of live sound. Few can afford to give up a day job, or even spare the time and hard cash to take up longer residential courses. As for the chance of getting on‑the‑job experience with a venue or PA company, the rule of thumb is the same as for most desirable careers in the arts; you earn your dues the hard way. Most top engineers began their careers sweeping floors and humping speakers into trucks.
Making live sound work well requires a rare mixture of know‑how, objectivity and self‑belief, and the keys are your own intelligence and a good ear. At the most basic level, you need a certain understanding of acoustic and electrical principles and how to apply them in practice to new venues with unpredictable problems. But of course you want to do more than that. You want to be creative with live sound, and help your artists maximise their ideas with whatever techniques you can dream up and the tools you can beg or borrow. That is precisely why you're looking beyond the horizons of a rusty 16:2 and poor PA which does nothing for your audience's enjoyment or the artists' reputation. You might be a semi‑pro (or even pro) gigging musician. You might be the technically‑minded friend of a band, driving your mates up and down the M1 in the Transit, helping set up the gear and mixing the gig with whatever dodgy facilities and buzzy mains the Dog & Duck can offer.
Or you might be (as a surprising number of Going Live attendees are) a professional theatre sound technician grappling with zero budget and equipment well past its use‑by date. What brings such disparate people together on Going Live is a burning desire to get the right sound, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
Going Live promises a quick insight into real‑life professional techniques that make live sound work on the night. Its special attraction is its unique formula — an informal amalgam of practical instruction and anecdotal wisdom from a regular team of leading live sound pros.
The organisers have modified many of the course's arrangements and facilities in the light of responses to questionnaires handed out at the end of previous sessions. For example, most people find it difficult to assess their own level of expertise: the optional introductory 'Basics' day is a direct result of the user feedback. Those who take this session often turn out to be more advanced than their supposedly 'expert' companions when the full course starts on Saturday morning. Another problem — giving everyone a clear view of a tutor's hands on the controls — has been solved by the provision of live video relays to TV monitors.
The organisers also recognise that packing such an enormous amount of information into one weekend leads to sensory and memory overload for even the keenest humans. So everyone now receives a comprehensive set of Course Notes — an invaluble summary of the key tutorial points — to browse over afterwards.
The typical setup involves an auditorium in which a fair‑sized and fully‑equipped stage is built, a small high‑quality PA installed, and a large array of mixing consoles strategically placed. The stage on which the aforementioned session musos will later play features wedge and sidefill monitoring, a variety of microphones, real live instruments (complete with real live feedback) and the bane of everyone's life, a real live drum kit to mic up and fall over! Stage lines feed (just as in pro setups) monitor and front‑of‑house desks via multicores, DI and splitter boxes. Desk outputs feed systems graphics, processors, crossovers, amplifiers and thus loudspeakers. Everything you'd have to contend with on the road is there in all its perplexing, black‑spaghetti glory.
Each course is customised according to the list of people who book in advance. The average works out at around three people per console. Apparantly, a major hit has been Willie Fyffe's responses to questions about getting into the business and going on the road; this real rock'n'roller has been out there for over 20 years and his off‑the‑cuff career advice is a hilarious highlight.
You'll have the opportunity to see at close quarters some of the most widely‑used equipment in the sound engineering business. From the world's best‑selling small mixers (Spirit and Folio) to Soundcraft's flagship Europa, used by the likes of Bryan Adams, Living Colour and Van Morrison. Most important of all — at least as far as the majority of previous attendees have been concerned — is the chance to hear a pro explain short‑cuts to solving unfamiliar situations and tricky technical problems; mains power, for example, becomes a big issue on the road, so earthing, electrical noise, and safety issues are well covered. You'll also discover the secrets of good mic placement, how to use effects, EQ and processors properly, and loads more besides.
Sennheiser supply all the radio microphones and headphones, whilst Garwood Communications' Personal Radio Station (the UK's leading in‑ear monitoring system) is on show and will be discussed during the monitoring session.
Soundcraft takes an unambiguous stance about its role as major sponsor of Going Live. Without the sponsorship of a big player, the logistics of providing up to 40 desks, a PA system, a band, and all the rest, would make course fees enormous.
But while all the desks on hand are Soundcraft's, I can assure you after attending one course that you won't face a sales pitch. Soundcraft, a major mover in making quality desks affordable to mere mortals, is keen to leave the talking to working professionals — and the company genuinely values the comments and criticisms it receives from people who take the course. It's thus a rare opportunity to have your opinions about desk design heard by a big name: take it!
FRIDAY (INTRODUCTORY DAY)
- Basics: Why do you need a PA system? Choosing a desk; desk features; typical system signal path.
- Theory in practice: Gig planning; bands' needs; system needs; power and safety.
- The Gig: Setting up amps and mics; setting gain and EQ; setting up a monitor mix.
- Create your own mix.
- Planning for a gig.
- Practical console operation: The house desk; EQ; gating; compression; group and channel inserts.
- Microphones: Choosing and placing different mics for electric and acoustic instruments and vocals.
- Loudspeaker alignment: Soundcheck procedures.
- Hands‑on mixing: With a professional band live on stage.
- Stage Monitoring: Monitor desks and speakers; using processors and effects; crossovers, graphics and system delays; desk vs. external EQ; VCAs; in‑ear monitoring.
- Coping with a crisis: Tricky situations and quick solutions.
- Live session: Hands‑on mixing.
- Guest spot: Special presentation by a top pro.
- Turning professional: Getting a start in the business; the realities of touring; working with band and tour management.
Four ticket types are available:
1. Three‑day, full residential (£120).
2. Three‑day, non‑residential (£80).
3. Two‑day, full residential (£85).
4. Two‑day, non‑residential (£65).
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided according to ticket type. Tea and coffee are always available and accommodation is on‑site. For details and booking forms, contact Soundcraft Electronics on 0707 665000.