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In this episode of Sound Design Live my guest is producer, engineer, and FOH mixer for artists such as Counting Crows, Goo Goo Dolls, and Avril Lavigne, Shawn Dealey. We discuss finding your sound, tips for mixing live vocals, and sound system calibration.
- What series of events lead to you mixing FOH for the Counting Crows? How did you get the gig?
- What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to FOH mixing?
- Finding Your Sound in the Studio
- “Walking into the studio isn’t the right time to decide what your record is going to sound like. I know the feeling of being a kid in a candy store is enticing, but this is the time where having a clear idea of what you want your recording to sound like is really key.”
- Can you walk us through what a conversation like that might look like for a live event and how that would influence your decision making process related to the mix or the sound system?
- Tips for Mixing Live Vocals
- “A loud stage would be a more appropriate choice for a dynamic microphone.”
- How do I set the HPF on a vocal?
- How do I set the pre-delay on a vocal reverb?
- How do I EQ the reverb send to help it sit well in the mix?
- System design and calibration
- Tell me about the system design for the Clyde Theater.
- Is there some way to guarantee that the client will be happy? Is there some way for me to get inside their head to predict the characteristics of good sound to them and produce a result that they are happy with? Or is the only way to sit next to them in the audience and audition changes until they are happy?
- Do you worry at all about system latency? Does total system latency influence your decision making when setting up the console and specing the sound system?
- From FB
- Bobby B: Best practices for building a rider
- Gabriel P: how was it working with Avril Lavigne?
- Greg McVeigh: Ask him when he is going to ditch the “real job” and mix touring acts again.
If I’m watching a show and I see someone play something and I can’t hear it it’s like, where is that? Why is it not in the mix? What’s going on?Shawn Dealey
- All music in this episode by Glitch.
- 34 mic snare drum shootout
- Audio Test Kitchen
- Work bag: adapter kit, Ultimate Ears, Universal Audio interface and Apollo satellite
- Books: Recording The Beatles, Chairman of the Board
- Podcast: Working Class Audio, Under The Skin
- Play with sound every day.
- I’ve seen people mix a show while they’re watching Smaart and it’s like, this is not working.
- If I’m watching a show and I see someone play something and I can’t hear it it’s like, where is that? Why is it not in the mix? What’s going on?
- The best way to fix a problem is at the source.
- A condenser microphone in front of a wedge is a completely unstable situation.
- Raise the HPF until it sounds bad.
- I just didn’t want to have a PA that sounded bad for the show.
- I have a career trajectory that I can link to 3 people for fifteen years of work.
This transcript was automatically generated. Please let me know if you discover any errors.
I’m Nathan Lively, and today I’m joined by producer engineer in front of house mixer for such artists as Counting Crows, Goo Goo Dolls, and Avril Lavigne. Shawn Dealey, welcome to Sound Design Live.
Thanks for having me. Okay.
So, Sean, I definitely want to talk to you about this topic of finding your sound tips for mixing live vocals and sound system calibration. But before I do that, after you get a sound system set up, what’s one of your favorite pieces of music to play through it to get more familiar with it.
So I have a few different pieces I listen to obviously have somewhat of a tuning playlist, but there’s one specific song that I use pretty consistently that slightly obscure. A band called Spy Mob. They’re out of Minneapolis, and the record came out in the mid 2010. Lord Algae mixed it, and it has an extensive amount of mid range information. So when I was mixing shows for Kennedy Crows, there was a lot of mid range information. Adam had a lot of mid range in his vocal. There’s three guitar players, keywords, and so it was a really dense sort of Sonic landscape.
And so this song is 2040 by Spy Mob, something that I would be able to listen to after we’d done some tuning on the PA, and I could throw that up and make sure that I was hearing all of the stuff that I needed to pull off a show. So that was kind of a song that I would get a lot of questions from a lot of guys that were around or people in the venue be like, hey, what is that song that you played? Because it’s an interesting song.
It’s pretty catchy, kind of quirky sounding, but really kind of defined. If a PA could kind of handle what I was about to put at it as far as definition and detail in a mid range, heavy live music mix. So that’s kind of my go to. There’s a couple of others. Thomas Dolby song that was from, I think, Aliens at my Buick that I picked up from another engineer that was mastered in the 80s. So it’s actually quite quiet, but has a lot of really nice high end high frequency information where I could sort of tell if there’s the crispness of a rig and then some really nice sub information, that’s not overwhelming, but you can really hear the definition if it goes all the way down, so specific songs for specific things.
And that’s kind of something I try and share with people, too, as developing a playlist of songs that really kind of establish what you need to get out of a PA and listen to those. You can kind of pull out the elements that you’re looking for and understand if it’s not going to work for you and you need to go back to the drawing board or back to Smart and your Lake and hack away or add. Those are a couple of songs I would dive into.
Other than that, I would play the intro for those about to rock you, and then I would always stop it as the song started, which would always make people quite angry that I didn’t play the whole thing through. There’s a couple of kick drum hits. It really kind of reinforced the fact that the PA can rock and understand that it’s functioning, and it was a test procedure for me. It wasn’t enjoying the song, even though I do like to listen to that song quite loud on large scale pas, but I didn’t get too deep into it.
I didn’t listen to it all day long. It was pretty quick. I could tell if I was getting what I needed from the boxes, and if it wasn’t, then it was into fix mode, and then who knows what things we would uncover at that point. But those are kind of the few songs that I would really rely on to get me to where I needed to be with the PA. Nice.
Sounds like it has some important milestones in there that quickly you can queue into and know some things, get some actionable data, like, Is this going to work? Where do I need to do some more work?
Yeah. And the Spy Mob track the Snare drum on it has this, like a little bit of a mid range knock, lower mid range thing. And if it was to pronounce, I knew the boxes were going to be a little bit boxy sounding, and if it was gone, I knew that I was missing some of that load made information, which I like to introduce into my drums. And so there’s all these little things that I could pull out of the songs because I was so familiar with them on so many different systems that it would establish how much fun I would have later in the day.
So very cool Minneapolis natives. All right. So Sean, as I was preparing for this interview, I was looking through your Instagram feed, which is pretty fun. Lots of cool pictures in there of gear and shows and stuff. Also of you going to restaurants and what to me looked like breweries or potentially bars. And so I saw this photo that looks like a bunch of beers. And so I was going to ask you, what’s your favorite beer?
Well, I don’t drink, but I think the photo you’re referencing is there’s a shop down in Huntington, Indiana. I moved to Indiana a few years ago to work at Sweetwater. And in Huntington, Indiana, there is a soda shop called Antichology, and they have 700 flavors of soda. It’s like a vintage ice cream and soda shop. So I haven’t been there much, but it was an impressive wall. And, yeah, I tend to gravitate more towards soda than beer, but that was an interesting spot. Moving to Indiana, kind of getting used to the Midwest.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff. I know there is a lot of breweries around here, and there’s a lot of good food. I mean, Fort Wayne is kind of exploding. We’re growing as a city. So there’s a lot of really cool restaurants that are popping up and stuff. So, yeah, I do enjoy that. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy eating. So, yeah, that’s one of my favorite pastimes. I mean, that’s something I missed from my touring days is being able to get out and get around and try different restaurants and stuff like that.
Tell me about either a couple of things that you tried at this 700 soda shop store or one of your favorite sodas. Just curious, what are your tastes?
Yeah. Big fan of Black cherry. I actually had a friend that drove down to Kentucky. No, he went up to Michigan and went to some sort of cherry Orchard and brought back six or eight different kinds of cherry flavored soda, ginger ale, gingerbread beer. All that stuff. So I got some treats from my friend Lynn Houston, who is someone I work with here. Lynn and I work on a lot of very cool marketing projects. He is the manager of written content here. But if no one is familiar with Lynn Houston, they should be.
He’s a total geek. And we do a lot of shootouts together. And so he travels a lot on the weekend. So he brought back a bunch of super cool flavored sodas, which we got to try this week. But we’re also in the middle of doing a 34 Mike snare drum shoot out at the moment where we’re shooting 34 different mics. So in Studio A right now, we have a pretty interesting photo shoot going on with a lot of microphones around one drum. But we do a lot of cool stuff like that.
If you get a chance. Google in. He did a lot of engineering in Nashville for years, and he ended up here, and we do a lot of really cool content that makes it on Sweetwater’s website.
Are you familiar with the audio test kitchen?
Yes, I am. Okay. Cool.
I interviewed Alexawana a while back, and his project was so interesting, seeing how they did all of the recording. So are you guys having I’m assuming you’re having a human actually hit the snare drum in this case.
So, yeah, I think that Lynn’s ultimate goal in life is to find someone to develop the robot drummer that actually can hit a drum consistently. But yeah, we have our in house session musician and content creator Nick Deaver Gillo hitting our drums for us. And so we try and keep we’ve done this on a lot of different things. We’ve done speaker cabinets, ribbon mics, vocal mics comparisons to virtual mics, a lot of different things, and we try and keep the control factors to a minimum. So everything is really consistent.
We like to use lasers, take precise measurements, calibrate things. So we try and take into account the most amount of or eliminate the most amount of variables from any of these processes. And so I think we had 19 mics around the snare for the dynamic microphones, and we had twelve condensers, and so individually we lined them all and tried to get them where they failed. One of the best we could in actual placement around the drum in the same distance and the same height from the head.
And then we captured one pass of the recording of the drum. So the variable of the performance is not taken into account, but the placement is the variable that we had to kind of give into. But it should be cool. I think it’ll give people a good understanding of what different microphones sound like on the same drum. So that’s something that’s going to come out in the next month or so when Sweewarters drum month comes out, there’s going to be some cool content with that cool.
Yeah. I would love to see what my own tastes are and do like a blind can AV test. And I’d also love to hear what you would end up picking if you listened to a bunch of them and not knowing what they were and just pick the one that you thought sounded the best for that specific situation.
Yeah. And I think I want to do that, too. I gravitate towards things that I know and things that I trust and from repeated use and success. But that’s one of those things where you can sit back and listen. And it’s been funny the few times that I have blind taste tested microphones, I usually end up picking the ones that I go to, so I feel like I’m usually using my ears and not my eyeballs for listening, which I think is a good thing. But yeah, the snare drum thing.
I think it’ll be pretty cool, but there’s some mics I would never even think to put on the drum or just haven’t had a chance to in a long time. So it also gives an opportunity to refresh my memory of things I like or haven’t used in a while or finding new things that would be a different flavor than what I’d go to consistently, because I’ve been known to be fairly set in my ways about certain things, but I’m trying to have more open mind about gear these days.
So, Shaun, you worked with the County Crows. It seems like at least for me and a lot of people who love The Counting Crows in my imagination, of course, never having experience working with them as humans. But just in my imagination, it seems like a dream gig. So I would love to just talk about sort of how you get work. So in this specific case, how did you get the gig? Like, what sort of relationships and series of events led you to work for The Counting Crows.
So I feel like I’m going to tell a pretty unique story about that. I started with The Counting Crows as their drum and keyboard technician after I had toured with them for a summer, working with the Guggodols as drum and playback technician for them. I really hit it off with a drummer. He loved the way I tuned the drums. Side Note I started as a drummer as a teenager and spent a lot of time playing and then a lot of time tuning drums. So I’m very much a nerd about all of that stuff.
But I started with Kenny Crows, I think in 2008 as a drum keyboard tech. Then that developed into recording their shows, archiving them for them. And a couple of years into that, I had stepped back over to the Guggenheim, was guitar teching for them for a tour. I got a phone call from the guitar player from Count Crows, Dave Bryson, who reached out and said, hey, we’re going to go to the studio. Would you like to come record us? And I was like, Well, that seems like a great idea.
So I jumped on that. And I had a pre established relationship with the band. I got along with everyone really well. And we got into the studio and it went really well. And I had a really good handle on, I think what the band sounded like and what I felt they should sound like. And I think we gelled on that in the studio. So they really kind of trusted what I had brought to the table as far as Sonics in the studio. So that translated into an offer to mix the band live.
And so just as a quick backstory, I had dabbled in live sound my entire career. But I’d never had a large format gig mixing a band. I had always worked as a backline technician because those are the gigs I was getting. And then when I was at home, I was mixing life sound at clubs and bars. And when I was on the road, I was mixing opening axe. And so I was getting a lot of experience. And I was always the annoying guy for a house asking the engineers like, hey, what’s that do?
What are you doing? I was always lurking in the audio Department, even though that wasn’t my job. So picked up a lot of that stuff along the way. So when I got the opportunity to mix Accounting Crows. Obviously, I jumped at that because that was sort of where I was aiming to be, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to get there. So I had put the groundwork in to get a gig like that. But I just hadn’t been working in the field as a touring front of house engineer.
So I went from co producing a record with them to mixing Front of House after being a backline technician. So I feel like that’s a slightly strange trajectory for anybody in the touring world. Usually you sort of start somewhere and work your way up. So I landed what I feel like it was a dream gig to have in sort of an obscure way, but at the same time, built on trust and engagement with the band and being able to communicate with them and get them what they were looking for.
What’s interesting for me, an interesting point about this story is that you didn’t start out in your life saying, I want to be front of house mixer for Kelly Crows. You were just working on shows and you were a drummer. And then I guess at some point there was an opportunity for you to become drum tech. And so it sounds like you were just sort of open to learning all things. And then as you were around and you build relationships, like, sort of opportunities came up, it doesn’t sound like to me that you were sort of lobbying for any particular position.
You weren’t calling that guitar player every day and say, hey, when are you going to give me that front of house mixing gig? When are you going to give me that recording gig? And then he finally called you.
Yeah, and I think that with a positive attitude. I work hard. I try and stay engaged with people. And I think that being around and obviously having a good attitude towards things is really beneficial to that. But I jumped on the opportunities that were presented with me straight out of high school. I hit the road. I had a bit of a helping hand for my father, who owned a road case company. And so I had already been established working in the industry, got a job at about the age of 16 doing backline and stuff at a local backline company.
And so I already started engaging with people. I met in front of house engineer who took me on my first tour when I was 18. And so even with him, he kind of took me under his wing and showed me some stuff. And I started mixing some of the opening acts on that first tour. Even so, I was always very interested in that. I mean, I established that I could build a career on being a backline technician and that the paychecks would come if I would do that.
And it gave me the opportunity to really learn a lot and engage with a lot of people. One of my second tour was with Average Levine, and I was working with her as a drum technician. I was taking care of the playback rig on that tour, and I met one of my mentors on that tour, Jimmy A. Kobuski, who’s a world famous sound engineer, also another Canadian, and he was really helpful. And I was really able to get a lot from him. And funny how it worked out as it went full circle on my last tour with Counting Crows, he was mixing Matchbox 20, and so we were able to mix side by side and have a fun two or out on the road.
But those opportunities that I got myself into, I tried to take advantage of and try to get as much information and get as much knowledge from the people I was working with because there’s a lot of really talented people I cross paths with. And that was something that I kind of realized early on. It’s like, these people know everything that I want to know, and if I’m nice enough to them or ask them enough questions, I’m sure they’ll share some of this knowledge. And so I was able to extract enough stuff out of that to kind of put a skill set together for myself.
That’s great. And that’s like a whole lifetime of learning. I just wonder if I look at this. Is there anything I could take away from this for my own career? So if you were my mentor and we had a mentor mentee relationship and I was asking you, Shaun, I want to get to a place where I can be mixing some of my favorite artists and doing these kinds of tours. Is there any sort of anything I could be doing in order of, like, taking action? Is there anything that I can do, or am I just kind of waiting for the phone to ring and hope that those opportunities come up for me.
Play with sound every day? I don’t know that’s something I feel like I don’t ever stop trying to improve my skill set and try to learn that’s something that I see if there’s someone that’s waiting around for a gig. I don’t think those things happen very quickly if you’re waiting on something, if you’re pushing yourself to improve your skill set, to expand your Horizons, to learn new things, to get engaged. I mean, the only way that you’re going to have a good handle on mixing a show in a bunch of different venues, as if you’ve mixed a bunch of shows in a bunch of different venues.
So I have to say to me, one of the most important things is to get yourself into a position where you get an opportunity to do some of the work. You like to do as many times as possible in as many different situations as you possibly can, because once you get into, I would say the bigger leagues when you get an upside down situation and you’re kind of painted yourself into the corner, you need to have the skills to get out of that and still put on a good show.
So the experience is really what I think establishes people that are successful because they know how to deal with all of the problems or at least have a skill set to adapt and overcome, which is something I think is necessary in our industry.
So making mistakes and having the skill set to adapt and overcome. Speaking of that, what do you think are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to front of house mixing. So you’ve been around, you’ve been starting out, and then you’ve been mixing the headliner and seeing other people come up who are just getting started. And now you are even in a position where you’re doing even more education. So could you talk about maybe one or two of the most common mistakes you see people making who are getting started?
Yeah. Probably kind of a twofold answer on that. I feel like there’s some of the skill set needed to be the audio engineer that’s based in science and some of it’s based in art. And I think that the blend of the two of those is really the key to success. I feel like a lot of people look at audio a lot. I think they rely on real time analyzers and measurement data, which is obviously that’s going to tell you what’s going on and trust the information as long as you know how to measure things properly.
But I’ve seen people mix a show while they’re watching Smart, and it’s like, this is not working. And so I think that there’s a reliance on the science side of thing. And then the other side of it is like, you need to have an understanding of what music should sound like. I really had an uphill battle with the County Crows, where we had seven guys on stage, seven people singing, and everybody was playing a bunch of different instruments. And I think that my goal whenever there was a song being played was that I could look on the stage and I could hear everything that was being played.
And I think that that’s something that one of my biggest pet peeves is if I’m watching a show and I see someone play something and I can’t hear it, where is that? Why is it not in the mix? What is going on? And that’s something that takes the art of understanding how the music should be represented and then also knowing all the parts, like, are you missing cues that you have? Are you not unmuting instruments? Things like that. So that kind of is something that I think is a mistake people make when they’re, like, still worried about the drum sound.
And it’s like, nobody cares about how the drum sound right now. If the lead vocalist isn’t over the mix. Or if there’s, like, a lead guitar part or some sort of something going on, that’s interesting. That’s integral to the song, and you can’t hear it. The fans are used to the record. They need to have those sort of elements in the mix so that they can enjoy the show. So I think that those are kind of a couple of things that I see that bother me when I hear people mixing where I’m not getting engaged by everything that’s going on.
I’m like, Man, I wish I could hear what he’s playing because I can’t hear that right now and then also the reliance on visual stimulation instead of using your ears and kind of making that judgment call of like, okay, yeah, it looks bad, but sounds good. So we’re going to move on. And that’s something I’ve seen people do in the past. And for me to enjoy a show, that’s something that really I don’t know. It’s kind of a bummer, because with having high standards like that, it’s hard to go to a show that’s not mixed well and enjoy it.
So we’re going to talk more about you mentioned vocals. We’re going to talk more about that in a second. 1st, let’s just talk about finding your sound. And you mentioned just enjoying the show, looking at the stage, things sort of makes sense as they’re happening on the stage in the audio. So you wrote this article called Finding Your Sound in the Studio, and I wanted to see if maybe we could use the same topic, but for talking about live production. So I’m going to read this quote from the beginning of the article that says, Walking into the studio isn’t the right time to decide what your record is going to sound like.
I know the feeling of being a kid in a candy store is enticing, but this is the time we’re having a clear idea of what you want your recording to sound like is really key. And in another interview, I’ve heard you talking about being in positions where you get to spec the sound system. And so when you get to that position where you can say, oh, these are the microphones that I want. This is a mixing console that I want. This is the sound system that I want.
That is kind of the similar thing as a recording studio of being a kid in a candy store, right? You could pick all these things. So you might just say, I want all the most expensive microphones and all the most expensive figures. I don’t know. I’m just like, you go into a restaurant and you’re, like, bring me the most expensive wine. I don’t know. So I wondered if you could talk about how that conversation might go when you are first getting into a live production. Was there a time, for example, with some of the artists that you’ve worked with where you said to them, or how did you figure out what is the sound quality that’s going to make them happy and make the show successful and make the audience happy?
And how does that influence my decision making process? So how does that kind of conversation go?
So I feel I’m a pretty big proponent of getting the sound right at the source. And to me, that’s something that has to be a conversation with the musician involved. And that’s something that I established with the County Crows early on, when I was working in the studio with them, we worked on guitar tones. We worked on sound, drum sounds. I was already working with the drummer, and he was really happy with the way I was making the drum sound. And so all of these components that I was working on with the band were building blocks for a great sounding show.
So we were working through different guitar amps to achieve different guitar tones. We got to different base dies. We found one we really liked, and we ended up getting some for the touring rig. And so I was able to work hand in hand with the band. They had my trust to give my input on some of the band’s equipment that would establish the way things sounded. So that then my job from that point on, from the microphone out made my life easier. But then also, those tonal choices early on allowed me the flexibility to add microphones that I could get the best and get what I was looking for out of it.
So there’s a lot of things that I did in the live realm that I think some people would shy away from. I used a lot of studio microphones. I used a lot of ribbons. I used a lot of vintage microphones, but I was capturing sources that I was familiar with and sounded really great. So I was using that to my advantage, so I could then take it up another level by using a microphone that I liked, and that tone imparted on that instrument would translate to my mix.
And so I think if you have the opportunity to work with an artist who trusts you, getting the right sound, getting guitar tones and drums that work for whatever style of music or whatever artist you’re working with is going to establish everything else down the line to be more effectively mixed. And then, yeah, I was a kid in the candy store, and I did have tons of gear, and I toured with a bunch of outboard stuff, and all of it was kind of based on things that I’d like to use a lot of experience with some of the more esoteric outboard gear in the studio.
But all of that stuff I felt helped translate my vision of the show to the audience. So I was trying to get an album quality mix in a live setting as best as I possibly could. The flip side of that, too, is that all of the shows I mixed with The Counting Crows got released. So Livecannoncrows dot com has all of my mixes that go out to the world and get sold. So I was kind of trying to bring as much to the table as I could from a Sonic standpoint, but then establishing what I was working with and making sure that that was helping me get the results I was looking for.
Now, the flip side of that being here at Sweetwater for the past three years, I was head of audio at the Client Theater, which is a venue that we own in town, and I got a chance to mix everything under the sun for a few years, which is a lot different than having the ability to start from scratch or choose from a library of vintage guitar amplifiers and make sure the drummers using symbols that aren’t too loud. It really kind of gave me the opportunity to learn how to deal with anything that got thrown at me.
And so the best way to fix a problem, though still to this day, is at the source. If the base amp is too loud, the base amp is too loud, like go up to the base player and say, hey, if you’d like your show to sound a bit better, I’d love it. If you could help me out here and turn down your base amp, and that’s something that I think is always going to help you. If you can establish a relationship with the artists or at least get their trust, even if it’s a short term relationship, even if they’re an opening act, if you can do what you can to help them sound better on stage, then you can make a better show for them, and hopefully they can get some more fans and keep coming back.
And if they trust you and you’ve given them your best effort, hopefully that relates into a relationship that can be maybe long term, maybe not. So especially when you’re working in a venue and being able to engage with touring artists and sort of make friends, give them a good experience and show that you care. I think that really helps out in that final product of being better.
Do you think that comes through with the artist? Do they hear you say that? And they think, oh, Shawn’s here every night. He’s been here for three years. He knows as much as anyone about this room, so I should listen to him because I want to have a great show tonight or they think, oh, no, this guy’s going to try to make me turn down. I need to fight him off somehow because I’m worried about my own performance. How does that usually play out?
Well, I mean, there’s preconceived notions of the sound man being the angry sound man coming in and kind of pushing people around. And I try and establish that I’m here to help. And that’s something that I think when you deal with professionals, I think that you can hopefully, as a musician, let your guard down a bit. But I feel like there’s a lot of musicians that have their guard up because they’ve had bad experiences in the past or people trying to control them, not maybe for making the show better, but just making their life, quote, unquote, less miserable.
And I think that that really kind of establishes if you’re like, hey, I’m on your team. If you guys sound good, that makes me look good, vice versa. So all this stuff hopefully works in, like, a symbiotic relationship with the artists, where if I give them my good effort, they’ll give me their good effort, and we put on a good show, and then hopefully the fans enjoy it. And then they can come back and play more shows and have a larger fan base. And I think that on a smaller scale, when you’re not working with a headliner, putting in the effort that you would if it was a headliner like, I had a mixed template that had all of my bells and whistles.
Even if I had three inputs, I had everything ready at my fingertips on my console so I could give them if we got into something that was like a large scale thing. I had all this stuff there. If it was an acoustic guitar and a vocal, I still had some effects and things I could do. So I had my palette at my fingertips, and I was working on an avid SXL, which is not a common house desk. I was pretty spoiled with that, but at the same time, mixing on an X 32 or an M 32, you have the ability to get something going for any of the artists where you can give them a little bit more than the bare minimum.
And I think that hopefully translates if you show that you care, hopefully they appreciate that. And in the end, hopefully the audience appreciates that.
Okay, Sean. So you made this great video for Sweetwater called Tips for Mixing Live Vocals, and you and I have known each other for a long time now, I think about 38 minutes, and so I hope you don’t mind if we potentially disagree a little bit, because one of the things that you say in this video is that a loud stage would be a more appropriate choice for a dynamic microphone. And this kind of caught my ear when I was listening to it because I interviewed Philip Graham from Ear Trumpet Labs, who make some really cool looking, condenser microphones a few years ago.
And I basically told him all of my ideas about why dynamic microphones are better for live events in concert stages. And he disagreed with me on all of those things. And so I wondered if you wouldn’t mind just sort of defending your statement here about dynamic microphones.
Yeah. Happy to do that. I feel that dynamic microphones are the go to choice for a live situation. Now, there are situations where a condenser microphone may be appropriate. I would say 99% of the shows I’ve mixed in the past ten years have been on dynamic microphones. There is one specific occasion that I mixed a show with a condenser microphone, and it was spectacular. It was a singer and an acoustic piano on a stage, and it allowed for me to have a microphone with a more sensitive pick up on that stage because there was no real noise floor.
It was a piano and vocal, and I wasn’t mixing loud and everything kind of fell into place with that. But dynamic microphones, if you have wedges on stage, which some people still do that. But especially if you’re dealing with local artists or opening acts on tours in a house sound person environment, condenser microphone in front of a wedge is a completely unstable situation to try and manage, especially if someone has bad mic technique. So, yeah, I would probably take it to my grave that I would put a dynamic microphone in front of a vocalist on a stage almost any day of the week.
A huge fan of the telefuncan microphones, the M 80 and the M 81 are extremely amazing microphones, and I’ve used those for years and had amazing success. Things that come into play with that is that those microphones have an extremely tight polar pattern, so the pickup is very directional, so you don’t get a lot of bleed on the deck. So that’s something that I fought for years, especially the County Crows, having a bunch of guitar amps, seven people playing drums and all that stuff going on.
We had a couple of people still on wedges, and so there was a lot of noise going on. So finding a microphone that was pretty much the cleanest anything where I could get the most amount of direct signal without a lot of interference and bleed. Those microphones really kind of made my job easier. But you get into situations where you have artists that maybe using in ears and have a strange in your mix that if you’re using a dynamic microphone compared to a condenser microphone, the ambience in a venue really changes.
I mean, it’s pretty surprising if someone has a really loud vocal in isolated in ears, they pick up a lot of ambience of the venue, even on a dynamic microphone. So if you get into the realm of having something that’s even more sensitive that picks up some of the cavernous sounds of an arena that can put your artists in an unfamiliar place, and the performance may suffer. So to me that I mean, I don’t know. It would be hard pressed to find a solution with a condenser microphone that would make sense for me in a live situation.
And even I can’t think of one that would make me happy in an audio world. So I think I’m going to hold my ground on that one.
Sean, you’re making me realize that to pick a microphone, just talking about vocals. I guess you can’t really just audition those in a studio environment. You would really have to try them on a show because there’s so many different factors that are going on in a live stage. So I guess you just really have to try it on a show and see if it works. Is that kind of how you’ve picked vocal microphones over the years? Like, you tried something new and you did a whole show and you’re like, you know what?
For many different reasons, this really works or for many different reasons, this really doesn’t work in this situation.
Yeah. I mean, I went through a few different microphone changes with the Counting Crows. We landed on the telefuncan stuff, but we had an opportunity to do it, and it had to be something that both ends of the snake agreed on. Me and the monitor guy had to sort of be like, okay, we’re going to try this today. He would have to get it done, and he would have to be happy with it being something that he could work with. So that was as important as it was for me to have a good sound up front.
And so there was times where we disagreed. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to pry a 58 of someone’s hands and give them something else just because of familiarity, especially for an engineer that’s been worth a band for a long time. Changing things like that, that’s sort of like, you don’t want to take the blankie away from the singer or something like that. So I think it’s like, you have to establish that there’s a reason to change. You have an opportunity to try something in a somewhat controlled environment.
You have to know that the venue is not terrible. I’ve done it in the past. We’re like, hey, let’s try this. We try it. It just sounds super weird. And it’s like, today is not the day to do the change. And also the psychology of dealing with a musician. If a singer rolls in and he’s totally out and not part of engaging with a sound check or just not giving us all, if you’re switching microphones on him and he gets into a show situation, and he’s like, what is this thing?
And why does it sound so weird? You don’t want to be the one that gets blamed for that. So I think that establishing those changes has to be someone something that’s, like, sort of a team effort but has to be justified. And you have an end goal of success, and it’s sounding better or working better for whatever you need. And I think that, like that being said, a lot of stuff that I would do in tuning a PA and even implementing PA design on a tour situation would be to keep the center vocal position as clean as possible on stage.
So there’s a lot of work that we did to kind of keep the stage as quiet as possible, to leave some ambience at least amount of low and rumble and stuff like that. So that would establish sort of a consistent space for the singer to work in, too. And then the microphone reacts more efficiently with less interference of all those other factors. So it’s a weighted question, but there’s a lot of different variables that go into that.
Sean, how do I set the high pass filter on a vocal high as it’ll go until it sounds bad?
Yeah, I know.
When does it sound bad?
Yeah. And I think that I would probably go higher than lower on a high pass just to kind of keep that clarity. I mean, it’s easier to get a thinner vocal above a mix anyways, but, like, 150 is somewhere that I would Hover around between 120 and 150. And then if I needed to go, it dependent on things that like, if I was pushing the gain on something, I would tighten it up. I mean, I’m not scared of using the high pass filter or lots of EQ.
There was a point in time where I was actually using a channel of a Lake processor to EQ my vocals. So I was getting, like, surgical into slicing things out and cleaning it up so that I could get the most amount of gain before feedback. And so it really depends on what you needed to do, what the vocalist sounds like, and that’s sort of the thing got a really low voice, and you bypass too much of it. You lose all the character, but it’s that balance of what works for the singer, and then what works for your mix, too.
I mean, what you want to do is hopefully have people hear the vocal. I’ve been told to turn the vocal down or bury it before if someone’s not super competent. But for the most part, I think that people want to hear the voice, and you need to be able to get it up there. And so, yeah, I pretty much get it till it starts sending thin and they roll it back just a little bit, just so it has some body. But in a live situation, you wouldn’t be adding, like, 100 Hz to the vocal, like any of that sort of stuff that gives you some girth that would be in our studio recording just doesn’t need to exist.
I think in most of the live situations, but obviously that’s stylistically dependent in room and system depend.
I mean, if there’s a bunch of wedges on stage and side fills and they’re standing near the sound system, then you have loads more low frequency build up than if they just super quiet.
The monitor guys really hate when you go to the console and then roll their high pass up too. But that is something that happens when you got a bunch of big wedges on a deck when vocals on stage aren’t high past enough, which is sometimes modern engineers that are trying to get a lot of level try and get that chesty feeling out of that. But the blowback from that to front of house is sometimes pretty gross, and that actually affects some phase relationship with the microphone and with low frequency stuff that’s coming out of wedges.
So that’s always something, too that if you can stay friends with your monitor engineer and hopefully work together and be like, hey, man, that’s, like, really booming out here or, like, really thumpy, and that’s going to compete with the mix, too. So I think that that’s something that as much as you high pass a vocal, if it’s still, like.
Chesty or super stumpy on stage and there’s wedges up there that’s going to fight you all night long. So I think that’s something to be aware of. But, yeah, I’m not scared of getting rid of that stuff. And I mean, that kind of goes for everything. The high pass filter is your friend when you’re mixing.
Sean, how do I set the pre delay on a vocal Reverb?
Well, I like to keep it fairly tight. I’m not a big fan of really upfront effects. I like to kind of make them sound like I’m creating space around a vocal, but I don’t like to hear Reverb. I’m not a fan of long, sort of lexicon sounding things that are very apparent. So I end up using a few different reverbs sometimes, or, like, some short delays. I like to keep my pre delay on a Reverb usually under 20 milliseconds, anything longer than that, sort of, like gets it too far out from the rest of the vocal.
And really what I’m trying to do is I’m kind of creating a sound stage with my vocal effects. I’m not creating, like, a really prominent effect, but just like giving it a place for the vocal to sit in the mix. And that’s something that I’ve kind of been doing for a long time. I just either scared of, like, really loud effects or I just tastefully don’t like them. So there’s nothing wrong with that. But I like to make it so that it sounds natural so that I’m literally just, like, kind of pushing away some stuff so the vocal can sit in the middle of either the Reverb or, like, some short delays.
So, yeah, that sounds great.
It sounds like you’re really balancing on there between the two sides of making an artistic choice, which would be to have some big effect that’s really visible, really audible. And then over here where you’re doing sound reinforcement, which is what needs to happen here with this effect to help this mix work.
Yeah, I take that into the studio work. I do as well. I’m always hesitant to go overboard with effects. I’m not a big delay throw kind of guy, and that obviously with the County Crows, there’s not a lot of affected vocal. It’s pretty prominently trying to hear what Adam is singing or saying and bringing the lyrical content out. So I’m not trying to make it sound artistically affected. It’s trying to represent what’s going on. And I think intelligibility in any kind of situation where the lyrics are important is a really important thing, which goes back to the high pass filter and having the intelligibility of a vocal be there in the mix, I think really is important.
Just so people that are there, as fans can understand what the singer is saying. I don’t think there’s anything worse than showing up and being like, what did you just say? I can’t hear he’s not singing. So those things when you’re not overly affecting the voice, not pushing it too far into the mix, and then also keeping it clean with effective EQ that allows for the clarity and intelligibility of a vocal.
So let’s talk about clarity, intelligibility and Reverb return in that video about tips or mixing live vocals. You also mentioned that it’s important to EQ the Reverb return so that it sits well in the mix. So can you tell me more about how to do that?
Yeah. I think that my approach to EQing a Reverb return or any effects return. Is there’s a certain amount depending on your preset that you pulled up? I would say I’m not quite digital artifacts, but like, nonrealistic sounding space that comes back from a Reverb a lot of the time, and what I try to do is usually carve out some of the harsher, higher mid frequencies. I take off some of the top end. I high pass some of the low frequencies in order to fit that space into what I’m doing.
And I think that that is another piece of the puzzle where it allows me to create the space around the voice is that I’m tailoring that to support the vocal rather than just be like, hey, there’s the Reverb, all of it’s. There usually take off anything that picks up s is where you hear the s in the Reverb. So sometimes they’ll even DS a Reverb before they put a DSR in front of a Reverb plugin to take off some of the SS on the vocal. If I’m keeping them in the actual vocal sound, then at least it’s not hitting the effect as hard.
And then when it comes back, just taming some of that high frequency information, there’s a lot of that that just doesn’t need to be there. And I think that that’s a mistake that people do is when they leave, like, a full frequency Reverb in a mix. And you’re like, that’s a lot of Reverb. And it’s just because it’s all of those frequencies all of the time. When you tailor that to the sound you’re looking for, I think it gives you a more natural sounding Reverb. So that’s usually my approach to that.
And the same thing with if you have, like, a delay, a filtered effect on that where you high past low pass and find a spot where it kind of accentuates that voice and kind of makes it something that can sort of be a little bit Ghosty in the mix is a little bit more tasteful than having a blasting delay that is full frequency range.
Okay, let’s talk about the Clyde Theater, so I’ve never been there. I just look at some photos online. Let’s just start with some of your favorite things. So what’s one of your favorite things about working at the Clyde Theater? And maybe what’s one of the most challenging things about working there?
Well, my favorite part about the whole Clyde project was the fact that I was involved early on before the theater even opened up. So myself, along with stage manager and the modern engineer that we worked with there, Drew Consolvo, we work together to adapt and sort of deal with any problems that we foresaw before we even opened. So we weren’t part of the design process. But then when we got in there to do the final install and to Commission the system and get everything going, we modified a few things in order to make it so that people on the road rolled in there and were super happy with everything that was there.
We made things accessible. We made things flexible. It was clean. There was all of the cables adapters, everything was ready to go. Everything was dialed in, and that was really kind of a nice thing. And we got a lot of feedback from a lot of different artists that rolled through like, this is one of the most awesome venues we’ve been at. Cool, because we’re in the Midwest. We’re stuck between a lot of people coming from different established venues. That may not be the most fun places to do shows.
And so we really kind of made people have a great day at the office, and that’s something that I think we’re both really proud of having a venue where people could show up and just have an easy day. It was like a ramp load in our truck docked. It was 20ft from the stage. There was no stairs. There was no stupid things to make your day miserable. It was like we had everything we needed and it was accessible, and there was a nice facility, sounded really good.
We had all of the things that just make a day on the road easier for someone that’s been out for six weeks or whatever when they roll in and you can kind of give them a bit of a rest because everything’s covered. And that’s something that we kind of strived for. And that made I don’t know. It made it great for doing shows. It was an awesome experience with pretty much everyone that walked in, and yeah, I don’t think there’s really anything that I didn’t like about that.
I mean, it was a learning experience dealing with being a house guy for a change. I had a lot of great experiences mixing a bunch of random bands that never really would have got a chance to mix and having fun with that. So, yeah, it’s a great venue. Hopefully you’ll get to see it at some point.
Yeah, that’d be great. Well, I just want to say thank you. And I have so much gratitude for people who care about this stuff, because I have been on tours where we’ve showed up at tiny places, where we’re figuring out how to turn the electricity on. And we’re carrying cases of tiny stairwells and giant places where you are pushing things up and down giant ramps. And there’s not enough forklifts and all these problems. And then when you show up at a place that’s just easy to work at and seems like it’s designed with this kind of work in mind, like, oh, God, it’s just tears start to come to your eyes.
But between Drew and myself, we’ve been to every venue on Earth that sucked. We’ve been to all the good ones. And so we were able to bring that experience. And I was advancing some shows with some people. I was like, yeah, I know. We got you. And I could tell they didn’t believe me when I said, yeah, I know we got you. We’re in Fort Wayne. It’s a hard thing to believe, but it’s like, when you tell someone, yeah, this is a great venue. It’ll be an easy day.
And they’re like, Are you sure about that? And I’m like, yeah, it’s great. And so it’s nice to be able to do that because I know how that it wears on you when you’re on the road and you’re back to back and miserable venues and up the stairs and you can’t fit things. Oh, there’s an elevator, but doesn’t fit in any of our cases. And like, all these sort of things that just pile up. So when you can roll into a venue where there’s hot water and clean showers and good food and a nice PA and clean backstage and lots of storage, all of those things, I don’t know.
It’s just a reprieve from Slugging it out. And I feel like there’s more venues. And I hope through the pandemic that my understanding is a lot of venues put a little bit more effort into doing some upgrades and getting some stuff together. So hopefully when touring is fully fired, back up, which is looking sooner than later that there’s more awesome venues on the circuit. And I think in the end, the fans appreciate a band and a crew that’s happy because they hopefully put on a better show when everyone’s in a good mood as best they can be.
Sean, you mentioned the final install. You mentioned having everything dialed in and you mentioned making people happy. So let’s talk about that. Recently, a friend of mine installed and calibrated a sound system in a small Church, and I actually came up to observe a little bit and do some tests of my own. So I happened to be there and I could see the whole thing go down. And when I asked them about it later, it turned out that the client was unhappy with his work. Now the client wasn’t there while I was there.
My friend just did all their work and then left. And then later on, the client listened to it. And so he just heard through secondhand that they had asked for it to be improved. So the company sent up another tech, and my understanding is that that tech basically reset everything just back kind of to the manufacturer defaults. And the client was happy with that. So I don’t think there’s really a right and wrong here, but I do wonder if there’s some way that I could potentially end up on the side of the client liking it more often than not.
So is there some way for me to get inside of their head to kind of predict the characteristics of what is good sound to someone and then try to produce a result that they’re happy with, or is the only way to really guarantee that to just sit with the client in the room and basically audition changes until they’re happy?
Well, I don’t know. With them being so subjective, I feel like it is a personal decision. Now, people can like things that sound bad to me and think they sound good. I also feel that even on an install, when we Commission specifically the Clyde system, we had one of the texts from JBL come out, Raul Gonzalez, who’s an awesome systems engineers all over the world doing JBL stuff all the time we went through it, we tuned it. He did some of his tricks to kind of get it to where he thought it was cool.
We got into it. And then after mixing a few shows on it, I felt it needed some changes. So we kind of modified it. But I never really stopped modifying it in a way that if an engineer came in, who I could tell it was a good engineer, we’d talk about the system. I’d be like, hey, what did you like about this? What didn’t you like about this? What could we improve? And we had limitations of, like, we had a sub cavity under the stage, and we only had so much space, and we could only space.
Specifically, the subs were always kind of a tricky thing, but we had physical limitations, so we can only do so much with those. And so with that venue, it was always a constant. Can I make it, like, half a percent better? Can I make it, like, a little bit better? Can I tweak this out and so it was kind of a work in progress. But I can see that someone imparting a personal taste on a sound system could backfire, because if it’s not something that the end user or the client is accustomed to or likes, or if someone is mixing on it and they don’t really understand what you’ve done to it no fault of yours, but just the general concept of tuning PA or a room specifically.
And they’re just kind of not understanding what you did. I could see that going sideways, but I feel like in a venue or an install, I roll into a lot of places and they’re like, oh, yeah, this is done. We had to install.
Fine. Don’t touch it. But hold on. What is going on here? You ask a few why questions, and then you’re like, hey, can we improve on this? And that’s something that it’s a never ending process. I mean, even still in the Studios I am missing with. I got new speaker stands last week for the studio so I could move the subs that we’re trying out underneath the speakers. So they’re in phase with everything. And I totally change the dynamics of this room. So I’m constantly tweaking stuff, even in a studio capacity.
I’ll pull out smart, do some measurements, I’ll move some mics or some speakers around. And so I always feel that there’s an opportunity to improve, even on an install, even on something that someone says is amazing. Like, with so many people having so many good ideas and so much technology to improve stuff. I mean, I don’t think any one person can get everything completely perfect. And with the subjectiveness of it, it’s like, if you got someone that comes in, they’re like, Well, I need more sub.
I’m mixing a DJ gig, and this just doesn’t have enough sub. We need to bring in more subs. And like, that’s crazy. There’s tons of stuff for that guy. There’s not. And so those are the kinds of things where it’s like, you have to adapt. But at the same time, I always feel that there’s room for improvement, even on something that I think might have been some really good work on my end. Someone’s like, hey, this is what I’m hearing. I’m like, oh, cool. That gives me a new perspective to listen to it and then possibly approach either modifying or adapting what I’m doing to accommodate a fix on that or being like, You’re stupid.
I don’t need to listen to you.
Let me try to hear that through your ears.
Yeah. And I think that mixing by committee a little bit on that, I think kind of helps. I mean, not too many cooks in the kitchen, but some trusted years. I always appreciate even on mixes or come out to a show. It’s like, hey, what do you think? And actually, I would like to hear some feedback. It’s nice to be able to get a collaboration on things. So that being said about install stuff. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement on a lot of different situations, but I’m sorry that you guys didn’t win with your client there, but you could have someone that has a completely different approach to understanding or enjoying sound the way that you do, and when they’re paying, then they’re in charge.
So there’s those dynamics as well. But yeah, I don’t know. I’m always up for trying new things or trying to improve on a situation.
No, this is great. As you’re talking, I’m realizing that if you’re my client, probably a better way to go about it instead of me saying, hey, Sean, I’m really special, and I’m really smart, and therefore I’m going to knock it out of the park on the first try. Probably a better approach would be to say, hey, I’d like to build a relationship with you, so that with this first pass, I’m going to get it to a place where I feel like it’s consistent across the space. And then I want to get you in here and get you to listen to it.
So then I can make adjustments, and then I don’t know what the right way to say it is, but I’d love to have a relationship where I can help you improve this over the next X days or X weeks, and I’ll come maybe we have a relationship where I’m going to come back in after you’ve had a few shows and take your notes and make changes. That’s probably a better way to approach it than try to pretend like, I know what is the best for everyone in the world.
Yeah, and everyone has a different workflow, especially like House of Worship stuff is tricky because you have a lot of volunteer sound people, too, that are trying to make the best of what they know how to do. So having something that’s easy to control without a lot of bells and whistles is always a better approach in those sort of situations. But yeah, like checking in three months down the line, like popping in and checking the mix. Hey, How’s this working for you? What can we do? I mean, I don’t know those sort of improvements.
I’m always looking for that. And even like, every time I hear something, the more I listen to things and the more I experience things and the more information or knowledge I gain, I think the better equipped I am to sort of either make suggestions or, like, question, what did I do last year? Is that the end? I’ll be all of what I’ve done, or should I improve on that? Or should I look for a solution? Not that I’m trying to create work for myself, but just baby steps on stuff, but yeah, with a client relationship, like I mentioned before, dealing with artists, I think a lot of success in audio engineering is based on relationships, whether it’s with the artist, whether it’s with the venue, whether it’s with your a two, whether it’s having a team of people or having a good set of relationships with people, I think it leads to success.
So I think that shows that as well. It’s like being able to go back and continue working on something and removing a little bit of the ego that gets in the way of like, hey, I did the best job I possibly could. It’s like, well, for you, it might be, but maybe in that case, what the client needed was something else.
Sure, Sean, let’s talk about System latency. For a second. I’ve had a couple of people talking to me about this recently. I’ve seen Robert Scoville talking about different things going through the console and console latency a lot recently, and at the last Lifetime Summits. Were you looking at System latency when you were thinking about what would go into the Clyde theater? Is the system latency influence your decision making when you’re setting up the console, specking the sound system, that kind of stuff.
I think that the only time that I really get super concerned about is when I start getting into, like, crazy plug in world on a digital console, and I start pushing the mix so far away from the band that they can hear it. And I think that’s a dangerous situation to get into where you’re inducing more latency than you need to to sort of throw some more bells and whistles on your left right bus and things like that as far as, like driving a PA, trying to keep things as efficient as possible.
Everything we were driving to the cloud was AES, and so tried to kind of keep that as tight as we could. There wasn’t a lot of latency induced Besides the processing I would do. And I got into that deep on, like, when I was mixing on a venue and I had a ton of plugins and stuff like that. There was workaround to try and get delay compensation to work in that. But I feel like, for the most part, with a lot of the networked audio systems, I mean, we’re down, like, audio is moving pretty quick in the digital realm these days, so I’m not as concerned as I would be if I was just piling up, plugins on the console and creating my own problem at front of house.
I think that’s where it becomes an issue for me and becomes an issue for me when I start affecting other people’s performances when I’m doing things that are like, why is this, like, I can’t hear? And we actually talked about it the other day where we’re mixing in one of the Sweetwater theaters here. There’s an older venue with a bunch of processing because it’s split out for, like, broadcast and split up for, like, hearing assist and all these different things. But then we also mix wedges off that for people on stage, and it’s like, I can’t play on it.
It’s so weird. I’m like, we have to turn all the stuff off in order for you to get sound that’s effectively quick enough for you to perform properly. And so someone brought it up the other day, and I was like, yeah, well, not always in all the rooms doing things like that, but I’m aware of that. Like, if you’re mixing monitors from a console, it’s got a ton of plugins on it. Someone’s going to be like, this is so strange. So when you’re adding 100 milliseconds of latency in processing and stuff, it’s not fun for anyone to deal with that.
But yeah, other than that, there wasn’t much of a concern. Most of the system at the Clyde was previously speck before I got brought in. So through Harmon with the JBL and Crown stuff that was brought in. Sweetwater JBL has been a big part of Sweetwater for many years. And so this is, like, the logical choice for us to get that rig into that room. And so that was my first time really working with the A twelve S and all this stuff. It was impressive. I mean, I had mixed on a lot of rigs and spent a lot of time working on them to make them sound, how I was hoping they would sound and hearing the A twelve out of the box.
It was a pleasant surprise. And from there it was a really enjoyable experience. There was a little bit of learning the BSS world and stuff like that and some of the processing that I hadn’t been so familiar with. I’ve been pretty much strictly on the Lake processing and all of that sort of stuff. But that being said, all of those things latency wasn’t ever really an issue for us. It was just if I was causing problems by trying to do too many happy things, okay.
It’s fixable. You haven’t put on all the system and realize that you’re stuck now.
Yeah, there’s a few things, and I always know that there are variables that you can’t control in every situation, and I have to be accepting of those things. Otherwise, I would lose my mind trying to think of everything that could possibly not be perfect. So adapting to what those are is fine. But, yeah, the latency is my own doing for the most part, if it’s ever going on.
So, Shaun, you’ve mixed up some of the worst places in the world, some of the best places in the world. You’ve just had a lot of experience, and I’m sure made a ton of mistakes on the way that you learned a lot of lessons from. So I wondered if maybe you could pick out one of them to share with us, maybe something that was especially painful or was an especially big lesson for you and just kind of walk us through what happened.
I think probably the most embarrassing audio mistake I made was we were doing Pink Pop, a large festival, and I think it was Belgium, maybe five or six years ago, and we had a decent slot. There was probably 40,000 people in front of the stage, like, sizable European festival. And we had, like, a rotating front of house zone. So everybody had, like, the console on wheels, and we’d get pole position, and we’d like to roll the consoles into place. So I built my rig out there and got forklifted out there.
And it was like bouncing around. And I had lots of outboard gear and a whole bunch of different things. So I got it all together.
Wired it all up.
Strapped it, like, with big truck straps altogether. So I had this big rolling island of gear that just went into place. And I had a couple of friends and a couple of people for some other bands come stand by me while I was mixing. They wanted to hear the band, and I was all excited. It was getting broadcast. So I was mixing a broadcast feed as well. So everything was, like, pressure is on for that. And so I line checked everything through headphones. So I got the PFL and everything.
All my inputs are good, but I never checked anything through the PA, which is kind of my big mistake, which I probably would never do gain. So they start a song. Guitar intro goes on for a while, and the drums kick in. I got no drums. Shit, no drums whatsoever.
Do you think a tiny person in the distance hitting things.
But you’re not playing drums? I’m like, oh, my God. Where’s the drums? And I’m looking down and I look over and I got, like, outboard compressors on the drums, and they’re both, like, dark. And I didn’t even look over there. And so I ripped the strap apart, ripped the cases open, throw all the lids, and the ICS had just fallen out of the back. And I like, plugging both back in. The drums came to life. And I think by the chorus, I had everything together, and that was kind of like one of my more embarrassing.
But also, I should have checked all of this stuff. This is my fault. And everyone was kind of impressed at how fast I moved to try and fix my own problem. But when you get into a complicated situation and you have a lot of complicated extra bells and whistles, make sure that you have them functioning, because that’s not cool. When someone’s like, hey, why didn’t that work? Well, I had all this stuff, and then it wasn’t plugged in, and that’s my fault. So I feel like that was probably, like, in the most amount of.
And I really doubt that anyone really noticed. I mean, it would have broken my rule of, like, seeing someone play something and not hearing it through the PA. So that kind of bummed me out. I don’t know. I would say probably be the biggest, clumsy thing.
Why does the PFL work, but not going through the system work?
Well, no, I didn’t check it. I didn’t open PA up. I just played some music through it. I was like, okay, yeah, my outputs work, and then I didn’t pass signal routing through all of my messy routing and things that I was doing for fun and should have maybe been a little more straightforward. So simplicity probably wins and live sound for that. I would say that taught me some lessons and double checking or just being more simple in my process. And I think that was something that kind of opened my eyes and said, Well, I think it’s more important that everything just works rather than having all of these cool things better have a show than no show.
Sean, I have a few questions here that came in from the Internet. Bobby B says best practices for building a Writer so kind of a general statement question.
There any tips you want to give Bobby B for building a writer put on things that you can use and then make sure you very much highlight what you’re not willing to use. I think that that’s pretty much the biggest takeaway from that. I mean, I was pretty spoiled in the sense that we traveled with control all the time. So we always had console and processing and stuff like that with us for a whole tour for the most part. But there was some pas that I just refused to kind of mix on after a while of, like, repeatedly bad shows and bad coverage and more so obviously, I could mix a show on it.
But in the case of a few of them, it was like, it really gives the audience a bad experience because their coverage is so inconsistent. So that was something that I was really kind of adamant on. If there was a speaker system that I didn’t like to use, I won’t name names.
Wait, no. What is it? Are you not going to tell us which speakers you’re not willing to mix on? Well, I guess I have to have a show with you then get your writer. And that’s how I find out.
Yeah. And I really feel that in the development of sound system in the past ten years, if anyone has a PA that’s, like, 15 plus years old, it’s going to be beat down. So anything that you can do to make sure that you have new functioning speakers, and you know that they’re like, I’m not doing a show until someone signs off that all the drivers are functioning and everything’s working as it should, because that point large format, point source, pas and stuff like that where it should be a line array and things like that.
Or like, if it’s a venue that brings in a PA, making sure that you get something that fits your needs rather than whatever the cheapest option is is always something that I think is always a fight with a promoter and a venue, too. But other than that, knowing what you need to pull off your show, I think that there’s been a large transition of people being reliant on house consoles to people traveling with the X 32 rack for ears and maybe an X 32 in front of the house.
And that seems to be middle level touring. That is so many places. I see so many bands have their own gear, it’s all dialed in and ready to rock. So, like, there’s less of a reliance on a venue to provide consoles and things like that. But that being said, if you’re really particular, then bring what you need. I think that that’s kind of the take away from relying on other people providing you things. If you need it, you need to bring it with you, because if you get into touring the world and you need a specific piece of gear, it’s going to be tough to find.
People are going to blow past that part of your rider when they’re not super concerned about the weird audio gear you need to make your show happen. But a functioning PA that represents your mixes, I think a paramount piece of the puzzle. I think that outlining what you need to do your job and figuring out what that is like. If you’re mixing an acoustic Act, I need a Di and a 58 and some speakers that function. If you’re mixing an Orchestra and you need, like, 60 DPAs, then you’re going to have to make sure that those people provide what you need.
So I think that is figuring out what your limitations are of providing your services or doing your job. Like, what’s the least you’re able to do your job with? And then what are you comfortable doing your job with and making sure that your production manager or whoever is advancing the shows fights for that for you. Yeah, I think that kind of covers that as far as it went into details on that stuff. Really, the most important thing is I just didn’t want to have a PA that sounded bad for the show, and that was kind of it depends on the size of venues you’re working on, too.
I mean, all of that is scalable to some extent. Okay.
Gabriel P says, how is it working with Avril Lavigne?
It was awesome. I spent about 18 months touring with her. I think I just turned 19. We went to 49 countries in those 18 months, and so did a six week tour of just Japan, bounced all over the place. Pretty much did every TV show that was being broadcast at the time, all of the daytime and nighttime shows and MTV and all that stuff. So it was an amazing experience. I saw a lot of places, made a lot of really great people, made it to a bunch of different venues and a bunch of different festivals.
And so it was a really awesome experience. The guys in the band were really great. She sort of changed up her band after the tour that we did. But the bass player, Charles One, as he scooped a gig with Brutal Mars just after that and has been working with him since then as an engineer. I think he’s got five Grammys now. So there’s a few people that kind of went on to do some great things. And that was the tour I did with Jimmy Akubuski, who’s obviously an industry legend and learned a lot of things and still stay closely in touch with him.
So, yeah, it was a great experience. I learned a lot of things. There was an opening act on that tour. Butch Walker was opening up, who’s a pretty successful producer and solo artist himself. But his engineer, Paul Hager, is also a super talented live sound and studio engineer. And so I learned a lot from Paul, and that was a really cool experience to be around him. And he would go into Studios on Days off, and I would tag along and stuff like that. So it was an interesting thing.
And that continued on. He was actually the front of house mixer for the Google Dolls when I worked with them. So I made some long term relationships with some people on that tour. I got to see a lot of places and learn a lot of things. So it was very cool. Okay.
Greg McVeigh says, ask him when he’s going to ditch the real job and mix touring acts, gain delivering that with as much sarcasm as possible. His work with Counting Crows was just fantastic.
Yeah. Greg’s a great guy. And yeah, he came out. Actually, I’m trying to think I think the last time I saw him was in San Diego, and I had a Sandstorm console. Incident, there might have been another real one. We were in a poolside venue in Vegas and monsoon rolled in, and I went and ran onto the stage to save all of our guitars and left my console uncovered, and it ended up with, like, a sand drift over it. And so we went to the I think maybe it was the Orange County State Fair or somewhere near San Diego, I think.
And so anyways, I had a console full of sand, and so I was swapping that out. And I think that was the last time Greg was out. So, yeah, I love doing that. I’m really enjoying having employment through the pandemic. Sweetwater is amazing. It’s super cool things here, and stability is something that I’ve never really experienced before in my professional career. So the hustle of finding the next gig, finding the next record, finding whatever is something to be, don’t take that for granted. I quite appreciate my opportunities here, and it’s just a great company that is endlessly growing.
And we’re doing a lot of cool things. I get to be involved with a lot of stuff, and I have no idea what the future holds for me, but right now, this is super awesome, and I’m really happy to be here.
Shawn, what’s in your work bag? Are there one or two unique pieces that you have to have with you on every show or something interesting that might be fun to share with our listeners.
A bunch of iLOX.
Okay. Cool. I don’t know. Like I mentioned the telephone and microphones are something that I really like to use. I do have a few of those I travel with. I, like, on my drums, guitars, vocals, all this sort of stuff. So if I take a couple of things to a gig, probably that I mean, adapters and all that fun stuff. I like to have a good adapter kit. I like to buy cable if I need some more options of a mixing on an analog console or something, I’ll have y cables to Bolt the snare and some stuff like that.
I kind of ditched headphones a long time ago in the live realm I use in ears for checking anything when I’m mixing, I think the isolation you get from them is really helpful. So I have a few different sets. Greg was very helpful in getting me sorted out with some ultimate years uerms back in the day, and those are really great pieces that I used and trusted to do some of the mixing and listening for the Cannon Crows live stuff. And then I would go back to the tour bus after the show and master the show on my in ears and a set of headphones to double check them.
Those kind of things I travel. Usually if I’m traveling somewhere, I have a universal audio interface and some Apollo satellites to have some of their processing to do remote stuff. Or if I’m working on a project, I can take it with me. A laptop. Usually if I’m going somewhere like, oh, yeah. I need all this stuff and then I like, don’t use any of it. I drag around a lot of things I toured for years with too much, like, hard drives and all these adapters and stuff.
And I mean, the thing these days is like my laptop now has USBC, and I need adapters to get anything plugged into it. So it’s the adapter farm of that sort of situation. But, yeah, it’s constantly evolving. I don’t have, like, a set gig bag these days. It’s just sort of like, what I need to do, whatever I’ve got going on. If I’m coming to and from work, it’s usually I’m taking my locks home and then I’m bringing them back to work. And that’s about all that.
I move back and forth, which is nice.
Sean, what’s one book that has been really helpful for you?
Well, I don’t know. I appreciate a lot of different books. I’ve been reading more lately. One of the books that I found had the most amount of indepth information about audio engineering is a book called Recording The Beatles that I got probably ten or twelve years ago, an acquaintance of mine, Sky, Brian Kwh, who works with the who is their keyboard tech, but also as a studio engineer remixing. Besides and outtakes, he goes through the archives and different record labels and does these weird releases. But put together this, like 20 year project of researching every single recording The Beatles ever did and what gear they use and how they bounce the tape down and all the gear from Abbey Road.
And it’s like this Bible. It comes in like a sleeve of an old tape reel. And so that’s like one of my prize possessions. And it’s like an amazing book. And I’m like, if anybody’s ever geeking out about something like here, check this book out. And it’s like, supposedly they’re worth a ton of money because they stopped paying them and they’re kind of pricey when they came out. But that’s one of the coolest books I’ve ever seen. And I love that reading chairman of the board, which is Bill Schnee autobiography, really famous producer and engineer.
I don’t know. I try and dig into some audio related books and some self help and leadership books and stuff like that if I’m trying to get motivated to do something. But other than that, if I see something that comes out or if I hear someone talk sort of chase down what they’re talking about and then read about it usually. Okay. Cool.
Sean, do you listen to the podcast?
I do. Okay.
So I want to know what are the one or two that you have to listen to every time a new one comes out in the audio field.
Working class audio podcast that interviews a lot of mostly studio engineers, but super interesting because it sort of removes a little bit of the technical side of things and then talks about how people have navigated their career path and more of like, how did you get through this financial situation? How do you deal with having a job and doing this? And it really is a really interesting perspective on it. I mean, obviously, I love gear and I love geeking out about stuff, but it’s also nice to hear how other people survive in this industry, how they work in this industry and how they get work.
So I usually am pretty religious of watching that one. And then Russell Brand got a really interesting podcast called under the Skin, and that’s a weekly thing for me. I usually get into that, man. It’s all over the map who interviews on that, and the topics could be anything. So it’s super interesting. So that one is one that I listen to every week as well.
Maybe there’s something you can help me with.
When I listen to working class audio, one thing that sticks out to me or struck me compared to my own podcast and compared to everyone else’s podcast is how he manages to have really honest discussions about money. And as soon as I heard that the very first time I was like, oh, I want to do that in my podcast never had the balls to do it. I don’t know if I just can’t figure out the right language, or I just come from a background where I have a tough time talking about that.
But I don’t mind asking you, like, how did you get that job or how did that thing work out for you in your life? But to say, can you tell me about the economics of being Sean Daly? I’ve never really figured out how to ask that. Well, so do you have any ideas? Like, how could I ask live sound engineers? How would you appreciate starting a conversation saying, like, how do you put together your financial life so that you can sort of survive and have the things that you want?
Yeah. How do you have somewhere to live and eat on a monthly basis?
I want to say, Where do you get money? But this is really interesting for people, right? Because we all put our careers together in different ways, and that’s actually a really interesting topic. Some people have other jobs where they are, like, landlords or they’re selling stuff on the side or whatever. And that’s all really interesting. So it’s like, how much of your life is getting checks from doing an audio gig or something else.
Yeah. Man, to engage with that subject, you kind of have to have an idea of what you’re getting into. I feel like on that podcast, he does a good job of sort of dancing around and also engaging. So it’s not like, well, how much money did you make on this? But it’s like, were you successful in this? And how did it come together? And I mean, I have never really worked for a company. I’ve been my own company. I’ve been an independent contractor. I’ve always done stuff where I’ve had to negotiate and ask people for money and chase them down invoice and all that stuff.
And so this is my first time having a job where I get a paycheck every two weeks. And trust me, it’s awesome. But that being said, the amount of full time positions in the audio engineering field that are consistent salaried positions with health benefits and all that stuff are few and far between. So I mean, it’s a touchy subject because I think some people are really they got to grind and grind and grind to make ends meet. Some people have some success. And I mean, I think that’s where the relationship aspect of all of this stuff comes into play is like, who do you know that can get you your next gig?
How does that sort of play into all of that and I mean, without actually asking about money, I think those are the kind of things like, how do you get your next gig? How do you make sure you get paid and those sort of things? I don’t know to me, I’ve always kind of been bad with that, too. I’m not a great businessman, and I’m not super inclined in that situation. So for me, I like the fact that I have a safety net of a company that’s supporting me and behind me and paying me, that’s a really amazing thing.
Whereas when you’re an independent audio engineer and you’re like, okay, cool. So I was in the studio today. I made, like, $300. And then I went and mixed at a bar, and I made $100 and some of its cash. And some of it goes to my business and all those sort of things, like the accounting for being an audio engineer is a mess. It’s tricky. You try and buy gear, you try and write stuff off, you sell something, all these sort of things that kind of come together to allow you to live and do what you like.
I think it’s a fine balance, but, yeah, I don’t know how to breach that subject in general capacities. I mean, some people are super transparent about it. Some people don’t like talking about it, but I think it’s a struggle. And I think that that’s something, too, that I see it’s difficult for me to speak at a couple of local colleges and stuff where people are in audio engineering programs. And it’s like, if you’re not already hustling, you got to start hustling, this is not going to work.
You’re not going to get work in this industry. And I think that that’s something that it’s not an easy field to get into. There’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of people that want in on this and doing what I do. I think that it’s amazing. I love my job. There’s nothing I would I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing right now. So that being said, I’ll fight for my gig. I’ll fight for what I need to, but people want to do this, and people are competitive with it.
I think a big part of it is the journey. And maybe the identification with you’ve gone through the same struggle that I have. And so maybe I could approach it by asking people about their business journey or their financial journey, because I know that for me, I spent most of my life kind of going through cycles of going broke and just sort of living from paycheck to paycheck. And it was only in the last few years that I started getting enough money coming in that I’m not just sort of constantly worried about money.
And so maybe I could approach it that way and sort of ask people, like, tell me about your financial journey because this is not a job where you can survive without understanding the business side of it and where you can survive without understanding kind of the economics of touring and the economics of shows. You kind of have to have a grasp of that. And I think there are potentially other jobs where you may go through your entire career and job and never really understand how the company makes money.
You just understand that you do your job and you get a paycheck, but it doesn’t really work that way for us. So you’re giving me some good ideas. I think that would be a thing to ask. And maybe we’re already going pretty long in this interview. But if you just had, like, a short answer, could you tell me about maybe a time in your life when you started out? And there was probably a period where you were just kind of living from paycheck to paycheck? And, like, will I have enough money to buy food and pay the rent?
Was there a transition where just you had enough work coming in or you had enough money saved where you weren’t? So that wasn’t the dominating fear of your mind of having enough money?
I’m still waiting for that to happen.
This is where we introduced the GoFundMe for Shawnee.
No, I’m good. But that being said, there was always a motivating factor for finding work, my touring career. I don’t think I ever regressed in my pay scale. So every tour that I moved to, I was making more money. So I was, like, growing my value, and people were recognizing that. So at least my touring world was consistently growing. Now, in the recording side of things, I was always an uphill battle of figuring out how much money people had and what I could get them to pay me to work for them.
And that was always tougher to negotiate. At least with the tour. I could be like, hey, I’m going to work for you guys. What is the pay? We can negotiate a price. And then I’m locked in with that. And depending on what happens, I got pay raises and stuff like that, depending on what was going on. So that was always cool. But my driving factor is that it was always like, okay, cool. Well, I need to pay rent at the studio. I need to pay rent at home.
I need to eat. What am I going to do? And I got to find work. And that was kind of the thing that drove me. It’s like, I got to buy gear. Okay? I bought more gear than I should have, and I need to eat, and I still need to pay rent. So what am I going to do? And those sort of things just always pushed me to kind of keep pushing and always trying to find the next thing and be like, okay, well, then selling gear is what we’re going to do this month and move a few pieces of few pieces of gear that I don’t use or that I actually didn’t need, and that’s something else I learned later on in life that you don’t need to own every piece of gear on Earth.
But those are the kind of business decisions that I should have paid attention to early on when I was trying to build a studio and buy a bunch of gear and own more stuff than I needed to, where I could have saved money and established my future rather than putting it all into things that really didn’t get me anymore business, which is something that I learned later on in life that it wasn’t as much about the gear you had, but more of the attitude you brought to the table.
But that was always my driving thing that drove me was that I needed to continue to live, and I needed to continue to find work. And so I networked and made friends. I went to shows, found bands to record, and all that stuff sort of put me in the situation that I am in today. But through a connection I got this job at Sweetwater that I met through being on the road and all these sort of things. I have a career trajectory that I think I can link to three people for 15 years of work.
I met the people from the average tour when I was doing my first tour, that tour manager tour managed to Googles and the production manager on the average tour did The County Crows. And so those people got me my work that lasted 15 years. And so those kind of connections where you establish something and you can do a job and keep in touch with them. That’s pretty invaluable to have a few connections to trust you and are willing to put their name on the line for you.
But, yeah, that kind of is not very short, but that’s kind of where I’m at.
Shaun. Where’s the best place for people to follow your work?
Sweetwaterstudios. Com under the Team tab. Check in with me there. My email is there. And then also, the only social platform I’m active on is on Instagram at Sean Dealy and lots of photos of beer. Yesterday it was eight at I was transferring ads, and I was hooking them up through Dante, and it was kind of an interesting throwback, but I engaged with new technology and old technology, and it was actually quite simple. And so that was kind of fun, but yeah, mostly some geeky pictures of some studio stuff and people that we’re working with here, but yeah, no, it’s good.
So I like to try and share going on.
All right. Well, Sean Daly, thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live.
Appreciate it. Thank you for your time.