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In this episode of Sound Design Live I’m joined by Beirut based freelance live sound engineer, tour/project manager specializing in IEM mixing, and tech specialist for the middle east and africa region for Meyer Sound, Sana Romanos. We discuss touring around Europe and the middle east and mixing IEMs.
- Klang 3D in ear mixing
- Sexual Harassment Is a Workplace Safety Issue
- 5 Pro Drummers Explain How to Make a Drum Kit Quieter on Stage
- Dave Rat Q&A
- Book recommendations: Sound Systems: Design and Optimization
- Sana on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
- Don’t accept to mix in ears with wedges. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. , don’t do it. It’s a recipe for failure. Having one ear in and listening one ear for the wedge is just confusing for the artist’s brain. It’s damaging to their ears. And it’s confusing to you because when they tell you they’re not hearing something, you don’t know what to do.
This transcript was automatically generated. Please let me know if you discover any errors.
I’m Nathan Lively, and today I’m joined by a Beirut based freelance live sound engineer, tour and project manager, specializing in IEM mixing and tech specialist for the Middle East and Africa regions. For Meyer Sound, Sana Romanos. Sana. Welcome to Sound Design Live.
Thank you, Nathan. Happy to be here.
So I want to start off by saying, yes, she’s a girl, but she’s good, I swear. I swear she’s good. I feel like dirty saying that. Tell me where this quote comes from. So I’m going to read it again. The sound girl? No, the sound guy is a girl, but she’s good, I swear.
So this goes back to when I was first starting. So about nine years ago, I was doing monitors for this festival here in Beirut where there are multiple bands and changeovers quick, just that kind of festival setting. And I did the monitors for this band. Then one of the band members, I think he was the bassist while he was going offstage and the other band was coming up, he just holds the other guy from the other band who was supposedly his friend, and he takes him and he’s the sound guy is a girl, but man, she’s good. I swear. That goes on. And I was right there listening, and it was just this stuck with me. And I wrote an article for SoundGirls. Then after that, it’s just funny to me.
Yeah, I’m just going to show this article really quick. So for people who are listening and not watching and for everyone I’ll link to this article later, it’s a really great article that you wrote on Sound Girls. So here it is, and here’s the title of the article. The sound guy is a girl. But she’s good. I swear. And one of the things that you mentioned in this article is that sort of naively or just really innocently. You started out in Sound, you went to school in France. You had no idea that this was an industry profession dominated by men. And so this was all sort of a surprise to you when you came back home to Beirut and you’re like, great, I’ll just get started working. And then people start saying seemingly like, crazy things like this, right? Oh, she’s a girl, but she’s good. That was all a surprise to you. And I’ll just let people read this article. And I also just want to let people know that this is not going to be a show all about how Sana is a woman and women in the industry and things like that.
I’ve done other podcasts about that. And Sana has a whole interview that she’s done on YouTube that we can link to, that people can watch that really covers that topic well. And maybe we’ll get into that a little bit later. But today is going to be a lot more about mixing front of house mixing. I am mixing sound system design and stuff like that. But before we dive into that sana, I would love to know, just to get to know your musical taste a little bit. Once you get a sound system set up, what is like one or two pieces of music that you might like to put through it to get to know it?
That’s a very good question. I judge a lot of engineers based on that. The first thing to know is that I was trained and mentored by the older generation of engineers. So I had the toto I will remember in Africa tracks that were passed on to me, which I used for a while. But then I realized that’s not really where my ears are comfortable or where I would actually spot the things that I want to spot. So then I found my own. It’s actually like many songs that I put one after the other. The first two are from Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think it’s their last album. It’s the getaway. That’s right.
You’re right. We will do a thing to metal, right?
I had a lot of discussion with people about this, but I love this album. I love how it was recorded and I love how it was mixed. And to me it’s just so sharp and that’s a bit controversial and it’s so digitally sharp because for those who are used to more analog sound, it might not be their taste. But I’m from the younger, more like more recent generations and my ears are used to more digital than analog. So I really relate to how this album is made and how it’s produced. So I use the first two tracks. I think. One is the Dark Necessities. The other is the Getaway. One after the other. Those are my first two. And then using these two, I always spot any red flags or anything with the system that I might want or I might not like to my ears. Then I use Kings of Leon’s closer. It’s not that good of a quality. But I like the low end of the song and the rhythmic low end at the beginning. It usually just helps me spot any issues with low end and alignment in in that realm using that song.
And usually I end it with a song from the Banda mixing. So if I’m mixing in front of house, I usually end it with a song from the banda mixing. And if I’m mixing Oriental music, for example, from the region here, it reacts in a very different way than using Western music. So I need to play something Oriental just to see how the room is going to react and how it’s going to behave. The rhythms are different, the chords are different. So I always go back to playing something specific from the band that I’m mixing just to get a feel of how the room is going to react to that. So those are my tracks.
That’s great. And before we dive into some tech topics, I always like to cover a little bit of just career stuff, how things have worked out for you, what’s worked for you, and what advice you might have for other people, because it’s a big part of our job. A lot of us are freelancers or at some point we’re always looking for work and trying to figure out how to find the best fit for us and where we can really have an impact, find satisfaction, really help people, stuff like that. So first of all, how did you get your first paying job in audio?
I’m going to keep the story short and I wrote about that in the article for Sounders. I knew I wanted to be a sound engineer at 15, at 14 or 15 ever since I realized that sound can go beyond headphones on an ipod, it can go into a big system, which to me, in the first concert I went to was like, whoa, this was huge. You can mix music on that scale. But I was always very into math and physics and the educational part of things. So I went into this from a bit of a different perspective. So I have a bachelor in physics and then I did a Masters in Sound and I went into it from the math and physics side, not from the music side. The first gig I got was actually during the first year of my Masters. Through a contact that I knew, I applied for an internship in one of the biggest rental companies in the region here. It was a Beirut based rental company. And I came and I did the free internship for three months where I was basically the labor doing everything and anything. And it went very well.
And I came back to France, I finished my Masters, I worked a little bit in France and then I chose to come back to Beirut and work for that company for the next three years. My kickstart, my foot in the door was this rental company because it was so big and it exposed me to big pas, big setups, big mixers and most importantly, international touring artists that we were babysitting. So I was exposed to a lot of the big tours, foreign engineers and the how to from the foreign countries because it can be quite tricky in the region here to get decent setups and a decent level in this industry. So this is how it all started. If I have an advice for anyone, what the advice I give for people starting up is expose yourself to everything. Don’t be picky at the beginning, just really do all the jobs that you can get for a while. And once you are sure of what you want and you know that this is what I want and this is what I want to focus on. This is when you can become more selective. But the key for me is people.
If you don’t have a strong network and if you don’t maintain your relationships and your network in this industry, it’s very hard to move on after and get more jobs and then be selective if you want to be selective. So it’s all about people. It’s all about people relation, especially doing monitors as well. It’s 90% psychology. That’s what I always say. It takes a lot of reading people of understanding people under stress or understanding defensiveness or vulnerability on stage. It’s a big part. It’s even to me, it’s even a bigger part than the actual mixing.
How do I maintain relationships? I understand what maintaining relationships is, but how does that actually play out in your career? And I wonder if there’s anything I could do actively or look out for to help maintain relationships in my own career.
I think it has most to do about the trust that these people are putting in you. And first of all, if you are prepared, you will not disappoint, so they will keep coming back. And like, COVID, for example, is a great example of a test for this network and for maintaining relationships, right? Because we were all at home and not doing much. So how are you really proving yourself if you’re not actually doing the work on the ground? And how I approached it through COVID is that I kept contact with the artists. I checked up on them, I spoke to them for those who I cared about. And I wanted to maintain a relationship with other engineers that I was not crossing path with as much anymore. I called them from time to time, and I reached out and we talked and how are we handling this? When do you think this will all end? How are we going to survive another year like this, et cetera. So beyond actually knowing how to do your work, because that’s only one part of it, it’s then complemented by actually like the human relation or the humanitarian side of it and actually keeping and maintaining these relationships with the artists, with your clients, with the festivals, with the artists, it’s all friends that you would like to keep.
And it’s not about to me at least, it’s not about maintaining relationship with everyone I cross path with. I have the privilege at this point of my career of being selective and knowing who I want to work with based on the ethics and the approaches that resemble mine, I feel. And it’s with those people that I keep them as a priority. I keep them even with my work with Meyer now, iem. Still touring with Adani’s, which is the band that are a priority to me. And they’re beyond just a client of mine. They’re friends and we became like family. That’s my perspective on it.
That’s great. And I like the way you say it because it doesn’t sound or feel manipulative at all. But you have just recognized that, yes, there are these relationships that are either people that hire me or are related to me getting hired for jobs. And not only do I want to maintain good relationships with them because I like them, and I want to have a good time at work with people that I have good relationships with, but also I recognize that the stronger relationships I have with these priority people like, it leads to more work, better work. And I think most of us wish that this just happened automatically, right? I just see people at work, and they remember that I do work and you do work, and hey, I see you. Okay? But during the pandemic, that all broke down, and so what did you do? You picked up the phone. And that’s a good thing to remember that we can’t just always expect it to happen automatically.
And if I could just add one point on this, it has to be genuine, because if it’s not genuine, it’s going to be forced from my end. It’s going to be forced from their end. But more often than not, it’s a mutual chemistry, right? So if you feel like this, I like this engineer. I like working with them. I like this artist, I like working with them. They’re going to appreciate this relationship, and you’re reaching out in a pandemic time, for example. So to me, the key is being genuine. And I understand that we don’t always have the privilege of that because sometimes we need to work, and we need to tolerate people that we don’t like or situations that we don’t like. And I did that at the beginning. I did that for three years. I took on jobs that I did not really like, but I was still learning, and I was still discovering. And then you get to a point in your career where I’m like, okay, I know what I want. So if I can, I’m going to be more selective, and I’m just going to focus on the people that I genuinely want to work with.
I agree. Let’s get into talking about some tech stuff. That’s why people are here. That’s why people are listening. That’s what people really care about. First of all, I just want to start out by saying that I have a lot of gratitude for you because I invited you to join me as part of Lifetime Summit 2022 last year. And then I couldn’t get enough teachers to commit, and then we got too close to the date, and I ended up having to postpone, and I said, okay, I’m going to postpone. We’ll do it later. And then I invited you again for this January, and then the exact same thing happened to me, and I didn’t get enough of the right people. And then in the end, I just didn’t have enough people and I had to cancel postpone it again. And yet here you are, still talking to me. So thank you for continuing to answer my emails after I have. So I’m glad we’re here, though, because I thought we could make use of some of the thought that you put into this topic that you wanted to cover at Live Sound Summit, which is a day in the life of a Live Sound engineer.
And I’d love this idea because it would not only give us a picture into your life, which is different than my life, and in a slightly different part of the world, but also show us some of the potentially the challenges that you run into and problems that you have to solve in your life. Yeah, we don’t have to get super deep into this, but I wondered if you could just talk us through what is a day in your life like and what were some of the things that you wanted to cover at Lifestyle Summit?
I think for the summit, I was going to take the two dates that I’ve done in Paris and Berlin as an example. But I think I’ll make it more generic. Now for this answer. First, talking about the specific things to this region. Touring in this region is different than touring in the US and in Europe because the borders are not easily crossable, as you can imagine. You can’t go on to take a bus and go from one border to the other. You might cross a war zone. So it’s not how we let’s just.
Put people in the world for geography for a second. So Beirut is on the coast, and to the north of you is Turkey.
Syria. And then turkey.
And then turkey.
Okay. And then to the south of you is Israel.
Is Palestine and Israel. Yes, on the bottom.
It’s a Turkish surrounding. Lebanon in the recent years was more of a war zone than it was not. But I grew up here and it’s something I’m used to. It might sound odd from the outside, but to me it’s home, so it’s familiar, but it’s just to say that it’s not your conventional go on a bus and tour. When we do tours in the region, we fly to these places, one place individually. So we fly to Amman and Jordan. To Dubai. To Cairo and Egypt. So we do these cities individually. And it’s a different approach to what we call touring. When we do tours in Europe, however, it’s more the conventional way and it’s more from one city to the other, et cetera. Taking an example, this band that I work, I take them as an example because now they’re one of the few clients I kept after drawing Myers Sound that I still mix for and that I still do shows for. And when I do cakes. With this band, we have a scope of scale that we work on. So when we’re doing concerts in France, for example, or in Berlin in Paris and Berlin, like the dates we had in in November, it’s about 800 people.
When we do shows in Beirut, like the one we had last week, it was 7000 people.
So it’s different scales. So every time I need to approach it from a different way with them. So when we’re doing the Paris and Berlin gigs, for example, I was the front of house monitors, system, tour manager, psychologist, calling, a combination of things. So my day looks quite different for these days. For example, I’m starting early on by managing all the transportation. I book everything in advance, managing where everyone is having lunch before going to rehearsal, at what time everyone is going to rehearsal. I go to the venue, I get in at 02:00 p.m.. Usually we can’t get in I would like to get in earlier just to get more work with the system, but I don’t have that privilege. So I go in at 02:00 p.m. And I work till 04:00 p.m. With the set up. So I’m having a quick listen to the system. I don’t tune the systems, I just listen to them fix it quickly by ear. Or I usually have my smart up so if there’s something that quickly needs fixing, I can do that. But I don’t have time to go in depth into the system and the system side of things.
At the same time, I’m overseeing the stage set up and the patching and that everything is in the right place and the mics are in the right place and that we actually got the mics to ask for, et cetera, and the backline and checking the drums. And we have all the symbols, stands and all of that.
This is just like an inventory checklist.
Exactly. I always go in these venues with a session already prepared with this band because I’ve been with them for seven years. I always have a session ready on whichever mixer because I don’t always have the luxury to have the same mixer. So I have a scene for my desk, for digital, for any mixer that is out there, I have a scene for it from some time in the last seven years. So I start off from there, which helps me because the in ear is already premixed for the guys. So it’s only about tweaking, it’s not starting from scratch.
They come in at four. I start with the drums. I give the drums about 15 minutes usually. Then the rest of the band, they like to do at least an hour together, all four. So they’re a drum space, guitar and vocals. They have backing tracks as well, syncs to the visuals coming out from the drums. So this is a specific setup as well for them. We like to do an hour at least with all the bands, the four together with the visuals and the lights that I also manage because they’re next to me. So in this song, please don’t be intense. In this song, it’s more calm or I have notes from the band usually that I give the light guy. So it’s a one man show in these settings. It’s a one woman show. Sorry. It’s a one woman show. Being politically correct, I’m pretty much handling everything, but I like it because I like these guys and I’ve been with them for a long time. And even if it’s hectic and it gets to the end of the day where my head is just and I have to mix at the end of the day, so my head is about to explore.
I like it because I love them and it’s something that I will keep doing with them.
What’s the name of the band?
Adonis. Love attention to awesome.
This is a special relationship. This isn’t something you could do with everyone. And I know people out there listening and thinking, like, how did you do this? I’m sure it didn’t start out this way. Right. This probably evolved over time and you took on more and more responsibility.
Well, it just started as me doing their sound plane, and then we went on the first tour and we saw that, okay, I can manage this tour. So I started managing because I’m a control freak and I like to control things, and I like to organize things a certain way. And if they’re not organized a certain way, I tend to get frustrated. So I go and do it myself. So that’s how it started. And that was like five years ago, and this is how we keep going. But I do not do that for anyone other than them. It’s out of the question. It’s too much. But to me it’s worth it because I love them and I believe in what they are and what they represent to the music in this region and to the region in general. So, yeah, the guys are all on in ears, so that helps me a lot to make fun of house and monitors because I don’t have to worry about the extra layer of stages being loud and feedbacks. And the guys have been, ever since they started performing, have been using inears. And that’s a very big criteria, because if an artist is used to in ears, it’s an easy breeze.
If they’re not, then it’s a very tricky approach. And I think a lot of questions on Facebook came up about that. And just to take a small detour here, but I faced a lot of problems with artists while I was doing monitors who were not used to in ear. And what I learned, and if I can just give one advice, don’t accept to mix in ears with wedges. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it. It’s a recipe for failure, having one ear in and listening one ear for the wedge is just confusing for the artist’s brain. It’s damaging to their ears and it’s confusing to you because when they tell you they’re not hearing something, you don’t know what to do. Is it the ears? Is it the wedge? Is it the reverbs they’re hearing? What is it? So I had that one time, or.
Some interference between the two, some interaction that you don’t understand because you’re not there.
I had an artist once where I was in this situation, I think it was the only time that I mixed both, and I accepted to mix both in-ear and wedges during the show, the artist told me, I’m not hearing anything in my ears. I had the engineer belt back, so I had the same frequency as him and it was not a frequency problem. So I went up to the stage, I took his belt back, I put my earphones in, it was working. I put his earphones in, it was working. And it was just his brains telling him to shut something out because he was hearing something from the wedge and just stop hearing this. So for him, he was not hearing anything in his ear after that. I think it was the only time that I did that or accept to do that. If your artist is not just not used to because some artists are not used to in ears, but are willing to try. If they’re not willing to try, just stay on wedges. That’s my advice. You will have more chances of a successful show with just wedges than with in ears and wedges.
Yeah, and them feeling uncomfortable.
I wanted to ask I know there are RF microphone and wireless in your monitors. Regulations about RF are different in every country. So are you guys bringing equipment with you or do you rely on local someone to provide it where?
Yeah, someone’s provided we rely on local. Exactly. We rely on local in every country in the region is completely different. And it’s going to take quite a load of paperwork for me to get receivers across borders. So we actually just rent. Wherever we go, we just rent. I usually like one specific brand that I try to stick to, but if it’s the other one, it’s fine. I did RF checking for a while back when I was still with the rental company. I was handling a lot of the big show RFS. And I love this field, it’s very interesting to me, but it’s something that you need to be ten step ahead at all times. Have your spares, have your backups. If there are four on stage, I always ask for five and six belt back. So I have a belt back for me and I have a belt back and a receiver as a spare. And on my mixer, I route an extra pair as pairs. And then if someone cuts, I route whichever mix is theirs. To this belt pack. Basically, I do it soft patch. I always do that. I also have wedges on stage just in case of an extreme, like, really if I get bleed cuts.
But I never had that so far and I wish I would never have that. But I’m still reluctant on letting go of the idea of having actual speakers as backup.
That’s interesting. Yeah, I would think you would want to make it easier and just have a cleaner stage. But you really also don’t want to be in a situation where you needed those and then they weren’t there.
They’re never on. They are routed, they are tested, but nothing is sent to them. Unless in extreme cases, I’m going to need and it’s usually for the vocals that are most scared because with the other ones, I have time to change their belt backs or it’s not going to be the end of the world. But with the vocals, he’s right there, he’s performing. So I’m always scared for him. And it’s mostly for him that I keep the wedges on the front side of the stage. Usually left and right in the front. Nothing is sent to them, but they’re patched, they’re tested and they’re ready to go. If I need to send anything to them. Mainly his vocals, basically, it would be yeah, I never had to use them so far.
Great. Well, probably as long as you have them, you never will. And then the day that you take them away, you’ll need them.
So one day you’re going to forget to test them, that’s the day you’re going to use them. Okay.
Do you want to take us through the rest of your day? So you were doing sound check and that lasts about an hour and then what?
An hour? Yeah. So set up is 2 hours. Taking them individually is an hour and then it’s another hour for them just to play and go through their set list if there’s anything they need to check, anything they’re not rehearsed on. And then we stop. Doors open at about seven or eight usually. Then it’s showtime. Showtime. I’m exclusively in front of house, but I always and that’s something I always do because I learned it the hard way. I keep an eye out for a passageway to the stage. I see which is easiest. Is it left? Is it right? Where is the security if I need to enter the stage, where it’s from? Because we had a concert where I was stuck in front of house and the guitarist had an issue and I couldn’t get to him. And that just was hell. So that’s the first thing I do. When the crowd gets in, I see where it’s less packed and where it’s easier for me to maneuver around. I’m talking in small venues, in big scale venues now, we always have passageways or it’s easier to get by, but in the smaller venues, it’s trickier because.
You cannot account for passageways, just for the technician. So I just tried to scan the room, get a feel. Okay, if I need to jump on stage, first of all, who can cover me on the mixer? So there’s usually the house deck that’s next to me that I briefed them that if I need to jump on stage, you’re going to need to take over. These are my VCAs. Just stick to them if there’s anything that you need to do. And I usually always have my VCAs or my groups on my right hand, so they’re always clearly there and they usually encompass the whole channels and partitioned in a logical way. So I brief them and I always have an eye of where to go, which way to go if I need to jump on stage. Those I learned them throughout the years. And yeah, then it’s the show, then I mix and then for about ten minutes after every show, I don’t talk to anyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just need to wind down. So I dismantled my station, I put away my equipment slowly and then go backstage to the band, et cetera.
What are you bringing with you besides your laptop and an audio interface? Are you bringing anything else?
Oh, yeah, I have a Pellet case that I carry with me, a small one. So I have my sound card, my Octacure sound card, I have my microphones, my tuning microphones, and the microphones I keep for keeping an eye on level. And with my smart is always hooked up on one laptop and then I have another laptop if I need to multitrack record or if I need to just play back something before the concert. And the other laptop would do that. I have gaffer tapes, I have my gloves, my leatherman, my headphones that are broken on both sides, but I still love them and I don’t want to change them and I refuse to change them. I have all colors of Sharpies that you can imagine.
You’re not bringing like a console with you or like large outboard racks or anything like that?
No, as I said, and that’s very controversial. I started mixing on digital and I never learned I can use an analog desk, but I never mixed on it or actually used it. So I do not have that culture of outboard drag and outboard gear and et cetera. And I don’t have the notion of plugins either. I’m somewhere in between. I’m not a fan of putting 10,000 plugins either, and it’s not how I approach things, so I’m somewhere in between if you want, but no extravagant outburst. Gear I carry with me.
So I wanted to ask you about maybe some of the biggest mistakes people making who are new to Iem mixing. But you already mentioned trying never to allow someone to do this most situation, which is one I am and one stage, one ear open. But is there anything off the top of your head that you might want to mention that maybe is, like a big mistake you people making who are just getting started with Iem?
I think just comparing to wedges in ear mixing needs more detail oriented approach when you’re EQing and when you’re compressing. I think with wedges you can get away with a rougher approach to this processing and reverb as well, for example. But within ear monitoring the sound is right there. So you need to be very delicate in your approach to this and it goes back, as is the case with every mixing, to your choice of microphones and to the microphone placement. And I think it’s to me microphone placement is very important and in the context of live things can move around on stage. So you need to keep an eye out for this, that your kick mike does not fly away at and just moves away. And I had that so many times. So if it’s a small stage, I try to bring the attention of the musicians because they are right there. And if I’m on in front of house mixing both, I don’t have the time or I don’t see the microphone. So I tell my basis to keep an eye on the kick drum mic. I chair my guitarist that hey, if you feel it’s something different in your ear is that the microphone is a bit away.
So you see it has to be here, it has to be oriented this way. Just keep an eye, if you can to on it and et cetera. If it’s a big stage where I always have a tech that I brief and that they keep an eye during the short on the microphones. But if it’s a small show and it’s a small venue and I’m not even close to the stage, I think the musician you can involve the musicians in this. At the end of the day they’re on stage and they’re right there and they’re going to hear it more often than not in their ears. They might not know what it is, but if you tell them that okay, if you hear that your kick is not as dynamic as it should be, then keep an eye out for this microphone because it might have slipped away, things like that. Overall, I think mixing in ears is easier than mixing wedges. If your musician is a partner in this way, if he’s okay within years. I understand that older generations of musicians or those who are not used to are a bit reluctant but I think you can help them out by preparing for it, by doing these steps and having your mix really sharp and using the Ambience mic.
So that’s another layer that if you want, we can get into a bit because we got a lot of questions on that too when it comes to ambient mics, if it’s a small room. So if it’s 500, 600, 200 people, or less than 1000. I usually do not use ambience mic. I feel that the room is small enough and the crowd is close enough. Usually the stages are not very high and the crowd is right there, right in front of the artist. I use, for example, condenser microphone on my vocalist, so he’s already picking up a lot from his surrounding. So I don’t use Ambience mic in these small settings. However, if it’s a big venue and we’re talking in thousands of people and big crowds, then you cannot skip it. It’s a must. However, in my personal opinion, I like to follow the ambience. So I don’t automate it with gates and compression and I don’t keep it open in the ears. I follow it. If I’m only mixing monitors and in big settings, that’s more often the case. If you’re working in a big setting, you’re mostly just doing monitors. I follow it.
So if I’m feeling I’m isolated, the artist is also feeling isolated. I put the ears in. If the crowd is singing at this stage, I’m going to open them, I’m going to put more of the ambience. If they’re not, I’m going to keep it at barely minimum even not at all, if I need to. So I keep my ambience on post and I follow for the placement of the mics. I try to be as faithful as it would be as an image. So the artist is on stage, his ears are right here, the audience is in front of him. So I have my mics left and right of the stage, trying to keep them away as possible from the PA. So either a bit behind the PA, I tried to raise them a bit so they skip the downfill usually, and not to get hit by the downfill. Putting them on the subs is fine because you’re going to accuse that point anyway and just aiming them towards the audience. I tried to do a left right image just to have a sense of opening it up. If you have the privilege of working with three D and ear monitors, for example, which is a whole other approach to an ear mixing, then you don’t have to worry about ambience that much because you can place them wherever you want and it will be more faithful to the actual reality.
You don’t need to worry about it that much. But if you’re mixing stereo with Adenisse, I’m always mixing stereo. We’re not yet in 3D mixing, so this is what I do. Left, right, shotgun condensers. Usually I don’t have a preferred brand. Wherever is there, I can use it. I’m not that picky about that and just keep away from the PA left and right, pan it. I don’t plan it all the way through. I plan it like three quarters left and right and follow it. I follow it. I’m not comfortable with just keeping it and counting on gates and compressors. And I think that’s mainly because the crowds here in the region are unpredictable a bit. So have the habit of following it and not just keeping it, forgetting it.
That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about how as the venue gets bigger than the farther away the audience seems. And therefore you want to sort of balance that, counteract that by putting more into the ears and helping the artists feel closer when the audience could be so far away and maybe it’s all dark, maybe they can’t see them, things like that. So Kenny says, how do I learn iems? Have any suggestions for, I guess, getting started, learning to use Iems and mix for Iems?
If you have the privilege to have access to actual linear monitors and a multitrack, then it’s as simple as plug it in and play around with it. But if you don’t have the privilege to do that, there are apps. For example, Klang, who is a they have a 3D in your mixing. They have their application that allows you to do virtual, like a virtual sound check. So you can do it in stereo. If you’re not going to actually have 3D mixing at hand, you can do it in stereo. But there’s a multitrack already loaded in the application and you could just play around with mixing it. And I would definitely advise to actually have in ears in. So you can even have the shore to 15, the starting end kind. You don’t need to go and buy molded or fancy in ears, but just start with that. Get a feel of what it is because it’s different than wedges. It’s different. It’s right there, it’s in your ears. It can be counterintuitive to what we have learned as working in live and working with wedges. Most of the time it might be counterintuitive at once, but when you get used to it that the advantages are much more than the wedges are, in my opinion.
Yore says ask her best approach for finding the right IAM headphones for band members.
I actually don’t have an answer for that honesty, because it’s very subjective. I don’t have an answer for that, quite honestly.
So for the band that you work with, how did that come about? Did you get them to try a bunch? Did they have them already before you started working?
We started with the shore to 15 and then we worked our way up to the higher model of the shore, which I always forget. The number is for something they went.
Through a lot and just experienced it and sounded just like trial and error.
It is trial and error and it’s going to depend on the individuals. It’s like choosing your own headphones, right? You can read reviews, but the end of the day, it’s what works for you. For our basis, for example, he uses it I have no idea what he uses as a brand, but it’s something that he looked up and he tried when he was somewhere in Europe and he liked it and he bought it. I can ask him for the brand, but I completely forgot what brand it is. But as a basis, he did not like the shore and the way the shore sounded in his ear. So he just went for another brand. So I don’t really intervene in that area because I feed. It has to come from them. I always advise that, guys, we can now invest more in ears. If we want to keep touring, let’s put some more money in that, et cetera. But I don’t impose or choose brands or models for them.
Okay, so Maurizio says, what are the dangers of wearing a single Iem on stage? And we talked a little bit about how that just makes your job very difficult. But is there anything else you want to say about the danger of trying to do that?
Imagine a vocalist, he’s singing, so his vocal cords are right there. He’s hearing his voice in his ears, and then multiple milliseconds later, he’s hearing it from the wedges. So imagine how the brain is interpreting that. That’s very misleading. It’s more challenging than actually having two in ear monitors in or having no in ear monitors at all, because then your brain has the signal coming from the one place. And on the long run, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a lot of hearing damage that can come from that because you’re tending to put more level in the in ear to compensate for the wedges and to compensate for this without knowing time difference that your brain is trying to normalize and you might end up with hearing damage. So again, I would not accept to do that anymore, because if they don’t know it, you know it. And sometimes you just need to stand your ground when it comes to things like that. If you can just stay on wedges, it’s not the end of the world. It’s been there for 30 years. Mixing wedges is fine. If they’re not willing to go all the way in ears, don’t go half and lose from both.
Just stay on wedges.
Sanna, how do you protect your hearing on the job?
If I am not mixing, I’m always wearing earbuds all the time, even when I go out to bars and sometimes the restaurants here. And the reason I’m wearing earplugs, I have them all the time with me on the jaw. If I am mixing. If I’m mixing monitors, I usually always have my in ears on and Iem never too loud. I always watch the level I’m replaying or I’m putting in my ears. If I’m mixing front of house, I try to be as disciplined as possible without causing the crowd to feel that the level is not loud enough. So I always have my smart, always follow meters. Sometimes I’ve had that experience because of this and that’s specific to the region here because we like it. The culture here likes it very loud and very distorted. Very distorted. And I really have to emphasize this because when I’m mixing in France, my approach is completely different. Or in Europe or in Denmark, or my approach is completely different. When I’m mixing in Lebanon or in Dubai or in Cairo or in Aman, I know that the people expect distortion. If there is no distortion, the sound is not good.
And honestly, that’s something I’m struggling with.
How do you deliver that?
I go louder than I do, usually. So usually I set up my concert at about 94 Dba. I’m just keeping in Dba just to keep an eye. And I work my way up with other Nissan talking with this style, because we’re starting and I work my way up to about 98 in Lebanon, I can’t do that. In Lebanon, I have to start at 98 and work my way up to insane values. And their music is not rock. It’s there’s a lot of soft music, there’s a lot of pop, there’s a lot of so it’s a challenge. I wish I could give you the answer. I’m still working on it because I’m trying to find the mid ground between what I know and what I know is safe and the culture and the region here. But it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge.
Yeah, a lot of different people. You need to make happy. And you definitely don’t want your hometown band to disappoint the hometown crowd.
Not at all. And I was in situations where the crowd was expressing their unhappiness because of the sound, because it wasn’t loud enough.
Or not distorted enough.
It’s a combination of things. There’s also a thought on the system and how it was designed and tuned. But it’s mostly a cultural it’s a cultural issue. And finding yourself in a situation where you are behind the mixer, you are responsible, and a crowd is shouting, Put the volume up is not a nice situation to be in. It’s quite one of those situations where this is the last time I’m mixing in my life. Iem. Sure, we all had those at some point for different reasons.
Definitely for me, it was mixing at a prison once, and just the crowd was so loud and so rambunctious and right behind me, and I was like, I can’t handle this. So I just wanted to share that. I know that’s not the same as yours, but, yeah, you’re right. We’ve all been in that situation.
The end result is exactly the same. You’re saying it’s the last time I’m doing this, but then you go home and you think about it and you’re like, okay, we can improve for next time. The way I handled that time was that I gradually went loud. Actually, I went much louder all at once, which was a mistake. So I had about five songs where it was fewer hell for my ears. I was suffering, but I was like, okay, the crowd wants this. What do I do? And then I think in the 6th song, it was a comb song. I brought everything down and I worked my way up again gradually, but keeping an eye on everything and just trying to because it was also a problem of system and where I was standing was not exactly the same as the floor or I had grand stands behind me. So it was a complete set of issues. And it’s hard for your brain to process that at once. Behind the mixer all there. So it took me about five songs to readjust and recalibrate. And then after the fifth song, I started just like getting a hold.
And I think by mid of the concert I was like, okay, find this handled it’s fine. It’s working for everyone.
People aren’t shouting at you anymore.
Exactly. People are not. You don’t have thousands of people, like, shouting at you at once.
Going back to Iems, Mauricio also says, how do you incorporate ambient mics and reverb into your IAM mix for better depth and context? And we’ve already talked about ambient mics a bit, but do you use reverb at all for what he’s talking about?
I don’t use Reverbs at all. I try not to mess up with the time of the microphones at all or with Reverbs or with anything because I have them front of stage. So to me it’s the optimal place because it’s as close to the ears of the artist as possible. So I try not to mess with that. I just EQ it. I remove the lows. Obviously, if I need to EQ more from the highs depending on the mic, I will see that on the spot when the crowd is in and during the first song. But other than that, very little. In general, I’m a profound supporter of minimal processing is better. Choose your microphones right, choose your placement right. And don’t process too much. That’s just the way I approach it in general, not just for ambient mic.
Sure. What are the most common complaints you get from artists about their Iams RF cutting?
No, that’s just the plain old. But it’s also isolation. They feel isolated and they tend to remove one ear or put one ear out. And for that, in small skate venues, I never had that, but in big skate venues, I had this quite often. So it’s mostly, keep an eye on your Ambience. Cue the mix here at yourself, because you’re going to have the same feeling. And at the end of the day, it’s their performance and they’re performing for the people. If they don’t feel the energy of the people, they’re not going to be able to perform and it’s going to mess up their performance. So the approach to Ambience in the air is a feeling you have to feed it. I don’t know how to define it better than that. I’m sure it can be quantized in a way that I could study, maybe. But to me it’s a feeling. I feed it IQ and I feel, okay, this seems too much. This seems too little. Now the crowd is singing. Okay, let’s put them now. The crowd is very talkative because we have very talkative crowds here that don’t shut up throughout the concert.
So that’s why I always have my hand on the Ambience and I just remove it if I feel it’s just talking that’s coming up and not actual reactions that the performer would want to hear.
That’s great. So Nicholas says, ask her what would be a main feature that we can apply in our environments to have more sound girls among us. We need them. Funny question there, but what comes to mind for you? Is there some change that would help bring more women into the industry?
I think the core of it, and as obvious as it might seem, don’t treat the women differently. Don’t treat them as if they’re crystal balls that are going to break on the site. Because more often than not, the women that are working in this industry are quite tough. Actually. They’re one of the toughest that I know in this industry. So don’t treat them any differently and be an ally. If a woman comes up to you and wants to learn something, teach her. If a woman tells you she’s uncomfortable in a certain situation because of someone else or because of you, listen. Because the way we experience things is not the same as the way guys experience this in this industry. Because we are a minority and because we are always seen as the odd ones out in tours or in setups. So just be an ally. That’s all I can say. As is the case in everything in life, not just in this industry. I think the greatest gift that a man in this industry has given me is teach me. And that was my mentor before I joined Myerson or throughout my career. And now my team at Marathon is sharing their knowledge with me.
That’s the greatest gift that they can give me because they’re giving me tools and armors to fight the battles that I need to fight, as poetic as this might seem. But yeah, that’s how I see it.
I just published an interview with Kim Warnick and I want to recommend that people go back and listen to that. It’s called sexual harassment is a workplace safety issue or something like that. And that’s a big topic that we cover there. What she reminded me of and what I realized now is universal, is that everyone just wants a safe place to work. We want to go somewhere where we think people are going to be nice to us, people are going to be kind, we’re going to have a good time and we don’t have to worry about safety problems and those are all the things that Sanna just mentioned, right? Like, when I ask you for help, you give me help. When I ask you for training and give me training when I’m not comfortable, you listen. And all those things, I think, fall under safety and general comfort. Paul says, how does she cope with the stress of being both tour manager and sound tech?
You have to really love the artist you’re doing it for, because then it becomes worth it. But it is stressful because you need to handle many fronts at once. Again, I don’t do it for just anyone. And you need to be ten steps ahead of everything when you’re going to do that. So before going on tour, there’s a lot of prepping that goes just trying to get as many things out the door before we’re actually there, and things start to just ramble one after the other. So I try to book transportations ahead, I try to organize schedules way ahead. I try to remind the band of things that they might forget, like their in ears or their sound card and the backing tracks and et cetera. I have a list of these things that I do before so that on the day, I don’t have much to do other than the load of actually doing the work there, but there’s always something that’s going to come up and a band member forgot their backpack and the hotels need to go back. And these are things that you just need to handle on the ground. I think you need to have a lot of patience.
It’s like having kids. You need to have patience and just try to be as ahead of things as you can. And don’t do it just for anyone, because not everyone deserves that.
Yeah, a lot of work.
So Cookie says, what’s your trick in controlling dealing with very loud stage bands that have their amps way too loud, drums too loud for the room, they overpower the PA. Some bands won’t listen when you mention the stage is too loud or places with noise regulation and the band doesn’t care. Love to hear your tricks on getting stage volume under control. So I think this is more about mixing front of house and trying to be responsible to all parties, which is making the artists feel comfortable, and you’re trying to do a thing for the artists, I’m sorry, for the audience, so that they’re hearing a great show and not just whatever acoustic balance comes off of the stage. So I’m sure you have some thoughts on this.
Yeah. Yes. Again, this is an issue for the smaller scale, and the room is always the drums is always too loud and the amps are always too loud. Steps that I try to take is first I tilt my amps up, so putting if they don’t have the accessory, I tilt them up on a di or something. Just have them aim towards the seating better than having them aim at the first three people that are there. I ask and I try to impose to the artists and the musicians as much as possible that I would make up for it in the in ears. Please go lower on your amps. And they usually are fine with it. If you have a good balance in their ears and if you are faithful to the sound that they have coming out of their amps in their ears, they’re going to be okay with it. So the trick is being as faithful to the sound that they’re getting out of their amp as much as possible by choosing the right mics, by placing the right mics on the guitar. For example, even if I have one amp, I always have two mics and I do it stereo and I delay the other one just so to open up this image for him and for him not to have it mono right in the middle.
That’s going to bother him and it’s not going to feel real. So I try to open it up for him. Even if we don’t have two amps, in big shows we work with two amps and it’s completely stereo, even if his effects are stereo. But in smaller skate, it’s just one amp. I do two mics and I open up the image and that makes him more comfortable to lower the amp and listen more from the ears. For the drums, that’s a struggle because when they get excited, they’re going to play hard and it’s just you can’t control much. What I try to do is ask them to not put as many symbols, if possible. If we can just play with less symbols and less crashes and less I make them remove some. If not, I always remind them gently, this is a small venue, it’s very loud. Try to be a bit gentle when you’re playing, even if but I found it that 90% of the time you can’t control your drummer. So you just accept it. And then once that is done, if your stage is still too loud, the way to approach it in the mix is first, if you have front fills, have control of your front fills on their own.
Don’t take them as part of your left and right because you’re going to need to send different things on the front fills than you’re going to send to the left and right. And a center field, for example, I keep those as a bus and then a matrix, just so I have them just in one control. With my left and right I send to the front fields. Mainly only vocals. If it’s a small room, because they are right there.
The front field is really doing sound reinforcement.
Exactly. And that’s something that you’re going to have to make a call on during sound check. You can’t prepare it before they’re there. So what I usually do is. I have my mix, I mix everything. I’m happy with how the room is sounding. I put everything off. I listen to the room acoustically, how much sound, even at front of house, how much sound from the drums am I getting, how much sound from the guitar am I getting from the bass, from whichever is amplified already on stage. And then I build up my mix from that. And then I go I stand in the first row with an iPad usually. Yes, I use an iPad with an iPad usually. And to the front fields, I close my eyes and I listen. Okay, what am I missing here? I’m missing his vote more often than not. I’m missing the vocals and the electric piano, for example, because it’s not amplified. And I’m hearing it from somewhere in the reflections of the room. So I add that a bit more. I’m missing the backing tracks because doors are not the only way you can hear them is, again with reflections in the room from the PA.
So I think that’s the only way to do it. And you have to accept that in small rooms, it’s never going to be perfect or unless the room is really well built, and I say, which is never the case, well treated acoustically, which is almost never the case. You’re going to have to deal with discrepancies in the sound in some places. But these are the steps that I take just to be a bit ahead of this. And usually with the people, it always gets better. So don’t panic during sound check. If you feel like your mix is completely open, it usually is not during the life, because it gets better with the people in most venues.
Yeah, that’s great. I also wanted to recommend I published a podcast a couple of years ago called Five Pro Drummers explain how to make a drum kit quieter on stage.
Oh, that’s cool.
I talked to five different drummers there about there, and I asked them this exact question how can we, as sound engineers, work with you to figure this out? And so you are sure to get some ideas from that interview. And I don’t know if this is the perfect time for it, but I also wanted to recommend that you check out Dave Ratt’s presentation at a previous live sound summit, which I’ll link to in the show notes. And I guess for people that might not get there, I’ll just share the story really quick because I thought it was so helpful in terms of psychology. He knows the bass player thinks he’s going to ask him to turn down. So instead he walks up to him and says, hey, I love what you’re doing and I love this sound. It’s just bleeding too much into the other microphones, so I need to move you a little bit farther away. The bass player didn’t want to be moved farther away. So at the beginning it was okay thing. He was like, well, now I feel like I’m all alone. So he’s like, well, if you want to move back closer to everybody else, you can, but you’ll need to turn down.
And so then he understood and ultimately it was the long play to get the bass player to turn down, but without asking him to do that.
That’s nice. That’s very small. Yeah.
I hope I shared that clearly. Okay, dave says, can you beat Magu, aka Mauricio Ramirez in an arm wrestle?
I’m going to be touring with Magu touring in an educational tour next month as part of Marathon’s dedication program that’s back on track now, so I’ll make sure to keep you posted on that. I’ll challenge my gulu with pleasure and I’ll keep you posted.
San, would you be willing to share with us maybe the most painful mistake you’ve made on the job?
There are many, so many.
How do you pick one?
There are many. Where’s the start? No, I think the most painful one was the crowd shouting, put the volume up. I think that was the most painful one, but as mistakes, don’t put in a USB and a console and a mixture right before you start the show because that’s going to bug it. Don’t do it.
Yeah, there are some consoles where it’ll just spend a lot of time reading it and you might not be able to access certain things.
And there are some mixers that just don’t like USB. So don’t do it right before the show, do it when you’re saved and you’re good way before or way after. Because I plugged it in once in a show in Amman, in Jordan, and the band was already cute to go up on stage and I don’t know why I felt the need to save right before they go on stage. I really don’t know. I’m still wondering why I put the USB in and there was nothing. The mixer was frozen, the band was on stage, I was like, okay, what do I do now? So I turn it off and on again, it turns back on and then, for whichever reason, I still don’t know to this day, I went through the whole concert without effects, so I had no reverbs on anything. I have reverbs usually on my drums, on backing vocals, on vocals and delay on the vocals as well. I had none of those throughout the show.
So did it just sound different or bad or did anyone notice?
No one felt it because no one, unless you’re really paying attention. But the vocals had no reverb and it just sounded weird. It was not the mix that I mixed, so I just had to adjust, basically because I couldn’t turn it on and off again during the show, so I just went with it. That was an interesting one. Another one was when I was mixing monitors, but the front of house console crashed and there was no way it was going back on again. And I was working in an environment where during the day it was about 40 degrees Celsius, which is very hot. Even for Lebanon. We don’t have those temperatures.
Usually that’s 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wow. Yeah. So it was very hot and the mixer didn’t like it. And we got to the end of the day and the mixer said, I’m done now crashed. I was on monitors. So we had to switch to monitors and I had to roughly mix from my master layer, just roughly mix something. And I did that. Luckily, I worked in even if I was doing monitors, I worked in pre fader for everything. So it was fine. But now I learned every time I do monitors, I’m always mixing pre and I’m always roughing a mix on my master, preparing just two outputs just in case we’re going to need to switch. I do that every time I’m working big scale and doing even if I’m doing monitors because it was a very panicked moment at that time. And the way we continued that concert is actually funny because the mix was coming out from the monitor desk. The front of house guy was still sitting at front of house and he was telling me over walkietalkies what to do with the mix. He was like, Put the drums down, put the base up. But then I was just doing it, basically.
And I completely forgot about the monitors. And we just had to focus on that and getting down to the crowd, basically.
Wow, that’s amazing. Yeah. And I’m sure the console manufacturer was like, what can we do? 104 degrees? I don’t know.
This manufacturer claims that they can take these temperatures. But I guess it was just a combination of things and things happen on the job and sometimes things and you just adapt and troubleshoot and keep running, basically. You don’t have much choice. It’s not nice during, but then ten years later you will laugh about it. It’s fine.
Asana, do you have a book to share? Is there a book that has been really helpful to you along the way?
It’s the green book.
Yeah, it’s my reference. I think it’s everyone’s reference. And I now have the privilege to be Bob’s colleague in my sound. And I just love Bob and his approach to things. And his book has always been a reference to me. I don’t think we have many books to reference beyond this book as sound system design. And we don’t have a book that tells you how to patch a stage, for example, or that I know of. I don’t know. But to me this book was always I always went back to that book for everything that I needed to know. I have other ones. But there’s Yamaha’s. Sound book reinforcement.
Sound reinforcement handbook.
Yeah, it’s now a bit outdated, but it’s still a good book. That could be interesting. For people who have not read it.
Sono, where is the best place for people to follow your work if they want to keep up with what you’re doing?
I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Instagram. It’s just my name. The account is under my name, and as far as I know, there is no other person on this plan with the same name. So I’m reachable and people can follow me on any of those. On Facebook, I tend to post more career related things, and on LinkedIn, Instagram, there’s more of my personal life, but on the other platforms, it’s mainly that great.
Santa Romano, thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live.
Thank you, Nathan. It was great discussing with you and that we can finally do this. And thank you.
Sound design. Hey, Patreon supporters. You are amazing and I want to highlight you. So I would love it if you would record your name so that I can add it to the end of the podcast. Sometimes I just go through and list everybody’s name, but I think it’ll be a lot more fun if I had a recording of you saying it. You might just record yourself saying something like, nathan Lively in Minneapolis, or you could say your business name in your city or something. Something quick and short like that. That then I can cut together with everyone in a list. So either you can just send it to me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org, or there’s a post over on the Patreon page. If you just open it up, scroll down a little bit, you’ll see a post that says, Record your name, I’ll add it to the podcast. Thanks, you.