Subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, Google Play or Stitcher.
Support Sound Design Live on Patreon.
In this episode of Sound Design Live I’m joined by freelance FOH engineer for such artists as Barry Manilow, Chris Isaak, Julio Iglesias, Anita Baker, and Shirley MacLaine, Ken Newman. We discuss the definition of good sound, choosing the right digital console, and vocal reverb.
I ask about What is good sound?
- How do I make my client happy? How do I know what good sound is for them?
- How do I know what will make the audience happy? Or at least not complain?
- What do I say to an audience member who gives me notes on the mix?
- What’s your favorite Julio Iglesias story?
Then some questions from FB:
- Peter Brennan: How do you approach monitors from foh with certain artists.
- Jonathan Winkler: Which number were you in the calendar year of FOH guys on Anita Baker? When I joined I was 35. The 35th monitor guy that calendar year. It was MAY. She only worked on Friday and Saturdays.
- I want it to be great. So I’m gonna do everything I can make it great. And sometimes they misinterpret my drive for greatness as being a jerk, but I’m trying not to be a jerk. I’m trying to just the most of the situation and get it to sound as good as possible.
- I wanna orgasm when I hear myself sing!
- friends of mine that do sound, they’d make it really quiet. And I’m like, you can’t have it that quiet that can’t be, how are people gonna sing on there?
- Different artists have different p references in terms of the sound of the reverb and EQing the return to sound the way they want it to sound is key to, and for that matter of setting the parameters so that it works the way they want it to work is key being successful in terms of pleasing the artist.
- All the monitor channels are labeled in lowercase, all the front of house channels are labeled in uppercase. So right away, that you’re on the right layer.
This transcript was automatically generated. Please let me know if you discover any errors.
Ken Newman. Welcome to Sound Design live.
Hey, Nathan. How’s it going?
Going good. Thanks for being here, ken, I definitely want to talk to you about the definition of good sound, choosing the right digital console and vocal reverb. 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 familiar with it?
That’s an interesting question. I have a couple of songs these days that I can use, just one song if I want. I have a whole list of about 30 songs that I’ve been using for many years. But my sort of favorite recording to listen to is a staying recording, of all things, called Seven Days. That Seven Days thing has the kick drum nice and the high hat’s a little overdone, and I know exactly how it’s supposed to sound for me to have a successful sounding show, and that’s the key. It could be almost anything as long as I know what it’s supposed to sound like. Then there’s another song that’s an Eagles track called How Long? And that thing has an overemphasized kick drum, like they must have mixed it without subwoofers or something. And the kick drum is big and fat. And if I know that if that song doesn’t have the big, fat kick drum, then I don’t have enough Lowend dialed into the system. And it also has what sounds to me a remote recorded in the early days of the Internet vocal or something, IEM. Not that early days. It sounded like they did one of these vocal overdubs over the internet, because the one vocal sounds very low ris when I can detect it as low ris.
I know that the system is doing what I expected to do, but I have different songs for different parts of the system. There’s an Annie Lennox track that a friend of mine in England turned me on two years ago that I can’t remember the name of right now. But it has a bass line that goes from, as he described it, from the upper system to the subs upper system sum. It goes boom, boom, and it repeats that through the whole song. So you can get your balance from your main system to your subs pretty accurately, if you know what that’s supposed to sound like for you. And then I recently added another track to my repertoire of tracks called angel from I don’t even know the name of the band, but it’s some heavy metal ish band or something. But this track has so much low end on the track somehow and hardly any top end. It just really makes the subs go. And I figure if I can make the subs go with that track and feel it the way I’m used to feeling it, IEM. In the right direction, at least ultimately, I play multi track of the night, the previous night’s show, and at least listen to the band part of that.
And if it sounds right to me, then I know I’m in the right range of EQ and system configuration.
Ken, how do I get more gigs? What would you do if you were in my shoes? Have you found that work?
No one to ask about that, because I don’t have that many gigs, but I somehow have managed to make a career out of this and just keep working for the last so many years, aside from the COVID Okay, don’t give up.
Got it. Number one.
Yeah, right. My basic feeling about getting gigs, do the right thing, as in show up early, be ready to work, don’t take a lot of breaks, don’t be the one that wants to leave all the time, have a good work ethic, pay attention to the people you’re working with. Because I know some people that some people that just simply are reliable in terms of showing up and they get a lot of gigs just because they show up on time and they have a good attitude and nothing bothers them and they could be the part of the expression, but they could be the worst sound person ever. And they’re not, by the way, but they could be that. And as long as they show up and they have a good attitude and they’re like, yeah, sure, I can do that. Yeah, sure, I can do that. A good, positive attitude, a good work ethic, they’re honest, they’re determined, they put themselves in the shoes of the person hiring them. They’re going to get called back a lot. That’s some of the things that make people get gigs, in my opinion. Me personally, I have a good work ethic, or I’ve been told I have a good work ethic, that is, I like to work hard, and my determination to have a good, successful, good sounding gig, whatever kind of gig it is, is pretty great.
In other words, people say, wow, you’re really into the sound. I’m like, yeah, that’s what I do. I want it to be great, so I’m going to do everything I can to make it great. And sometimes they misinterpret my drive for greatness as being a jerk, but I’m trying not to be a jerk. I’m trying to just make the most of the situation and get it to sound as good as possible. And so walking that fine line between being cocky and confident is key. And good work ethics so that you prove to people that you are somebody they want to hire back.
It always makes me laugh that as sound engineers, we are kind of obsessed with training and technology and learning about physics and microphones and plugging things in and making all the thing work and, like, getting this control. And then once we get into the field, when I’m sitting there doing the job, I’m always like, oh, so much of this is like, can I still be nice to this client after I’ve been here for 14 hours exactly.
And be determined to please them no matter what it takes?
Yeah, so much about attitude. So, okay, don’t give up. Do good work, right? Is there anything else I can do to get more gigs?
First, networking is key. How do I do? Networking.
I don’t know.
Either philosophy is get as many contacts as you can. I have a list of people. I have a list that I when I’m looking at my calendar and it’s not very full, I go, I think it’s time to send that email again. And I sent a mass email to a bunch of people, and I say, my calendar is wide open in this time period. Try to make it as polite, not begging as possible. In other words, I’m not begging for work. I don’t ever want to be begging, but I don’t want to be so cocky. They say, no, I’m busy all the time. Some people are busy all the time, and good for them. That’s fantastic that they just don’t even have to send out that email ever, or make those phone calls or send those text messages. However you want to communicate with people or works for you or the situation. But for me, it’s email because it’s not invasive. Like, if you send a text message or call them on the phone, you might be catching that amount of bad time. And so if you send an email and you make it polite and just to the point and by the way, my calendar for May is wide open.
I’m just putting it out there, like I said one recently, because I had heard from some clients that it was hard to find good people these days because of the whole mass resignation that’s happened during the lockdown. And so I sent out an email to a bunch of potential clients, people that I had worked for in the past, and said, I’ve heard that it’s hard to find people. So I just wanted to let you know I’m ready, willing, and able, and my ears still work, and I’ve got all the same equipment that I had before, and I’m anxious to work with you again. I got some response to that and got some gigs from that. So for me, that work. Everybody’s different in terms of your rapport with other people and clients, but networking is key, letting people know that you’re available. Because personally, I get the impression that people think I’m busy all the time, and so they’re not even going to call me. And so that’s why I send out those emails, because I want to let them know that, hey, by the way, I’m not busy all the time. I’m busy sometimes, but I would love to fill in the gaps so that I make the rent okay.
And I think the success you’ve had with that is a reflection of the fact that Pro Audio runs on personal referral. We’ve talked about that a lot on this podcast. We talked about I’ve talked about that a lot of my workshops, and that’s what I talk with people about when I do career coaching. You can’t expect that you meet people once, and then every time they’re looking for someone, they go through and try to find the best person for the job. It’s not a meritocracy. People are not searching for the best qualifications. They are typically thinking of the person that they talk to last. And you can get upset about that, or you can just use that to your advantage and go and talk to them.
Last year enters the whole that old saying, be the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And, you know, sometimes that’s true because I’ve been in touch with somebody about something and I don’t want to be the annoying one, but if you nicely keep in touch with somebody and then boom, you magically you get that gig, just like you just said.
One of the most common things I do with people when we do career coaching stuff is they’re going over their workflow with me. And often people will say something like you said, which is when my calendar gets thin or when it seems like I don’t have enough gigs, then this is what I do. And one really easy modification that I make with people that make a big change is to take that thing that they do only when they get to the famine in the feast and famine cycle and do that regularly. So you systematize it and do it like once a month or once a week or something like that, instead of just every six months when you start to get to Nathan Lively again. And then you kind of develop this process where you’re constantly reminding people instead of just every once in a while when you go get the fear, get the fear.
And that definitely works. I have proof of that because a friend of mine that’s a sound engineer by the name of Bruce, and Bruce not only keeps his calendar available online, but he sends out that email, like, once a month, and it’s always got the same subject line, which is Gigging with you, or something like that. And he just wants to keep us informed. I remember when I worked at World Stage, I was a staff person there. We would get his email every month, and it would just be just a reminder, I’m available. Here’s my calendar. And it’s just a link to his calendar. It shows his availability, shows when he’s working and when he’s not very good. The guy works all the time, so that must work. That’s what I figure. So that is great advice. And follow the Bruce Fallas method of getting gigs and you’ll be working all the time.
I like that. Yeah, I do something similar. And I guess where I have found it challenging is when people don’t write back. So if I’m emailing maybe six to eight people a month, letting them know about my availability and they don’t write back, I start to think, well, they don’t like me anymore and I’m a bad person and I should stop this, and they don’t care about me anymore. So what do you think about it?
Of course, you think that it’s not necessarily the case, because we all think that. We all think, yeah, I must have made them angry at me, I better stop this. But no, as long as the tone of your email or text message or whatever it is, is friendly and light and it doesn’t take five minutes to read it, nobody can have anything bad to say about that, that’s just fine.
I guess the key is that they’re not saying no, because when I have fear, I’m always going to think of the worst case scenario. But it could be anything. Like they’re busy, whatever they’re getting the email, they’re saying, Great, Nathan’s available. I’m not asking for a response, so it could be a lot of things going on there. Okay. Thanks, Ken. Let me know if anything else comes to mind for you.
I should back up and tell you that back in the old days when A One Audio existed, that was how I got gigs, was I just stayed in touch with the A One Audio people. If you’re in a click, and that click happens to be a sound company or any kind of vendor or even just a bunch of guys, you just keep letting those people know, oh, by the way, my May is all wide open, or my June, I’d love to do something with you in the summer, what have you. Whatever it is, you just make sure they know, and that’s all. It’s just about it doesn’t take much to make sure they know that your calendar is not filled as much as you want it to be. And like when I was with A One Audio, I was always working because there was always something that they had to do, and that’s how I got all the gigs back then, frankly, I kind of missed that because I haven’t been connected to any other sound company since then. And that was a good source of career advancement, of move from an artist to another.
Some sound engineers that I know have the appearance that they work for a particular sound company, but they actually don’t. They’re freelance, but they work so closely with those companies that it appears they work for the sound company, but they’re actually freelance anyway. And that keeps them busy, is the point.
It’s funny how things stay the same. You know, that was before Google. We have Google now, but clients don’t Google sound engineer when they need someone, they call somebody that they know. And so you want to be connected to those people that are getting those calls. Just typically the companies and sound companies.
Put yourself in their position. Make yourself be the person that they want to hire for the next gig. When you’re doing a job or something, realize that, okay, I want to make sure I impress this person that I’m interested in pleasing them and keeping everything the way they want it to be. Whatever their priorities are, are my priorities. Now, whether it’s the budget or whether how long it takes to set up or how good the sound is, what have you, they have priorities. And get yourself in line with those priorities, because I want to be the one that they say, oh, we have this new kid coming up. I want to hire that guy because he’s good at whatever their priorities are. That’s a large part of it, is being that person that they think of first. That’s great.
Ken, you’ve been mixing for a while. You’ve also been around other people mixing and working together. What are one or two of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to front of house mixing?
Well, I did this gig a while ago, and I was surprised that was the system tech on the gig. In other words, I was the front of house assistant, let’s say, and it was a young person mixing for the artist’s friend or what have you, and all they did was came right in. They hardly looked at the console. They hardly looked at the stage set up. They definitely did not listen to the sound system. They just started pushing up faders. And I was like, that’s interesting. Number one, they didn’t look at my placement. Number two, they didn’t listen to the system. And that to me, the listening to the system before you start doing stuff is key. Now, sometimes that’s not possible. I get it. But when it’s possible, the first thing I would do if I was approaching a gig and I was just told, you’re going to mix, okay, this is all you’re doing is mixing. You’re just showing up and mixing. First thing I want to do is listen to the sound system, see if it sounds the way I expect this to sound, and if it doesn’t sound that way, get it to sound that way or as close as I can so that I’m working with the right palate.
In other words, my tool is the way I expect my tool to be. Because if you start just pushing up faders and you’re like, oh, there’s the kick drum. Oh, that sounds good. Okay, cool, let’s the sound drum, oh, that sounds good. And then you get to the vocal and you realize, oh shoot, the sound system just doesn’t sound right. Now I need to add stuff to the vocal and it’s going to sound all messed up.
Everybody take ten, I got to work on the sound system.
Now you’re just gain to get yourself in trouble basically, is what I’m saying. And so I was surprised that that was what some people do these days. Now granted, sound systems are so good these days and system techs are generally so good these days, you can pretty much trust that it’s going to be pretty good, but maybe not. You should really listen to the system first and then start mixing. And by listening to the system, whether it’s something as simple as your voice, your voice with reverb on it or plug in your ipod and listen to your phone or what have you, and place some place of music knowing what that source is supposed to sound like. Your voice is supposed to sound like, you know, what the reverb is supposed to sound like, something that you know how it’s supposed to sound. And you get the system to sound that way, especially if you’re in a position to do that. If it’s a festival where you’re not allowed to make the system sound the way you want it to sound, well, there’s another story. But if when you’re allowed to change it, that’s the first thing I would do.
And that’s what I would say is one of the mistakes. The other thing, mike placement. If you can get to the stage and make sure that your mics are in the place that you know is going to work for you, some key instruments like snare drum, kick drum, the mic placement can make all the difference in the world. Cushion instruments. Mic placement can be very drastically different depending on where you put that mic. You could go on and on with the things that people may or may not do. One of the main things is just listen closely, really listen closely and know what you’re shooting for. If it’s your first gig with a new situation, new client, new performer, what have you, just make it sound good to you and go from there.
Kennedy, last year’s Lifetime Summit, you gave a great talk called what is good Sound? And I just want to take a moment to thank you again for filling in for some time. We had a really strange moment at that summit where for the first time we had someone who didn’t show up and it turned out that they actually had a serious medical situation. And I talked to the person later and they’re fine now, but you stuck around and you told some great stories. So people want to hear that whole thing. They can go to Lifestyle Summit 2021 Soundstimelive.com and look for Kins presentation called What’s Good Sound? One of the main arguments you make there is that good sound, we can all agree is the absence of bad sound. You share some great demos about this is what a good mix is, and this is what a bad mix is. These are good sounds, bad sounds, and you have some great photos to go along with that. But to dig into that a little bit and give people a taste of your thinking on this idea, I’d like to ask you, how do I make my client happy?
How do I know what good sound is for them? And maybe this question doesn’t have a clear answer. I think I’ve actually mentioned this in the past, IEM. Going to tell this story again. Helping a friend with assistant installed at a church. We set it up and my friend was the responsible party, set it up the way that made them happy. The client was not there, so they were not able to actually sit down with the client. The client comes in later and says, I don’t like it. So they have to send someone back out. And all that person basically does is resets the sound system. Basically just loads the standard presets for the speakers and then the client’s like, okay, I like this now. Two different people doing it two different ways. But is there any way we can predict that? How do I go about this process of figuring out what makes my client happy and keeping my job?
That particular situation must have been tough because the client wasn’t there, so you didn’t have the opportunity to bounce any ideas off them or anything. But my general way of dealing with it is start out by feeling them out in terms of what they listen to, what kind of music they listen to, what kind of concerts they’ve been to that they like the sound of. But having that conversation is key to that. And so if you didn’t have your client there and couldn’t have that conversation, that’s tough. Everybody has a somewhat different perception of what sounds good. So that’s the basic premise, knowing that is the starting point. And then you go, what are they going to want it to sound like? If you have encountered situations in the past where you make it sound good for yourself, and then somebody comes along and says, oh no, that’s no good, it’s this or it’s that, and they use all these interesting terms to describe it, maybe it’s your perception of what good is a little off. On the other hand, if you’re always getting comments that, wow, it sounds great when you do the sound, well, then you’re probably in the right neighborhood, right?
And then again, just like in any situation, you put yourself in their shoes. If you’re doing a church situation or a conservative band or what have you, and you go, well, what are they going to what are they trying to imagine? What they being conservative and they listen to certain kind of music, what they’re going and try to anticipate their needs or their wants when it comes to that. And if you can have that conversation with them, ask them what kind of music they listen to. You could even get into the sound conversation, which is tough to do because people have different terms for describing things. But that’s why I feel I’ve been successful with some of the people that I work with, is they talk in the same terms that I talk. In other words, I worked for Barry Maliau for a long time, for example, and he can say, I wanted to add more magic and I know exactly what he’s talking about. And I’ve heard stories about certain performers saying, oh, it needs to sound more green, it’s so blue now to me, I wouldn’t know where to go with that. But if you as a sales person feel that and can feel like, oh yeah, of course I know what to do when they say it sounds too green or it sounds too blue or whatever.
What does magic mean?
Magic in the case of Barry Manilow, is mostly related to a reverb and effects. So that’s what adds the magic to it in his world, in his mind, because in other words, you listen to a dry mix with no effects on it that’s dry and not so good, but add some magic, add some life to it, that’s what he considers the magic. And he has different terms for different things. That’s things that sound messy. That means that maybe it has too much reverb or it’s too the band isn’t playing very tightly. That messy can mean a few different things. But anyway, each person has their own vocabulary when it comes to sound, as we know as sound. People vocabulary of the person you’re working with is key if they happen to use the same vocabulary that you use. Like the rational acoustics chart that shows all the different dwarves, the system dwarves. And those words, the names of the dwarves like tubby and boomi and things like that are often words that people use to describe the sound. And one person can say boom mean one thing, and another person can say boomy and mean a totally different thing.
And it’s like, wow, really? So anyway, and being in touch with their vocabulary and knowing what they mean when they say a certain thing is the thing that makes for success.
Yeah, it sounds like ideally if I could sit down with them and listen to some music with them, even on the sound system that we’re going to use, if we’re talking about a perfectly ideal situation, we sit down in that room, we listen to something and I said, what is it about this that you like? And then they even point out some things and so then I have the opportunity to just ask them directly, what is good sound?
To me, what I try to do sometimes is be like the eye doctor. Do you ever go to an eye doctor and get the eye test? Is this better or is that better? Is this better? Is that better? Give them the choices of do you like this? Do you like that? Give them a little two K boost, give them a little 4K boost. This better or that better? Whatever. It works for them. And you start to get in touch with their likes and desires and then you are going to really hone it in really nicely. And if you’re doing monitors, that’s key because you really want it to sound you want their mix to sound the way they want it to sound, whether it’s in an EQ way or a balanced way, really knowing exactly what they want and being able to interpret their vocabulary is key. But it’s tough if your client isn’t there in your case, where you had it sounding one way and it sounded good to you guys, and then the client comes in and says, no, that doesn’t sound right. Where do you even start when they just say it doesn’t sound right?
They have to be a little more defined, talk about it, tell me more. Is it echoing? Is it being too loud? Is it too boomy? Is it too harsh? Is it to anything? Or do you just don’t like it and we should just start over again and throw the sound system out. There’s so many variables and so many ways to describe them. That’s what makes it very challenging. And I feel that when you find that client that you have the same vocabulary with and can relate to what they’re saying, that’s a great fit. And frankly, remember that it’s important to remember that other things happening in people’s lives can affect how it sounds. In other words, they could be just having a bad day and nothing’s gonna then nothing’s going to please them. So you turn it on and you say, sounds great, right? And they go, IEM feeling it and they’re just not feeling it because they’re having a bad day, not because it sounds bad. You could turn that on the next day after they had their cup of coffee and they had a beautiful lunch and they’re like, oh, that sounds lovely.
It could be the same exact thing. Yes, sound for you.
I know you have sorry to interrupt you, I know you have a funny story about Julio Galacia’s having a bad day related to bad sounds.
We’re in an arena in some Far East area, singapore, maybe anyway, and IEM out of the mixed position, getting the sound system together and maybe doing a. Sound check or something. And Julio walks in by the backstage door and shouts at me across the arena. He just shouts at me at the top of his lawns. I’m like, Kenny, you must help me. I have not had sex in 48 hours. I’m like, okay, I got you covered.
Good for you. That’s the vocabulary that translates to mixed decisions for you. I’m going to make you sound good.
Absolutely. To me, that means, like, plenty of reverb on his voice. Make sure his voice isn’t too harsh sounding. Make sure that everything is just right so that he can exist even though he’s not comfortable. So there’s that. Did I tell you the Paul Anka story? I’m not sure I should tell you. You might want to cut this out.
But I’ll clean it up, frankly, for TV here limits.
I don’t know why you need to.
Clean it up, because it was offensive to me and the people in the room when he said what he said. But I went, okay, you have that discussion with your new clients. So I’m a new kid. I’m 27 years old, and my other friends that are 30 something years old are already working on the show and they’re not being successful with the sound. And so I’m the new kid on the Polyka show in Las Vegas in 1983 or something, and the show was not so great. So he does what he usually does, which is go around the room and ask everybody what they did wrong and why, and he just wants to be object of the exercise is basically to not have it happen again. But he does it in the way that he was accustomed to doing it at the time, which wasn’t so friendly. So anyway, he comes to me and he said, you’re the new kid here. What did you think of the way it sounded? And I said, which I would always say at the time, mr. Anka, I don’t know what you like it to sound like. So tell me, what do you like it to sound like?
What kind of sound do you like? Do you like it bright? Do you like it dull? Do you like it bassy? How do you like the sound of sound? So he gets right up in my face and he said, by the way, he’s much shorter than me. So he had to get up on his tippy toes to say, I want to orgasm when I hear myself sing. Okay, Mr. Ankle. It’s almost as good as the Holy glaciers thing, right? But that was his first thing he ever said to me. And we went on to have a great time, many years together. But that was just my first dealing with him because I wanted to find out what he liked to sound up. And I should tell you that as crazy as that sounds, as crazy as that statement is that he’s relating singing to sex but years later, after I had been the sound guy, and then I became the production manager, and then he said, I’m going to bring Ardi, his favorite sound guy, back to do the sound. Artie was doing the sound and I swear I talked on the microphone one day and I went, oh, there it is.
I would have an orgasm if I was singing right now. I got it because I already had it. So amazing sounding. Even my voice just talking sounded like, oh my God. It sounded like so big and amazing that I felt like I was king of the world. And I was like, I get it. That’s why he wanted it to sound like that. That only took ten years or something. But anyway, the point is different people have different ways of expressing what they want. And if you can relate to what they’re saying and you can be on the same page as them in terms of their terms with sound, fantastic. That’s a successful working together environment.
That’s probably the biggest thing that making our client happy. Figuring out getting on the same page with them, the same vocabulary, syncing up with them. We also have the audience to worry about. Do you have any tips for me about making the audience happy? Is there anything that you’ve seen over the years where it’s like this kind of thing always makes people happy? I don’t know. It’s a weird question.
Here’s the thing. Certainly you don’t want to do the bad sound things. Bad sound? The first example of bad sound would be when you’ve got a band with a vocalist and you can’t hear the vocals because the band is too loud. That’s the most basic mistake a lot of people make. They’re trying to make it sound like a record and they’re trying to tuck that vocal in to the music a little bit. People don’t care if the vocal is tucked in a little bit. They don’t want to ever go. And they don’t want to ever go, what’s he saying? They don’t want to strain to hear the vocalists and they don’t want to ever be attacked by the sound system. And if they can have fun, in other words, if they can be comfortable listening to it in a perfect world, everybody in the audience would simply not even notice the sound system. It would just be so transparent that it would just be happening. It’s just part of the thing that’s happening. And especially in a corporate environment, the corporate environment, it’s rare that a producer is going to come to you and say, it doesn’t sound this way, or It doesn’t sound that way.
Occasionally in a corporate environment, they might come and say, I can’t hear that one guy, he’s not talking loud enough, or can you turn his mic up? Or that kind of thing. But man, the window of acceptability in corporate environment seems to me to be pretty great. As long as everybody in the audience can hear the people talking and hear that when they do the video playback, it gets the impact that they wanted to give. The window of acceptability, though, in corporate world, in terms of the mix, is quite great, but the coverage is key. In other words, if you have, like, cheap seats in the back where it’s like you got a strain to hear, that’s bad in corporate land, but in music, you could get away with that because it’s like I know. I bought the cheap seats. So I’m not going to hear as well as the people down on the floor or the people that are closer. But in corporate, you’ve got to make sure everybody in the entire seating area hears everything perfectly. Otherwise that corporate client is not going to be happy.
And in music, you might know the song already, and so you’re sitting at the back and it’s quiet. You’re still singing along. But in corporate, like, what is the next word they’re going to say? You don’t know unless you have the script.
So speaking of singing along, that’s one of my key things that I go for is I want those people to speak, to feel uninhibited enough to sing along. Because, like, friends of mine that do sound, they make it really quiet and IEM, like, you can’t have it that quiet. That can’t be. How are people going to sing along there? Once they start singing, they’re not going to hear the artist anymore. You’ve got to make it so that when you’re singing along, you hear the artist over the singing along. That’s my opinion, and I’ve been pretty successful with that. So maybe that’s a good opinion. But again, it’s everybody’s no, that’s a great deal. And sometimes you can’t do that because the artist just isn’t giving it to you or you don’t have a situation, typically speaking, that you can do that. You don’t have enough game before feedback or something. But whenever you can, I’d say, at least make it loud enough so that they can sing along uninhibited. Because that’s what people go to concerts for, is to sing along, even if it’s just in their head.
How do I respond to complaints? Or an audience member gives me notes and I’m in the middle of work, so I need to acknowledge them, respond, and also make it go away so that I can keep doing my job right?
Oh, I have the answer to that one. I know exactly where you’re headed with that, because that has happened plenty of times. It doesn’t happen anywhere near as much recently, like in the last, say, ten years. It used to happen frequently because the systems weren’t nearly as good as they are now. But my basic approach to that, and who knows if it’s successful or not, first, I want to be concerned. I want that person to know that I care. Then you can’t just blow them up and go, hey, go away. I’m missing here. If you do that, it’s going to get worse. They’re going to complain to management. They’re going to get their money back. Management is going to ask for your client for money back. It only gets worse. So if you’re interested in doing a good job and having your client like you, then you’re going to go to that person and you’re going to be very concerned. And even if you’re in the middle of the most strenuous and important part of the mix, give me a second. Be polite. You got to be polite there. They paid a lot of money.
They went way out of their way to make it to that event, whatever that event is. And you need to let them know full on that you’re concerned and you want to make them not concerned. You want to make them hear their complaint and know that it’s valid because even if it’s not valid, you need to let them know that it is. So anyway, the first thing I would do once I find a moment to get away from the vaders, I’d say, okay, where are you sitting and what are you hearing? Because the where are you sitting thing can be key. For example, I hate to say the number of times where I might have the front fill the speaker is not loud enough. And so people come up running up to me from the front of them from right near the stage and they say, we can’t hear it. We can’t hear it, we can hear it. They’ll say some weird thing, right? And I’ll be like, okay. So first of all, I say, okay, I’m going to fix that. And you make sure they know that you’re interested in fixing it. And then if you have the luxury of having a system tech that you can send to that area where that person’s having a problem, absolutely have that system tech follow that person to where they’re sitting.
And you have to be able to trust your system tech, of course, and then your system tech will take care of it and fix it for you. Or if you don’t have a system tech, you just have to believe that what the person is saying is correct because it is correct in their mind and it probably is true, at least to some degree. And then you make whatever corrections you think you have to make in order to achieve that. Again, more often than not, it’s going to relate to the vocal. And so if you have to adjust your whole mix about that one person’s complaint, let that person represent the whole audience and say, wow, really? Okay, the vocal is this or it’s that. It’s too simple. Well, come on, just let’s do it. Let’s address that audience member as if they have the entire audience for a second and see if I can live with that. Because, after all, the audience is the reason we’re there. They pay our bill. They’re the reason for doing these shows, and you’ve got to make them be comfortable. If I’m an audience member, I want to be treated a certain way.
If I have a complaint about my seat or the lights or the lasers or what have you, I’m going to have a comment about that or a complaint about that. I want to be treated fairly. And so I would treat the audience member that’s coming to me now as the sound operator the same way that I would want to be treated if I had a complaint.
So where are you sitting and what are you hearing? And then another one I learned from you during the workshop last year, which is a little bit different, but I think you all will work on that. And that’s more like when you’re on your way to go and do something and someone yells something to you and you say, Great, thank you. I’ll work on that. You want to have phrases ready to go instead of so you’re not flustered and you’re like, Leave me alone.
Yeah, that’s the wrong answer. You have to at least have a positive response to them so that they know they’re important. Otherwise you’re going to hear about it. A few years ago at a Barry Metal concert in England, I was the recipient of an email from a customer, an audience member, after the fact, that was complaining about the sound, and they wanted their money back, basically. And so the promoter got the email from the customer, the audience member, and then forwarded to me and said, what do you say about this? And I was like, what show were they at? I just don’t know what to do where they were at, because their complaint was, of course, the vocal wasn’t loud enough. And I was like, Vocal was definitely on top. And here’s the recording of the show. Here, I’ll give you a three minute recording of the show right off the board. That’s what came out of the speakers, IEM. Sorry. I’m really sorry. I want you to be happy. I want the sound to be comfortable for you. But here’s what was coming out of the speakers, and it sounds like the vocal is totally audible, so not sure what you were hearing, and I’m really sorry.
And you could do some more research and say, okay, what show? Where are you sitting? Specifically what we’re hearing. But you can’t go back.
And they had that in the email. They had that, but you can’t go.
Back in time to fix that. You want to make them happy?
Yeah. You just have to make them happy as you can. And you can’t call them crazy, but you can say, I’m really sorry that you felt that way, but we were doing our best at the time to make sure that you were comfortable and it’s tough. It’s really tough.
Ken speaking of people complaining, would you be willing to share with us maybe one of your biggest mistakes on a gig?
Well, okay. So when I think of mistakes, I think of interaction with artists is the first thing that comes to mind where I’ve maybe not interacted very smoothly with the artist. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty honest when it comes to dealing with people. And so a lot of times, the artists don’t want to hear the absolute honest story. They want to hear it. Sugarcoated there’s this rumor that went around about me when I was working for Angleberg and I was doing monitors for Engelbert Humperdinck. And he’s a great singer, but very fussy about his sound. And at the time, I think we were on speaker monitors. He’s probably on ear monitors these days and stuff. He’s much older these days. But the point is, the rumor was that he had come over to me, you need to spread the sound. Kenny needs to be wider. And the rumor was I got a tape measure out and said, how wide you want it? And put the tape measure on the console or something like that. And that rumor might be true. I don’t remember doing that, but there was something along those lines.
And the reason they were saying it was because I tend to be more honest with the performers, and I tend to say, you want it to be wider? All right, let me see what I can do. But that’s crazy. But that’s crazy part of that my response to them would be wrong. That would be just not the right thing to say. And I put my foot in my mouth too many times with performers doing that. But technically speaking, when I think of mistakes that I’ve done, technically the only thing that comes to mind that really stuck with me since 1980 or something, IEM. Like in Atlantic City, and I’m with a house guy at the Sands in Atlantic City, and we got a new microphones. Tryout. It’s called sure SM 85. And it’s this really beautiful sounding vocals mic, but it’s got a ton of high end, ton of must have a rise that started at just took off because it was very bright. And I was like, wow, that’s really nice and bright. And we had this singer that would play in our place frequently, so I don’t remember her name, but I said, Try this microphone with you.
And so I tried that microphone with her, and I had my DBX 160 compressor, was the only compressor we had there. And I compressed it too much to the point where after the show, somebody came over to some audience member, came over to me and said, boy, she really has a breathing problem. And I was like, oh, shoot, that was me. Because between the high end of the mic and that combined with a little bit too much compression. Every time she would breathe, it was very accentuated, and I was like, oh, shoot, that’s me, man, I messed up. I got to fix that. So less compression and roll off that high end a bit so that it’s not quite so apparent. And so that was one of those times when I went, oh, that’s not good sound, and that’s somebody from the audience is calling me out on it. But they’re not calling a good sound, they’re just saying she has a breathing issue. And I’m like, I felt bad. I felt like I really represented her incorrectly and that was bad. So that stuck with me for many years, and I was always careful about that thing ever since then.
But it can happen. You can make mistakes and have something sound not the way you want it to sound.
Ken, what makes a digital console right?
For me, coming from mixing on analog consoles for a long time, and I’m sure every other person has their feelings about that based on their history or experience with consoles. So, for example, for me, how easy it is to get around that is every digital console seems to require two or three or four button pushes to get to a certain place that I could have gotten to immediately on an analog console. And so the less button pushes, the better in most situations. In other words, in order to EQ something, in the old days, I just reached for the high end knob on whatever channel it is. Now I have to select the channel, then I have to go to that high frequency, and maybe in some consoles have to make the EQ section go to the high frequency range in order to make that effect, to make that change happen. That’s tedious. I’m going to get the console that has more knobs and more access all the time. And what one friend of mine mentioned was if those controls don’t change their function very much, that’s even that much better. In other words, if you have a knob that’s labeled gain, if it’s always Gain, then that’s great.
Static control versus dynamic.
Yeah, that can be, really. But again, everybody’s different. I see kids walk up to consoles just like they just can adapt to anything quickly. I’m not as adaptable because I’ve been doing it for a while and IEM a little older. So my tendency is to go with things that I feel comfortable with. So I went through this whole process about ten years ago trying to select the right digital console for me to mix Barry Metallos Show on after having always mixed it on an analog console. And the thing that sold me on selecting the console I selected was that it was very analog in terms of its knob configuration.
It was a VI six.
Yeah, it was the soundcraft series because those consoles had controls that made sense to me, and that was key. Now, unfortunately, I didn’t have as much capability as I needed in the long run, but in the short run, it was really capable, and the knobs were oriented in a way, and all the switches and everything in a way that I felt comfortable using it. For example, one of the things that you do on an analog console that’s really easy on an analog console is assigning VCAs. Like a PM 4000. You had eight push buttons next to every fader just to sign it. But every digital console seems to have a different way to do it, and it can be more or less tedious to do.
You don’t have anything else to do in your life besides go through manuals and figure out how all these different consoles work.
Exactly. So when I looked at these few consoles, I was like, okay, show me how you assign VCAs, because that gives me a good indication of what kind of mindset the programmers that program this console were thinking. Show me how you assign something to the different outputs, and I just want to see what that is and how that works on your console. And so when I saw digital, I was like, Are you kidding me? That is so backwards. I got to go bring up a screen that says Control groups, and then tap on, join, leave, and then I got to find the channel that I want and make it that oh, my God, really? You can’t just assign it on the channel? No, you can’t assign it to the channel. And the other thing is input patching some consoles are so much easier than others for input patching. It’s so easy on, like, say, for instance, Yamaha consoles are really easy, and once you get used to it, it’s easy on a lot of consoles. But it takes a little getting used to on some consoles because they’re rather backwards ish compared to what I’ve been accustomed to.
But by the way, when it comes to digital consoles, yama was one of the first, if not the first, digital console manufacturer. Way back in the old days, they had the DMP Seven, and they had the Promix of one, and they had this whole history of digital consoles. So I had used all those, and they have continued to use the same basic mindset in terms of how you use their consoles as they have gotten bigger and better and more capable. The Yamaha way, so to speak, is widely accepted because so many people have experienced some of their older mixers. But now the young kids coming up, they just see all these different consoles. They all have different ways to do things, and they just adapt, it seems, quickly to each console. Personally, IEM not a fan of being a jack of all trades. I’d rather focus on two or three consoles that I know how to run really well, as opposed to running ten consoles just, okay, that is just my preference.
That makes sense. You’re not running an AV company here. You’re the person in charge of making a really great mix.
That’s the idea. Yeah.
You want that one really sharp knife, not like ten dull knives. A few follow up questions here about Baron. You’ve talked about him a lot already, and you did a great interview over on the Signal Noise podcast. So shout out to them, and people should check out that episode. But I’m going to ask you a couple more things about Barry Manilow. So first I’m going to read the clip from Front of House magazine that says, in mixing this show, I have to make it sound exactly the way Barry wants it to. Says Ken Newman, front of house engineer.
Blah, blah, blah.
Artists leave the sound to the engineers. Barry is very involved in rehearsal and sound check and will sit right next to me and tell me exactly how he wants to hear something. He’s very particular about what should be heard because he put together many of the arrangements and wants the audience to feel the music the way intended to be felt. I’ve heard you talk about this a few times, and so I don’t need to hear that part of the story again. What I’m curious about is I want to know exactly how that went down. Can you remember the words? How did the conversation go? And would you be able to recount that story?
Okay, so it’s constant. So he always wants to hear what the audience is going to hear, and he doesn’t I should qualify that and say he doesn’t sing standing next to me. His vocal is left to me, and he listens to recording of the show and comments on that. But for the band to mix and what the band should sound like for a given song, he stands next to me. And it’s a standard procedure and always has been with him for forever. With every sound guy he’s ever worked with, he stands next to the sound guy and says, this isn’t right, or that isn’t right. Now, to get more particular about that, I’ll tell you a story. The first week I was working for him, back in 1992, the light bulb moment for me was when he was doing this one song, and he was standing next to me and the band was performing, and the singers are singing, and it’s sounding footage of sound. And he goes, Why are you being so cheap with the echo on the background singers? And I’m like, oh, okay, I get it. He wants more reverb on the background singers, and that’s his thing.
Reverb. More reverb on everything will make him happy. And that was the light bulb moment for me that told me that reverb is key to him being happy, and of course, the right kind of reverb for each situation. But anyway, that was one of the comments that he made to me many years ago. But these days he’ll say things like, just doesn’t have the groove that it has. And then he’ll call the musical director, are you Ron? Is it groovin on stage? And of course, Ron will say, oh, it’s groove, and it’s fantastic where we are. And he’s like, It must be Ken. Then Ken has to fix this. And then he brings Ron out to stand next to me. Also. He goes, what do you think is wrong with that? And they’ll analyze, okay, why is it not grooming? I think maybe it needs a little more guitar. Think maybe it needs a little more does the bass not clear enough? Is kicking? And they’ll analyze to analyze it to death, to make it be what he wants it to be. And then there’s other times where he just sits there and goes, wow, it sounds great.
And funny story recently was he goes, man, it sounds so great here. Why can’t I have that on stage? And I was like, that’s another story. The way he wants his vocal to sound on stage is pretty wet. And so by adding that witness to his vocal mic, everything that comes through his vocal mic gets wet. And since he doesn’t use the vocal mic very closely, lots of things come through his vocal mic. And so it just as he goes, as he describes it, it gets all messy. And so messy equals not very clear and distinct. Makes sense. And he’s very frustrated by that. And so the most recent time he came out to pronounce, he’s like, man, it sounds great out here. I just want it to sound that way on stage. So we got into a long discussion about why it sounds that way on stage and everything, but that I was like, but that’s Will. Will the greatest monitor guy going, he’s been doing this gig for ten years and nailing it. Every show is fantastic. I just know that’s between Will and you, he’ll fix that for you and he’ll come up with a solution if you want it to sound better on stage.
But I’m glad that you like it, sound how it sounds out here. Then we had another recent episode or another recent comment that he made that you could maybe glean some knowledge from is he likes to use playback with the band, so he’ll have a track that’s maybe a loop or maybe it’s a full track playing along with the band, even. At the very least, just to get the band to play a certain way, even if we don’t hear it that loudly in the audience. So the balance between the track and the live band is key. And that’s one of the things we work on pretty thoroughly. When he’s standing next to me, he goes, well, what’s happening on the track? What’s happening with the band? Let’s analyze this and let’s get the balance right between the track and. The band. And so recently we had one where let me hear it without the band for a second. Go, there you go. That’s what I want it to sound like. It’s like, just turn the band off for this song. He was like, the band, and it wasn’t like the band was doing anything wrong.
It was just because of the nature of playing along with the track gain to be a little flaming going on and there’s going to be a little lack of tightness. And he sensed that minute lack of tightness. It was only the third time the band had played the song, so maybe it was less tight than it would be after they played it a few more times. But the point is, he sensed that lack of tightness as it’s sounding again, messy, because he was like, oh, as soon as you turn the band off, it’s beautiful. It sounds like the way I want it to sound. So I was like, okay, we’ll try that now. We turned that around a few days later and we played the band only and not the track. And he’s like, oh, that’s great, because they had learned to play the song better by then. The point is that he’s very sensitive to small changes. It wasn’t like we were making major changes and it wasn’t like the band was doing anything wrong. But he’s very sensitive to small changes. Those changes will make him either very unhappy or very happy. And the changes could be something as simple as I’m not hearing what Joey’s doing.
Joey’s playing the bells. He’ll play your part. Joey and I play the part, and you need to hear that. That’s a very common thing. That’s a very common thing, because whatever that is, making it or breaking it for him, for that part of the song, that more often than not is the key to those conversations. He lets me know what those key elements are so that he gets the musical picture to the audience that he wants the audience to get, because he’s really interested in making it just so.
Peter Brandon says, what do you like to use for vocal effects?
Reverb, of course. No, but I’m a big fan of Lexicon and TC reverbs personally. And for Barry Malo, lexicon is where it’s at. It just has a certain sound to it and a vocal plate has everything he describes. So that seems to be working well. So for years on, barefoot, I used a Lexicon PCM 70. In fact, when I started on the gig, I was handed a rack of Yamaha SBX 900, SBX nine hundred S, and they sounded the way they sounded, and I was like, I don’t think they are gain to do what he’s talking about. He was talking about how great he likes the reverb to sound and stuff. So I was like, can you give me a rack of PCM 70s instead? So they swapped out my lexicon, the Yamaha for my lexicons. And I went with the PCM 70s for many years. I kept him happy in terms of the effects on the band and on the singers and on the drums. I had a 224 XL for the drums alone. That was really great. And then I went to work for Julio and I walked into the Julio situation and they said, here’s your vocal reverb.
Don’t change it from that preset. That preset is the one we want. And it was the gold plate on a 5000. And I went, wow, that reverb really does sound great. I got to try that on Barry Manilow, too. So at that point, I adopted the M 5000 on Barry Manilow instead of the PCM 70. And it was fantastic. For many years, the TC and the M and the Lexicon, I should say, seem to have the sounds that he likes, generally plates for the vocals and hauls and maybe sometimes plates for the band. But vocal reverb is key. I know Pete Brennan who was asking that question, and he does. Paul anchors for a house these days and monitors. And when I went to see him doing that show a while back, he was using a much fuller sounding reverb than IEM accustomed to using with Barry Manilow. But different artists have different preferences in terms of the sound of the reverb and echoing the return to sound the way they want it to sound is key to, and for that matter, setting the parameters so that it works the way they want it to work is key.
Being successful in terms of pleasing the artist.
So Greg McVeigh says, ask him about having to do a sound on sound bit in concert when he was touring with Barry Manilow. Do you know what he’s talking about? Is there a I know exactly what.
He’S talking about because in that book that I showed you, the Clive Young book, I think it’s called oh, shit, IEM. Sorry, I forgot the name of the Clive Young book. But Clive Young wrote a book about a whole bunch of different show performers at the time and doing sound for them. The story he wrote about Barry’s really not interested in pulling the curtain back. In other words, he believes thoroughly in The Wizard of Oz and keeping the magic for the audience. Yeah, crank it up. That’s the book. So there’s a written story of what I’m going to tell you in there. But the point is that he likes to keep it very magical for the audience. He doesn’t want the audience to know that there’s a crew or a lighting system or a sound system. It’s just the magic of Barry Manilow on stage and that magic is going to make them happy is the idea. So he was like, how can I possibly use some recorded vocals of my own voice without explaining to the audience first what I’m doing? So I’ll explain to the audience first. And I remember him calling me up on the phone about this.
He says, I want to do this bit where I explained to the audience what multi tracking is, basically. And then I will play the recording of my voice and they will get it that it’s me but recorded. And I won’t be pulling the curtain back. I won’t be exposing too much, but just enough so that it’s magical for the audience. And it was a great bit. So we designed this bit where I said, how are we going to do that? We’re we’re going to literally record you every night and then play it back and then play you back again, or how do you want to do it? I said, Well, I can do it the same every time, so why don’t we use a recording that we make at the beginning? And he says, I’ll have a tape deck there. So we set up a real to real tape deck next to his little piano. So he had a little keyboard and a tape deck. He pushes the button on the tape deck, it records him. And so the magic is that he pushes the button, it records him singing. Whatever he sings, he records it on the tape deck, and then he hits rewind.
He rewinds it and he goes, now I’m going to play that back and I’m going to sing along with it. And so he hits rewind and he hits play again. Now, when he played that time, it’s actually starting my mini disk deck in front of house, and it’s playing that recording that we made months ago. He goes, See that? And now I’m singing along with that and if I do it again, I think he did it like two times or something. He recorded and then he recorded again and he showed the audience that it could be him, but him recorded. And then he launches into this song that has like six of him, and he moves around the stage and there are six of them in different places on the stage. It was very magically cool because he’s letting the audience in on a little magic and he’s doing the magic at the same time. It was very cool. The guy is like the epitome of entertaining. He just wants to entertain the audience. So that was our little bit where we used the minidisk playback and real to reel deck with a push button on it.
I think what the push button was wired to hit play. It was like not one of the buttons on the deck itself, but it hit play on the deck as well as on my MiniDisc deck so that it looked like when he hit that play button, it started the realtoral deck, plus it started my MiniDisc deck. It played the sample. It was great. These days we would do it much differently, I’m sure, but that was the way we did it back in, whatever that was, mid 90s or so, we made it work. So it was very cool. Little bit about showing the audience with sound on sound is what he called it. But it was healthy. Tracking vocals and then playing the recording of his six vocals and him cool.
There’s another question from Peter Brendan. How do you approach mixing monitors from front of house with certain artists? And I said, any specific challenges there? And he just mentioned game structure. So I don’t know if you have anything to say about mixing monitors from front of house.
He adopted the Paul Anka set up, which has been for years, mixing monitors from front of house for Paul. And that was done a certain way back in the 80s when I worked for Paul, and it’s done a little bit differently now, but basically the same speaker configuration now that it was done back then. What artie? Who was Paul’s structure manager when I started? What Arty taught me was you basically want to give him a really good band mix on stage, just like band mix that’s going through the house system, but it’s on a separate bus, so you have control over where it appears, and then you image it upstage so it feels like it’s coming from the band. He had upstage and downstage side fills and he would say favor the band in the upstage side filled so that it sounds like it’s coming from the band even though it’s coming from the speakers. And then the vocal was the key, though. Already had this method that worked perfectly for reverb in the monitors. So Paul wants lots of reverb in his monitors on his vocal. Of course, the trick was how do we get the vocal?
You’ve done monitors from front of house, where you’re on an analog console where you don’t have extra inputs and you don’t have extra reverb units and you don’t have all the things that we have with digital consoles today. But we’ve got one reverb unit for the voice and you’ve got one input channel for the mic, and you want to send an input channel to the monitors as well as to the house. So already came up with this method that he developed, what he called the Vocal Mix channel. And that was the control that you would control the fader that you would ride in the audience, for the audience, I should say. And then the other fader, which was the vocal input channel, would go directly to the monitors and then also to the Vocal Mix channel and also to the reverb. The point is, you want to ride that reverb. You want to ride the reverb as he’s singing. It’s got to be more as the song moves on, and it’s got to be none when he’s talking. And you’ve got to have just the right amount all the time by virtue of that vocal and the reverb coming into a vocal mix channel for the house and going to the monitors directly from those two channels, the vocal and the reverb.
First of all, the send to the reverb never changed. There wasn’t any post fader. If you do monitors now, and you’re sending prefader to the monitors and you’re sending post fader to the reverb, once you go off the nominal mark, your reverb to dry ratios is off. It’s different than what you want it to be. And so by virtue of arts method, your ratio is never off. It’s always exactly what you want it to be, because you send the vocal and the reverb to the stage, you send the vocal and the reverb to the house, and all you change ever is the vocal and reverb mix, which is called the vocal mix, to the audience. And that’s the only thing you ever change, and you change the court. You’re riding the reverb level all the time, but when you tune it, when you set it up during the day, you make sure that there’s a little more reverb on the stage than there is in the house and everything’s happy. And it worked fantastically. And I’ve used that with other artists that want reverb in their monitors, and it works so great. I was like, Peter, are you doing that?
No, Peter’s not doing that. Because Peter is just working on the premise that when it’s at that mark, it’s good, and he tries to stay right at that mark. And I think that’s his premise anyway. But the point is, that’s a little more convoluted than people are willing to deal with these days. Because these days you could say you could do things like you could have two different reverb, one for the house, one for the monitors, you could send Bray off the channel however you want to do it. But anyway, the point is you could have two separate reverb, one for the house, one for the monitors, and then you could have two separate return channels for those reverbs, but then controlled by one VCA so that they when you bring it down for the house, you bring it down for the monitors. That works. But in the old days, we had one reverb and one return channel, and it was very simple. Inputs were the premium and outputs were the premium. So we had to be careful that we didn’t overdo it. But the modest for printed house is quite an art because not a lot of people do it.
But one of the things that I like to do, if I’m asked to do it like I did, like Dave Cause opened for Barry Metal for months, years ago, and I was like, okay, sure, I’ll mix moderns for front of house, mix moderates for Dave Cause for front of house. I said, how many inputs are you? 20 something. Great. Okay, so we got a PM, how many mixes, whatever it was, six mixes or six stereo mixes for their ears or something. It’s basically a small band. And I was like, sure, I can mix that from front of house as long as you’re okay with it being what I would call stagnant. No changes during the show. On a PM, put the band for the house on one layer, I put the band for the monitors on the other layer. And I took John. Legends sound guy. His name is John. Last name is escaping me right now. But anyway, John hipped me to this plan where all the monitor channels are labeled in lowercase all the front of house channels are labeled in upper case. So right away you’re on the right layer if you see the labeling of the channels.
And that has been a very helpful hint. But anyway, the point is that having your totally separate set of channels for the monitors, separate set of channels for the house go to town. The only thing that they have in common is the input trim. And so once you have the input trim set, go with it. And that has been very successful. Even if I’m doing a simple set up and I don’t have that many extra channels, I have a few extra channels. I’ll do that with the vocal input. I’ll take the lead vocal or all the vocals and put them on a separate channels for the monitors so that those channels can have whatever they want and it doesn’t affect the house and the house doesn’t affect them and have their own reverb and different things like that. So that it’s all separate because you never know what the artist is going to want and having a separate is way great. That’s the advantage of digital consoles. In the analog console days we would have never done that because it would be like what? You want to take monitors? Yeah, it’s so luxurious these days because on a PM 4000, for example, if you want to do monitors from a PM 4000, I think that when you had prefader on that, I think it was by default it was pre EQ also.
So you had just flat EQ on all the monitors. It was funny. I think it followed the high pass and then you could move in an internal jumper, you change it a bit or something, but it was just nothing like what we have now. It’s so great what we have now. So anyway, keeping it separate is key. And then using RT’s reverb method, it still works today on a digital consistent where one fader controls the return and then you use a vocal mix to the house. Works fantastic.
Jonathan Winkler says which number were you in the calendar year? A front of house guys on Anita Baker? When I joined, I was 35. The 35th monitor guy. That calendar year, it was May. She only worked on Fridays and Saturdays.
Wow, May 35, wow, that’s amazing. 35th monitor guy. The era that I worked for Anita Baker, it wasn’t that way. We might have had a couple of monitor guys. First of all, the tour was sponsored by Meyer Sound. So Myers Sound was very involved in the tour and making sure that she was happy. They made sure we had all the right Myers Sound equipment. They had my representatives, Jamie Anderson was there. He was working for meer at the time. And Mark Johnson worked for Myer at the time. And they were there at many of the shows just to make sure she was happy and just to make sure everything was going well. And they had a Meyer Sound system that she loved and she had Meyer wedges and then she had some ear monitors. It was the early days of ear monitors, kind of, but in fact, if I recall it’s, future sonic’s ears. And the stereo separation wasn’t so great on those ears. And I remember fabricating an adapter because on the transmitter and the receiver you had a mono or stereo switch. The quality in mono was so much better and the isolation separation between left and right was so much better in mono.
So we took two transmitters, both set of both the mono, two receivers set in both the mono. I made a little adapter that took the left off one receiver, the right off the other receiver to a little connector for her ear monitors. And she’s like, yeah, I don’t know, I’m not hearing the difference. Okay, we’re not going to bother with that then. But we heard the difference because the isolation was so much better. But my point of that era that we were working in was very different than when you worked for Jonathan. Sorry. But for one thing, I was the only front house guy and I quit before I got fired because I quit to go work for go work for Julio and Glacius because we were going on like a monthlong break. And I was like, well, just do the Julio gig for a little while. And then the Holy Hill Gate turned into like many months. So I said, you know what, I’m not going to go back and work with Anita. I’m just going to continue with Julio because it’s a lot more work. And so I had the opportunity to stop working for her before I was actually fired.
And I mean, don’t get me wrong, she was not 100% logical in all her comments and requests, but she was the self proclaimed crazy lady. She called herself crazy. And she knew that she was being extra sensitive to the sound. And after that I heard that she was just probably a mistake, but I heard that she went to full sale and learned as much as she could about Sound so that she could be clear in describing what she was hearing that was bothering her. I heard it got worse after that. But anyway, she’s just very sensitive to sound differences, and I’m sure you’ve heard the stories. She doesn’t want anybody changing it once it’s set. She’s like, that’s great, just leave it alone. The fact that she moves to a different place on stage and it sounds different because the house system is reflecting off the venue differently from that position on stage or whatever the difference is she’s just not willing to accept that it’s not somebody messing with her and changing some settings or something. It’s too bad because she’s her own worst enemy in that way. But she was just so sweet, I can tell you.
In fact, you know what, Jonathan, she was so sweet to me. She had every reason to fire me. I don’t know if you’ve heard this story before, but it’s one of my favorite stories about an artist and in particular her because of her reputation. She has this reputation for firing people like crazy in December of whatever year that was, 1994 or something, we’re playing at the Universal Lamp for theater for like five nights. Jamie Anderson was my SIM guy. So that tells you how cool it must have sounded, right? Because Jamie Anderson is the king of system. He queueing, right? Anyway, he was the SIM guy because we had a SIM guy. But oh, that’s what it was. The same guy was Dave Lawler. And Dave Lawler was also working for Barry Manila at the time doing monitors, and he said, I’m going to go work for Barry Manila that week, because if you should also but if you leave, she’ll really have a cow. If I leave, we can get Jamie to COVID for me. Anyway, point is that Dave Waller couldn’t make it that week, so Jamie Anderson filled in for him at the Universal Amphitheater.
We had our beautiful Meyer Rig, MSL. Fives and stuff. It sounded amazing and Jamie made sure of it. And we did what, maybe two shows, and then a review came out in the La Times, and the review was all about how bad it sounded. At the Universal Life Theater, there was a review in a major publication, the La Times. I got to find it one of these days. But anyway, I think they called her Nine Inch Nails or something like that because they said it was so loud. It was so just going on and on about how bad the sound was. I thought for sure I’m going to get fired when I go to the gig tonight because any artist in their right mind would fire their sound guy after a review like that. But I went to the gig and I got myself set up and I was ready to go. And I see that she’s down on stage just getting comfortable with the stage, and I went down there and, hey, how’s it going? I’m really sorry about that review. She’s like, oh, what? Review. I said, the one in the La Times.
She said, oh, don’t worry about it. Reviewers. These are my reviewers. And she points to the front row of seats and says, these are my reviewers and they are having the greatest time and it’s fantastic. Reviewers suck, or something like that. I was like, oh my God, that’s fantastic. Especially from her. More so than ever from her, because she was known for firing people. And so I didn’t get fired. And not only that, she kept me working after such a bad review. I was pretty appreciative of that because that was pretty crazy. And by the way, I called the reviewer and I somehow had the balls to call the reviewer and say, were you at the same concert that I was at? Because it didn’t sound bad to me.
I thought you were going to say, where were you sitting? And what did you hear?
I might have said that. For all I know. You might might have said that? But I said, what night did you go? It’s just kind of plain dumb, right? Because I was like, I went to that concert and it sounded great. And he said, Well, I just would have liked to have heard her voice more, that’s all. I was like, oh, too bad you couldn’t say that in the review because again, they want to hear the voice more. And I was trying to do that thing where I was tucking the voice into the mix and it was tucked in too much, maybe, for his taste. And so I was like, oh, jeez, that’s a real bummer, because I’m actually the guy that controlled the sound, and I’m just lucky that I didn’t get fired from your review. But I’m actually the guy that you should be yelling at, not Anita Baker. It was pretty interesting. But anyway, so she was super nice to all of us, and I think she might have started getting a little ornery towards the end of a few months of touring, but she generally didn’t fire anybody that tour for some reason.
I’m not sure why. It was interesting to her. And she was challenging to work with and always had different requests, but didn’t fire anybody like that when Jonathan worked for apparently, wow, 35 people by May. That’s insane. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about I think it was I can’t remember who it was, but a monitor guy that was a really good monitor guy. And he didn’t like her mentioning him by name, so he made a deal with her or her management or something. Every time you mention my name, that’s $100 extra on my bill. So he got a lot of extra money because of her mentioning his name. I thought that was an interesting approach.
Well, Ken, I think this is a great story to take us out on, so it’s been really great talking to you and thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live.
Thanks for having me. I always love talking to you, nathan. It’s always invigorating to hear reactions to my crazy stories. I’ll put it out there. If anybody knows any artists that are looking for a sound guy like me, there’s somebody that can deal with the cranky artists that are really particular about how they want it to sound and is going to be working for the next 510 years. I’d love to keep working for the next 510 years. And I have feeling barry manila is going to retire pretty soon. So when he retires, I’d like to hear about those other artists that I might be successful. Sure.
That sounds great. And what’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
Just probably my website. Newmanaudio.com. N-E-W-M-