By: Karrie Keyes
Production Day – What Production Day ✓
Two Crappy Sounding Arenas back to back ✓
Four days of Throw and Go ✓ Record Released ✓
Full Throttle into A+ Markets ✓
Flown Side Fills Not Loud Enough ✓ Flown Side Fills Killing Band ✓
Some Flown Side Fills Boxes Wired out of Polarity ✓
Nerves, Stress, and more Nerves ✓
Desire not to use Ears ✓ Sweat getting inside iems ✓
This is the recipe for full monitor meltdown and the true life story of how Bruce Springsteen ruined my life. All of these things happened in the first six shows of the tour and finally came to a head in NYC at Barclays Center. The announcement at sound check from Ed that he could not see using ears for the next twenty years. The twenty years is good news – if I can manage to not get fired, bad news for our current set up. (If you have been following this blog you know we have been chasing the sound on stage of Bruce Sprigsteen since Made in America 2012. You also are aware that I suspected there was a desire to no longer use IEMS)
The first show at Barclays is probably one of the toughest and most miserable shows of my career, there is absolutely nothing I can do to make the situation better. I somehow survive but am not unscathed. I am so wound after the show, that I know if I don’t leave the building immediately I will say something to management or the band that I will regret. It is best to walk it off. I walk back to the hotel and stop to eat (as I never had time to eat dinner, one of the problems with an Evening with Pearl Jam, it leaves very little time to eat) and am just starting to gain some distance and clarity, when I get a text message from production saying they have an envelope from our tour manager for me. Great – I am fired – Fantastic. I get back to the hotel and read the note – it is an S.O.S. I burst into tears.
Day 2 Barclays
I show up early to put together a monitor system of wedges only for Ed. Peter and Tommy want to know what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do, other than throw up a ring of wedges. I know I am the only one who can make the call and the outcome will all be on me. Sometimes my job really does suck, this is one of those times.
I am lucky in the fact that I have been given free reign with where the wedges will go and how many. This would have never happened without monitor meltdown 2013. I use to be handed slips of paper with one wedge hand drawn for vocals and no side fills as a stage plot. I decide to keep the current configuration of two Rat S Wedges on a mix, and two EAW Microwedges on a mix and expand from there. I add two more EAW Microwedges for vocals and two more Rat S wedges for rear fill. I decide to do this because, I am worried about the horn pattern interaction off four S wedges so close together.
So the configuration is
Two Rat S Wedges downstage center on a mix – Vocals Only
Two EAW Microwedges to the outside of the S wedges – Instruments Only (guitar, drums)
Two Eaw Microwedges to the outside of the Microwedges – Vocals Only
Two Rat S Wedges for Rear Fill Vocals Only.
I decide to turn off the flown side fills and for the time being rely on the one ground support side fill. Sound Check goes good, Ed says he likes it, the band is happy. The show goes good and during encore our road manager tells me that the band is raving about how good it sounds. Oh Thank Some Sound God.
Philly – The Most Miserable Day Off Ever
I wake up in the middle of a tail gate party – WTF – I am at the Holiday Inn Stadium which is literally in the parking lot of the Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles play. It is Sunday and it evidently is a home game. Lucky me. This might be the worse day off ever.
But it get worse – I get a call from my road manager and he tells me that tomorrow we are having a Springsteen guy come out, as the monitors are coming along but not quite there yet. I think that this completely unfair as I have one day to get the wedges dialed.
Fucking Fantastic. I don’t know which monitor guy is coming, but it is not Monty.
I get off the phone and sit in the middle of the tailgate in shock and then the emotions start to flow. First anger, then frustration, then more anger. Then humiliation, embarrassment, and fear. Fear that everyone will find out I am a fraud. That the band will figure out they have hired an incompetent engineer for the last 22 years. Then more anger – I Google plane flights home. How the fuck am I going to go to work tomorrow? I am positive this is running through the industry and all are laughing.
I then realize that the anger and frustration, embarrassment and humiliation are all ego. It is bruised but will heal. I think about what I told someone not that long ago about bands constantly firing their monitor engineers and when they do that they never get through the tough stuff. Well this is the tough stuff, we have been here before and we have gotten through it. I have been as loyal to the band as they have been to me, and I owe it to them to handle this professionally and help navigate them through this.
I may learn something, I may not. I may learn that there truly is no help available.
First Show Day Philadelphia –
I walk into catering to meet John Bruey (Boo), actually I met him years ago on the Vote for Change Tour, and he puts me at ease, by stating he does not want my job. He then puts me on edge, by saying something less than positive about my best friend. I let it go. He gets up to speed about what is going on and tells me it is unfair for anyone to compare what is going on out here to what happens on Springsteen. That is what I have been thinking since last year. I tell him that I am willing to work with him to come up with a solution, even if that leads to a divorce.
I find Boo to not be adversarial and really wanting to help, he listens to me and does not disregard my input. I hope I have come across like Boo, when the roles have been reversed and I have been asked to help solve monitor issues. I also am aware that he is here to help me and I hope I am conducting myself in a professional manner and not being antagonistic. I have seen other monitor engineers in my position conduct themselves in a less than ideal manner.
The first day, Boo observes what is going on and we make some adjustments to the flown side fills. We turn off the two bottom boxes that are not hitting the center of the stage and are causing the band much misery. In addition we flip the polarity on the side fills – it seems to help, bringing the sound a bit closer. Sound Check is positive and everyone says they are happy. A lot of the external stress on the band is gone as NYC is in the past and the album has gone number one. All of the reviews so far have been beyond positive and tour is starting to normalize, which makes it much easier to focus on the shows and sound. The show goes good.
Day Two – Philadelphia
The next day I give Boo free reign, and he makes some changes to the wedge configuration, moving the Microwedges to the rear fills, and the S Wedges to sides. The placement of the S wedges is key, as we now have those TAD two inch drivers on either side of Ed. The microphone rejection in relation to where these wedges are placed seems close to being ideal. We are able to get them super loud and the rest of wedges bring warmth and power. They also help to keep the volume consistent, no matter where Ed moves in the center of the stage.
With the Audix mic’s hyper-cardioid pattern, the primary rejection zones are around 150 degrees off-axis, so in combination with how Ed holds the mic, that means that the loudest vocal wedges would optimally be located almost directly to the left and right or slighlty behind him. Since the Rat S-Wedges with TAD drivers seem to offer the preferred vocal sound and reach the highest SPL levels, the placement seems to be optimum.
Here is helpful information about Microphone Rejection from Dave Rat.
Boo also time aligns the wedges to the sides. I have known engineers that do this and engineers that don’t, I have always had issues with the sound of it, so never have. It was also one of the first questions I asked Monty last year, and he was not time aligning his sides. Boo rings out the wedges and I feel they are low mid heavy, but let it be, I only ask that the low mids around 160-200 hz. get cleaned up, because they are going to build up during the show. sound check once again is positive and we have another successful show.
Boo is going home after this show and I feel stressed that I have to pick up the ball and run with it. It was pretty awesome having someone to work with. I also do not realize until later how much of my built up stress, anxiety, and frustration I was able to unload on Boo, it was like monitor engineer therapy. Being able to talk to someone that speaks my language, not FOH, back-line, monitor tech, or musician languages, but monitor language.
Day 3 after Monitor Meltdown
I am on my own – the band does not sound check – WTF? They really are trying to kill me. I don’t really have a reference to what the center of the stage is supposed to sound like anymore. I leave it as is. I can always blame it on that Springsteen guy. (kidding, but I have to admit Boo has taken some pressure off me).
We also discover that two or four (can no longer remember) of the Vertec boxes are wired out of polarity, Kevin McKenzie discovers this as we are trying to set the time alignment. If you are in the center of the stage you cannot hear it, but as soon as you step out of the ring of wedges you can. It is clear as a bell. I should have noticed this – but I ring out in the center and do not walk the stage with the vocal mic as everyone else in the band takes the lead vocal in their ear mixes. Big Mistake on my part. Big mistake that Peter and I did not polarity check them. We did polarity check all the Rat wedges and boxes, but did not get the Vertec (which was sub hired by Rat) until the day before we loaded the truck. This will never happen again.
I wonder out loud How many monitor engineers have been fired because their rig is out of polarity? I guess it is more than several.
The show and the rest of the tour goes pretty good and I don’t have monitor complaints and it seems like we are in a groove. I still struggle daily with the sound of the time alignment and wonder if it is helping or hurting.
Boo will be coming back for the second leg and we are going to try some different wedges. I keep my opinions and biases out of the mix and let him determine what we will try out. We finish Voodoo Fest and we are on break for two weeks – I am off on a road trip of Mississippi and Alabama to visit Civil Rights Landmarks and take in some Blues. It is much needed.
Leg 2 of Lighting Bolt Fall 2013 Tour – Dallas
Oh Hey – We have a production day and a chance for the Ed to demo different wedges.
Boo has selected three different wedges.
The Solotech Custom AA wedges – Springsteen’s set up
and Meyer 212a
We of course start with the set up Springsteen has and I secretly hope this will solve all of my problems until the end of time. We keep the Microwedges for the instrument mix and the S wedges for rears. No luck – they don’t get loud enough – kinda what I thought. They do however, break the illusion of what Bruce has is the best and we won’t have to work under that anymore.
The next day we put up the Meyer wedges, downstage center and on the sides, with the Microwedges for instruments and S wedges for rears. Ed is happier at sound check and we go with it.
The show does not go well, the Meyer wedges are not loud enough and not getting any louder. During sound check I was afraid that the high end was going to mush out in the middle of the show and it appears that this happening. Ed keeps moving back to the rear fills and by the end of the show is standing near the stage right rear fill and not moving. This is less than ideal. I talk with our road manager at the end of the show and he tells me that I am the monitor engineer and to make the call to put the S wedges back up front. Boo feels that the show did not go well either.
The next day – I make the call to go with Meyer downstage center, Microwedges on the outside, Rat S wedges on the sides and rears. We ring out the wedges again and get them loud and fairly stable, the high end in the Meyer wedges is squirrely. I suggest that we turn the horns down as nothing is really keeping up with the TAD drivers, oh wait they are self powered and we can’t. I bite my tongue – EQ will take care of that. We EQ the high end out. ( I wonder to myself what happens to these self powered wedges when you are playing and it is pissing down rain).
This appears to be the magic combination – the S wedges are screaming loud and stable, the 12” drivers in the Meyer’s are filling in some warmth, and the side fills are locking it all into place. We are no longer time aligning the side fills and all boxes are in polarity. The ear has been retired. Things continue to get better throughout the tour and I get some much needed confidence back when Boo leaves.
We have just finished Big Day Out in Australia and the set up continued to work even with less than optimum weather conditions. We will see how Europe 2014 goes. I don’t know if Boo will be joining us on the European tour or not – that depends on what that energizer bunny Springsteen does, but I feel that working together we can continue to make some changes to push this set up even further.
It has been a long journey from Made in America – One that I would like to think has made me a stronger and better engineer. We have been able to work through the tough times and come out better on the other side.
As always to be continued at a later date.
Oh yeah the final set up. We did keep the baffling which continues to work better than we ever thought.