By: Kerrie Mondy originally posted 3/14/14
I had a coworker tell me one time that being an audio engineer is like being a duck – you look calm and peaceful on the surface, but underneath, you’re paddling like crazy. I’ve thought of that little nugget more than once during this process of getting the audio for RENT off the ground. And it’s actually comforting to know, really, when you have Indian music in your keyboard feed, channels that don’t output, dying mic packs, skipping CD players and “now-you-hear-me, now-you-don’t” monitor cabinets that this IS the gig. People have been doing it with crappier gear, smaller budgets, and in pricklier situations longer than you’ve been alive. And the shows have gone on. So we’ve kept on paddling, and the result so far is a show that isn’t suffering one bit for all the trouble, and I’m extremely proud of that.
The weird thing is that all the complicated things I was really hand-wringing about have turned out fine, and the things that were supposed to be easy have been the biggest pains. The pit continues to be a source of frustration. Here’s the set-up – we have a keyboard player with an amp, a bassist with an amps, 2 guitar players with amps, a drummer, and two monitor cabinets in a space that’s about 10 feet long and 4-5 feet deep, semi-enclosed on 3 sides, and underneath a low overhang. It’s total spaghetti in there, and stuff is on top of stuff on top of stuff, so just finding a channel on the snake can be a difficult job (last time I checked, the snake was UNDER one of the guitar amps). I rented gear sufficient to take direct lines from the keys and guitars, get the kit mic’d with an overhead and kick drum mic, and a few extra SM57s. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, we’d be putting into the house from the band, but I wanted to have it in case we needed it.
We’ve had a lot of problems with the keyboard feed, including my personal favorite, getting Indian music through his line. That was a new one for me! But come to find out, it’s not that unusual. It could be a variety of interference issues, but in our case it seems likely that we have some faulty circuitry in the instrument itself. We also found out early on that our drummer needed keyboard as well as vocal in his wedge, but I don’t have a way to send him a separate feed. And we have a gremlin of some sort in the channel for the bass – I can see the signal at the board, and it appears to be appropriate for what/when he’s playing, but I get no audio – not soloed, not to the masters or any buses, NOTHING. So to work I went.
I started with the monitor issue, because it was directly impacting the performance of the musicians. Every cabinet we’re using in the show is a QSC K-Series – we’ve got 2 K8s for the centers, 2 K12s for the L/R, and two K12s in the pit for monitors. Overall, I dig them in the space, mainly because they have a few bacon-saving features for the oft-under-duress engineer. One of them is that they have two independent lines in that can take mic or line inputs (and use either end of the xlr cable or 1/4”), so I decided to take a line out of the keyboard amp and go to input B on the drum wedge. Which turned out to be the right idea, but execution was a failure on first tries. Either the 1/4” jack on the cabinet is bad, or my cables are (which I would believe – they all look suspect enough to get picked out of a lineup). And of course, what do I have lots of? 1/4” cable! And what do I have none of? XLR! So I’m thinking about this, and about my keyboard feed, which I’m getting via the amp on – you guessed it – 1/4” cable. So I decided by best option was to pull the drum mics and harvest them for the xlr. Kind of a bummer, but I wasn’t using them in the show much at all. I also unpatched my backup receiver and got a third length. So I ended up going from the amp to an extra DI box I had, and out from there to the xlr input B on the wedge. Success! And with the other two lengths, I took left/right direct out from the keyboard itself, and that worked like a charm. I had really wanted to keep my gear out of line as much as possible with the musicians’ gear, but this is working better for everyone. And just to prove they don’t completely hate me, the audio gods saw fit to allow me to find one xlr cable buried in the booth, which I used to repatch my backup mic.
The bass channel issue, I’m lost on. I’ve come a long way in my ability to plan for a show, and use what I have to fix problems when they come up. But sometimes I run across issues that make me feel my inexperience very acutely, and this is definitely one of them. I’m going to try to repatch him in one of the drum channels, since I know they work. Beyond that, I’m not sure what to do.
My cd player, which is tasked with playing about 12 cues and 2 songs, crapped out on me during one of those songs in Saturday’s show. Thankfully, I’ve been snakebitten enough by this equipment that I had a backup going on our stage manager’s computer and was able to switch over. There was a bit of a delay and it threw the actors, but they were able to recover and finish the song. So the cd player is dead to me now. I’ll be using either the computer or my Tascam recorder from playback from this point on, with the other as the backup for it. According to my gear guy, the cd player is brand new. :/
So gear on this show has been a bitch. There’s no sugar-coating that fact. But we’ve been dealing with them. The shows have been going great. And the best part? Despite all of it, no one’s freaked out. There has been not one temper tantrum, not one “off with her head”, not one bit of drama. Just ducks, on a calm lake, paddling like hell.