How Two Monitor Engineers Approach Festival Season
By: Karrie Keyes
Head Monitor Engineer for Coachella
George Squiers has been Rat Sound’s head monitor engineer for Coachella for the last ten years. George has worked in the industry for over 24 years and has mixed monitors for The Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM, Limp Bizkit, and recently American Idol. In addition he works for Rat Sound, Delicate, and ATK.
George is the head monitor engineer for Coachella which entails a bit of mixing and teching, and acts a liaison for Rat Sound and the artists playing Coachella. He has found that his experience as a monitor engineer overall has helped him to understand his position at Coachella and does not find it difficult to act as both engineer and tech. George explains “ I know what I expect in a tech so it enables me to know how to be a tech”. Touring as a monitor engineer has given me “the benefits to experience both sides when working a festival or visiting a festival. It gives you a strong and realistic perspective and expectation”.
What do you see as the most important thing to make the band engineers happy?
A smile!!! Changes people’s day.
What do you feel is the most important thing you can offer the band engineers?
Competence, knowledge of the system, helpfulness and confidence. You have to be available, and to pay attention. You have to do all this with tact and a smile. Act like you actually want to be there. Crack some jokes. Grab him or her a drink.
Do most of the acts have their own monitor engineer?
Most do have engineers.
Do you find yourself mixing for any of the acts?
Usually the first couple of acts do not have engineers and we find ourselves mixing for them.
What is the hardest thing about mixing monitors in this environment?
Festival scenarios are difficult because it’s very fast paced. There is a very large picture to keep in mind. You get in you and get out. You try to keep the schedule so you don’t intrude on other bands time. Everyone has to play nice and be considerate of each other. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing.
Tips or tricks to dialing in monitor mixes on the fly?
You are either fast or you are not. It takes time and practice to become fast. The biggest piece of advice I can give is get it close not perfect. It’s a festival. Get it so your band can play together and then fine tune while they are out there.
How many of the acts bring in their own FOH and Monitor boards?
Usually around six I guess.
How many bring their own monitor systems?
Maybe, four or five bring in full systems with wedges and side fills. Its different now with the in ear revolution. It’s almost like there isn’t a monitor system for some of these bands. Just a console and an in ear rack. This enables even the smallest bands to carry their own system. So we usually have a few of them as well.
If the system the band brings in – is not working properly? How do you assist or offer to help? Has this ever happened?
Always help!!! That’s what we do. Happens more than you think. Many times I’ve come to the aid of visiting engineers and their system. The festival has to keep working. We don’t sit around and watch people fail. First we offer our assistance tactfully. We remind them that we are here to help and we need you to keep this machine moving. Then we offer help and solutions. We get involved in the troubleshooting and even offer our gear if necessary to facilitate a solution.
What do you feel makes Coachella special? Why do you keep coming back year after year to work it?
It’s a job!! It’s also a good job. It is run and is staffed well. It is a challenging festival of large proportions.There is a big picture that most of us aren’t even aware of. Its nice to be a part of a production of this type. Everyone brings their best to the table. You have to in order to survive. There is very little room for error. You find yourself surrounded by some of the best in game and many friends.
Christina Moon Independent Monitor Engineer
Christina Moon is an independent monitor engineer and has worked in the industry for over 15 years. She is the monitor engineer for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Death Cab for Cutie, and is currently working with AFI and Interpol. She has worked at Coachella with several of her bands.
She has just finished a tour with AFI and hit venues ranging from clubs to the main stage at festivals. It has been important for AFI’s crew to be able to expand or contract their stage set up. AFI is all on in ears and Rat Sound provided her with a Profile, Sennheiser G3’s, and a Big Ben World Clock for the tour. She is also providing playback for certain songs and it has been her first time working with Ableton.
Christina Moon on Coachella
Going into Coachella – What did you do to prepare for it?
This year, extra sunscreen! I’ve never played that early in the day, WOW! Otherwise, I can’t say that I do anything different, it’s just another show. RAT is always so organized on the main stage and I trust the people up there, so I’m not too worried. However; bands are usually a little more nervous, so extra cheerleading needs to happen.
If you are not carrying production – how would you approach your gig at Coachella?
RAT provided a Profile for me and we don’t use wedges, so I load my last show and hope that back line can get everything as close to what it sounded like at the last show as possible. That can be hard when your gear is getting shipped in from South America. Luckily, on the main stage you do a line check before you roll out on deck, so you can focus a little more on tone during the second line check.
You have been to Coachella a few times – How has it been different for you – with the different acts?
Coachella tends to happen at the beginning of a tour cycle, so there is a lot more pressure. Even if it’s a band I’ve worked with before, you’re trying to put on a massive show with maybe a week of rehearsals, a small club gig, then the main stage at Coachella. When this happens I don’t know if anyone feels ready. Band or crew. It’s a nail biter. Bands sometimes feel like that festival can set the tone for the rest of their year. Not true of course. Luckily this year I had four months to be ready.
You have done the Festival circuit – How does Coachella rank in terms of Festival organization, production, sound crew, etc.
I think Coachella is in my top three of festivals. Organization and production is great, very few surprises. Sound crew is amazing, they can make or break your day when you’re not self contained. Nice grounds, good catering,and great people watching.
What do believe to be the most important skill set for festivals?
I believe the most important skill sets would be organization and being able to find your zen place. Something is going to go wrong and you need to be ready for it without looking like a crazy person. Sometimes crazy happens though.
Do you like doing festivals? What is different about festivals vs your own gig?
I personally would rather not do festivals. It is nice to see all of your friends, but it’s hard to let go of the control over your day. Where you are in the lineup has a lot to do with that. If it’s your own show then it’s up to you to make it happen and that’s how I like it. I don’t like feeling like I’m at the mercy of someone else having to get their job right in order for me to do mine. If you’re headlining, you’re more than likely carrying gear and you can get a lot of that control back, but it’s still not your show.
Your day is a bit more than load in, show, and drinking beer. What is a typical day like?
My day starts by arriving on site and meeting local production. Letting them know what I’ll be bringing in and what I’ll be needing of them. Finding RF frequencies is a good chunk of the morning. A few festivals will have a coordinator, but it’s rarer than you’d think. So you need to talk to the engineers around you and hope to share anything good that they’ve found. You hope for a sound check, but that is not likely. It’s more likely that you’ll get a line check, which is great because at least you’ll know everything is patched right and going where it’s supposed to.
Then you sit around all day. Talk a lot and eat a lot.
A half hour set change will be a lot more hectic without a line check earlier in the day, but it happens. Sometimes I’ll have to trust that if FOH has it clean, I have it clean. I’m busy checking wedges/ears, so there’s really not time to do both. It’s go time before you’re ready for it to be. Then you hope for the best. Sometimes everything is great and sometimes you have to triage the stage and make it work on the fly. That’s what I’ve always loved about live sound though. I’m never bored. Then it’s over, load out and beer with friends.
Do you like the two weekend format? Have you found it changes the dynamic from weekend one to weekend two?
I do like the two weekend format. I feel like weekend two can be a redemption day. This year for example our gear was shipped from South America and straight to Coachella. That can be a rough ride for the gear and without a sound check, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. We had some technical difficulties, but it’s one of those things that I think few people notice. The crew was happy to have the opportunity for a redo though.