Apparently this is something new to many people I’ve spoken to, and so very standard to many others. I’m sure you’ve come across a new gig wherein your first show isn’t the most ideal of situations; No rehearsal, no soundcheck, maybe a line check, throw and go. Somehow I come across that situation pretty frequently, and the solution I’ve come up with seems to work reasonably well.
Every show you mix shares elements, be it the groups you choose to use, the VCA assignments, the insert routing, or even the reverbs. So why not save the time and build your shows from previous show files?
With a new artist I’ll build the input list based on whatever former list they may have, replacing either mics with my preferred choice, or adding and removing things that I don’t feel are important to their sound, some bands really don’t need a triple mic’d guitar…
If you’re at the level wherein you’re carrying your own microphones, you’re probably using a lot of the same mics on the same instruments as you have prior. In this case, with some exceptions and variance, your gain structure is the same also. If you’re not carrying your own mics, well, you should. But if you REALLY can’t, hopefully you spec some things that EVERYONE will have, Beta 58s instead of that lovely PR35 or KSM9, SM81s instead of 414s, because although it may not be your favorite, you can consistently get them, and thus something like a universal file is much more helpful.
At this point with an input list already built, you can simply take a file from a former band, and just rearrange the inputs, to match your new input list. Now before you repatch the inputs in this file, be SURE to take a snapshot of the current gain levels. Simply take a new snapshot, with ONLY ‘Pre’ scoped for the snap. Then you can go over to the patchbay, and change the input patch to match your new list, recall that snapshot, and you should have all of your gains back again.
So now you’ve got a slew of channels that are roughly pre EQd, the gains should be roughly close, and thus hopefully compression and gating settings are reasonably close too. Obviously in the case that your new artist has inputs that your previous one didn’t, well those ones you’ll have to do on the fly, but at least it’s only a handful of channels to dial up during that first song as opposed to an entire input list.
Now the safety part of this file is that I have compressors set in all sorts of places that are on and basically in limit mode (8:1 and above), that are set above where that instrument should ever be. It IS a festival, it IS potentially different mics, it IS potentially different DIs (that’s a big one), and it IS inputs that you may never have heard yet, it’s smart to be safe and limit just in case.
Regarding the output, this is another interesting part. I never use the main LR as my actual outputs to a system. Rather I use matrices to feed the PA, a matrix for left, right, sub, fills, and often an extra pair just in case. When it comes your time to hop on the desk for your show, I hope you had already been walking the room/grounds, and listening to the other bands playing. This way you can get an idea of anything PA wise that may be funky, that is consistent between bands, meaning it’s not relative to the FOH engineer’s mix (unless it’s the same guy doing every band). You should ALSO walk up to FOH and take a look at what she’s hitting on the outputs of the desk. Some systems are setup such that 0 dB on a digital desk is plenty loud, some are setup so you’re hitting +9 dB. Be aware of the volume of the show, and where it is on the desk while those other artists are performing. When your show comes up, don’t aim to match that level, but instead build you’d show such that the mix is at unity on the output. The gain change you can do then is instead the matrix outputs. So if the artist before you was hitting +6 on the output, and it sounded like the level you wanted, you can just take your matrices to +6. This way you don’t have to change any output processing (plugins on the mains) in order to match the level that the festival is running.
Give it a shot next time, and let me know how it all goes.