Welcome to another “tech talk,” where we sit down with one of the industry experts we have here at HARMAN and discuss solutions to common AV technology problems. Today we are talking with Pete Stauber, a Technical Support Engineer out of HARMAN Professional Solutions’ Richardson, Texas office. Pete has been a sound engineer for many years, working for Showco for a long time before serving as Willie Nelson’s full-time monitor engineer for 9 years. In 1987, Pete left the road and joined a local sound company, where he worked until September of 2000, when he joined the tech support team at AMX. Pete still works as a “weekend warrior,” running sound for a variety of large local events, including a number of major festivals. He also runs sound for any large events held in HARMAN’s Richardson office.
I spoke with Pete specifically on the subject of festivals, given his expertise in that area. One thing I knew from talking with Pete is that festival sound can be a tricky issue. There are many acts preforming in a limited amount of time, and they all have their own sound requirements and sometimes even their own sound engineers. I asked Pete for some tips on how to setup a festival audio system to make it easier to switch between sets and even bring in other people to use the board without making things confusing.
[SKD]: I know that doing festivals can be hard, because quickly transitioning from one act to the next can be difficult. Why does it take so long and how do you setup the system to make it go faster?
[PS]: Years ago, we used to try to re-patch and setup for every act to match their plot channel-to-channel. Set changes could take an hour, and the crowd would be getting real restless while we were re-patching. And then you’d go check it and some things wouldn’t work because you patched something wrong or something. It took a long time and people got mad. But back maybe 20 years ago, it started becoming acceptable to use a generic setup. At first, a lot of your bands wouldn’t go for it. They would be like, “I got to have it my way. Patch for me.” But then, everyone started realizing that just takes too long. There can be too many problems and issues some times in a big festival situation, so we came up with just having a good generic setup that has enough inputs already patched and ready to go for about any situation. You’d have your standard festival patch.
[SKD]: So how have bands adapted to this new approach? Do they come in expecting this?
Now, a lot of times bands will come in and they might have their stage laid out a certain way, but then usually you put them into your festival patch. Lately, a lot of bands will carry their own in-ear monitor system (IEM), and it will be laid out a certain way. They’ll give us tails from that and we’ll patch it to the festival patch. What that also does for the house guy is, if you have the 80th band in a week walk out there, the kick drum is probably going to have a pretty good sound on it. The pre-amps are going to match up pretty close. If you go from scratch each time, the first song or two is usually a nightmare.
But with a festival patch that is used throughout the year (or years), you’re going to find that everything is already kind of set, letting you work off a basic scratch setup. So it’s going to make the band sound a lot better a lot quicker, because they don’t have to pull everything up from scratch each time. A vocal mic is close to other vocal mics. You already have a compressor set for them, you already have the gain maybe set for your PA and then they come and just tweak them out a little bit. When you would go and zero out the board for every band, you get hour set changes. Crowd upset. People throwing things. And the first couple songs sound horrible.
[SKD]: You talked about having a standard patch, but obviously, you were originally patching on analog boards. I imagine digital boards really help with making that easier.
[PS]: Yes, it does make it a lot easier. A lot of times a headliner will come in and insist you patch it the way they want it—one-to-one. But a good amount of times the headliners or the bands that have been around for a while will have a “show on a stick” for a lot of boards that are out there. So, they’ll come with a stick, put their stick in and then you go ahead and patch them for their patch instead of the festival patch. But with a push of a button, you’re right back to the festival patch again. So definitely, the digital boards have made festivals and patching a whole lot easier.
[SKD]: Going back to touring. These bands that have their own IEMs. How does that work?
[PS]: The acts will usually have racks with their IEM receivers already mounted and set and their wireless frequencies already set, so in a festival we just have to make sure when you’re not up, you turn yours off, so that way we don’t have to work with a lot of intermingling frequencies. These days a lot of what we’re dealing with at festivals is “throw and go,” where you’re not sound checking the day before for the whole thing. The band shows up 30 minutes before, plays, and then gets out of there to play another show that night. That way they can come in and everything is the same in their ears, and they just give you a sub-snake to go out to the house.
[SKD]: So what does a generic patch for a festival actually look like?
[PS]: I have my normal festival patch that I can share, and it is a 32-channel patch that works with most boards. You could obviously add more if you had more channels, but 32 is enough to have plenty vocal mics, instrument mics, acoustic DIs and drums. That way you can just throw it up and go. Just move mics around. And you can do set changes in 5 minutes if you need. And the crowd doesn’t get restless that way. And by using the same patch, there is a lot less chance of something going wrong and more likely that things will sound great on the first song.
Pete’s Generic Patch List
In addition to his weekend work with the AV company he works with, Pete also runs sound and video (in Pete’s word “doing about everything”) at a small local church. While he still does some traveling for regional festivals and events, he mostly likes to stay local so he can spend time with his wife and three kids.
I want to give a big “thank you” to Pete for taking the time to share some of his wisdom with us about running festival sound. Getting a single act up and running is difficult enough, but transitioning between that many acts is clearly very complicated. I think Pete gave some good info on how a generic audio setup can make it easier.
Do you have any tips on running festival audio? Let us know in the comments.