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Should we have our own engineer?


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Hi all


As some of you may know, I play in a UK based tribute band. We tour across the UK, mainly in small-medium (200-500 capacity) music venues and small theatres. Next year we will be doing dates at 10 O2 Academy venues in the UK and some more theatres, plus more music venues.


More often than not these venues have a house PA, sometimes its a pretty damn good one :)


Sound wise the show is a bit more than the usual guitar, bass and drums. We have 2 keyboard players, Electric-guitar, Acoustic-guitar, Guitar-synth, sound fx, bass, drums and 5 vocals. Usually occupying upwards of 24 channels on the desk.


We use our own in-ears monitoring, never use the main PA's wedges etc these days.


I've been pushing for the band to agree to always take our sound engineer with us wherever we play. He knows the music, he knows us and he's good at what he does. He knows a fair range of digital consoles etc


I would argue that it would be unusual to see a band like us tour without its own engineer. But what do you guys think? (I expect more questions, that's OK)





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If you can get paid enough to take your own engineer then it's a complete no-brainer, take him, pay him and make him an honorary (or, indeed, a full) band member. He'll do as much for the quality and consistency of your shows as any of the musos. If you're working at a high level you should be able to factor the cost into your fee. Most (but probably not all) all of those venues will have a competent house engineer who'll do a decent job (or better) but there's no substitute for knowing the show (and some of those venues will have 'sound guys' who don't have the skill set to run your sound well).
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how are you controlling the ears mixes?


personally - id rather take a monitor engineer I can trust on tour than a FOH engineer if I had to choose, especially with in ears.


Most 02's can give you mons from front of house rather than a side of stage board if they know that's what you want in time (and your high enough up the bill).


You cant beat a guy out front that knows what your after, but a monitor guy that doesn't know what your after is a hundred times worse... unless of course, you are using a personal mixing system of some sort?



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Ultimately, it's going to boil down to money. Can you negotiate a high enough fee that the cost of the engineer is non-issue? Does the benefit of a dedicated engineer add enough quality to justify the expense?


I don't think anyone on the forum is going to say that you will be better off without someone, the real question is whether the tour income can support their presence.


For the monitors v FOH question, I think that the FOH guy will definitely add more value for the punters. I've seen some touring acts who have had one engineer travelling with them, he's dialled in the monitor mixes for the band during soundcheck, then left a local guy at the monitor board and gone to FOH to mix the actual show. Unless you have loads of monitor changes needing done from song to song, this seems like a good way of doing things.

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I was going to say yes if the money is there - but it's more complicated than that. if the quality is spot on then the gigs sell better 2nd year around and the venues get bigger and so an engineer in year 1 pays for himself further down the line. I'm not sure I agree that a monitor engineer is a priority, in ears are reasonably straight forward to get right, its making sure that you can put bums on seats and that only really happens 2 or 3 years into doing the same venues IF you get it right first time around.


as it happens I dep engineer for a genesis tribute band that play the same circuit (or similar) with the same audience capacity. in their eyes they do it for the love and in all honesty money isn't my first aim either but these days I get paid reasonably for that gig and in almost every case the money is now there to pay an engineer reasonably without dipping into the bank account (i.e. out of ticket sales).


So I would say yes, a good FOH engineer brings them back and makes sure the performance is it's very best and yes that means having only a a small number of guys share FOH duty. you are right, many of the venues of that size on the circuit do provide some great PA rigs (though you will still need your own for many others) but the support you get at the venues is variable and having seen other trubutes trust the local tech to mix, some do a decent job but it's no substitute for someone that knows the material backwards. (and knows your own gear backwards)


there ARE a couple of other approaches you could take and while I stand by taking out one guy (and training a dep for him) then there are a couple of alternatives that may help control costs:


1. there is a national/international 60's band I have just started to work for - they are a much easier mix than a kate bush gig admitted - but for small 100 - 250 cap shows they are comfortable mixing themselves. the bass player (not an original member) is a decent engineer and mixes other bands when available. they are only now starting to draft me in for larger shows, where it doesn't really work mixing from the stage - but they make their only living this way and their name sells the tickets so profit comes before engineering excellence.


2. a colleague of mine had an arrangement a few years ago whereby he provided PA and/or an engineer for certain artists playing similar venues to yours but only north of Birmingham (we are both north west based) - another company provided the same service for all shows south of Birmingham. that kept travel transport and importantly hotel bills down.


so bottom line, I wouldn't go out without an engineer that knows you well and if you only have one, explore how likely it is that he will be available on every date - most guys like me who work primarily for the love and secondarily for financial reward will jump at the chance to be that alternative engineer - kate bush tribute has to be an engineers gig to covet.

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It's well worth taking your own person who knows the band and what they must have - Like you, our shows are a mix of own PA and PA supplied, and monitors are the key to us performing well.Our sound guy is actually the person I replaced nearly three years ago. and he's not a technical person, he has no idea of how desks work - but he knows the songs, and can follow the harmonies as they swap all over the place. So the venue people run the desk, and give him what he needs. We still, however get grief with some very good systems with the monitoring. We're 50% on IEMs, but I find that they reveal all sorts of problems with systems - usually mis-routed sources, or accidentally dialled in compression, and seeing a super line array, and very good mics means the assumption the IEM feed will be great is not right. The usual cause of my problems is often the house people turning up gains, without realising the very obvious change to the IEM mix - in wedges it's not as destructive. Even with Pete out front, I've occasionally had to pop out one or both of my IEMs because something suddenly goes crazy! It's usually our keyboards that do it - the first couple of songs are played quite loud, then it drops - and this is when the gain tweak often gets done - like correcting a mistake, then from song 5, it goes loud again and blam - I get a head full of nothing but keys. On some digital desks, this doesn't get noticed.


We havn't done a gig without our guy for a year now,and it's a worthwhile improvement. Costs have gone up quite a bit though. We pay him well, but for the promoters, it's an extra person to provide food and accommodation for, plus the extra travel costs. It probably cost us a job in Spain last month when the air fare and hotel were more than the promoter was willing to cover. They asked if he was strictly necessary, and we said yes - the job bottomed out. It could have been other things, but I suspect it was the 4+1 that did it. Sometimes, he needs to do very little - but on other shows, he needs to almost be a policeman. During the show, he's happy for them to run their own board, but he plays the four vocal faders. Sometimes, this is resisted, until they see what he is doing, when almost universally, they leave it to him.


For us - he is vital, and not a luxury. We'll never know what our FoH mix sounds like with fixed and forgot faders. We're a bit of a cooperative, so we pay our sound man the same as we take - he's that valuable.

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Thanks for the replies. I think you're all pretty much of the same mind as me on this.


We're very lucky actually as we don't (atm) have to pay him very much. He's a student, doing live sound at university (3rd year now), so he's pretty much happy with expenses plus a few beers. So, yeah, that makes it a no brainer imo.


I feel much more comfortable with him around as I know there is a trained set of ears out front. He's also incredibly useful when setting up as he works with the FOH engineer to get everything connected up right without the band getting involved.


@peza 2010 - We use Behringer's P16 personal monitoring system with IEMs. We each have a controller, so we control our own mixes. There is a P16i in our rack to which everything except drum mics is connected - a splitter then feeds the signals back to FOH. The only monitor mix FOH needs to provide for us is a basic drum mix which comes back to the P16i on channel 10.


The advantage of the above is that we always get the same mix wherever we play and FOH can do what the hell they like with gains etc without affecting our monitor mix. We use the system at rehearsal too, so we don't have to adjust to a different sound when gigging. The consistency that gives us has made a massive difference to our playing tbh.


Regards all

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Sorry to jump in again - but can I just check a few things, because we have something very similar half in progress.


When we provide a PA, it's via our X32 and we too use the P16s - but this goes to pot when they provide the PA. Your system uses the P16i to get the stage sources into the monitor system and presumably then is split to the PA. How do you get the mics up to line level? We considered using one of these with a small mixer, on stage that provides the P16i with audio via the inserts/directs. Each vocal mic, plus a couple from the drums and guitar bass and keys goes into our splitter, so the PA company just work as normal - and our mix is via the mixer/P16i which means consistent mixes, as you've mentioned. So far - we've made up the splits, and have the mixer, but haven't yet bought the P16i.


The idea is we can move in, add our splitters and away we go.


How does your system work in practice - because if it's working great, we'll probably buy the P16i and follow you.

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@Paulears I'll give you a detailed breakdown of the rack and how we use it. I have to say its been absolutely excellent and I'd definitely advise doing it this way as its so compatible with whatever we're presented with FOH wise.


In the rack:


1. Behringer P16i

2. Behringer 4 way active DI

3. Yamaha MG166 CX (not bought specially for this project btw)

4. Orchid Electronics 8 way passive XLR splitter


One of the issues with the P16i is that it was really intended to be connected to a console's direct outs so all the inputs are line level. We have 5 vocals and we use the Yamaha to bring those mic level signals to line level. Inputs one and two come from the Yamaha's main outs as our two main vocalists like a bit of reverb, the other 3 are just taken straight from the Inserts. We use a 6th input (and Insert) for an ambient mic.


The DI is wired up to provide balanced outs to the PA for the keys and my Mac FX.


We've also made up a 12 way 5m multicore so that the venues don't have to provide extra XLR cables. All the plugs and sockets are labelled up what they are / where they go, so its a really simple job to connect up.


Drums wise - All drums go straight to the FOH PA and we ask for a basic drum mix which comes back into the P16i (on Ch10 in our case)


So the P16i's inputs are as follows


1&2 Hammond

3&4 Piano

5 Mac SFX

6 Mono Keys

7 Electric guitar from my Line6

8 Acoustic guitar from a valve DI

9 Bass guitar from a valve DI

10 Drums (mix from FOH)

11 Ambient mic

12-16 vocals (from Yamaha inserts etc)


So that's it really. All the mics, bass guitar (via a valve DI), keys, electric guitar etc go to the rack, (either to the splitter or the racked DI) and the 12 way snake goes off to FOH. Really simple and just as quick as you'd traditionally do it. It seems to save time overall as there's no messing about setting up monitors.


An alternative to using the Yamaha is to have an ADA8000 in the rack (*) as they accept mic OR line level inputs. We only use the desk as we had it kicking around doing nothing.


Anything else you need to know?


* - If you use an ADA8000 it connects to the P16i via a digital link and one set of 8 inputs in the P16i become redundant.

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There are several ways this could be achieved of course and indeed an X32 would provide the AES50 output to run the P16m's. Fine if you're always gonna use it.


I'm not sure I'd go quite as far as 2 x ADA8000's with a P16i, although of course you could. One plus a P16 would give you 8 x mic or line level inputs AND 8 line level only inputs, probably enough for most applications.


The 2 main reasons we used the Yamaha desk was (1) We already had one we'd bought for our rehearsal space (so cost) and (2) our main 2 vocals really wanted reverb on their monitor mix.


The reverb could be done with a couple of dual channel FX units which would make a neat job with it all in a (eg) 6U rack but in our case cost was a driver. Shame really that the P16m doesn't have a reverb option (I think one of the more expensive personal monitor systems does).


The reasons this solution works so well for us, and probably would for Paul, is that you are completely independent of what FOH do, and its consistently the same regardless of venue or PA etc.


We just plug everything into rack at which point we're good to go, then give the snake to FOH so they can get on with their end.

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re house desk vs taking your own x32 (I'm talking to Paul and BigYin I guess here) - it's been my experience that all the venues of this size that have a fixed desk with their installation have been happy to remove or overlay an x32 with only one exception. a certain midlands venue insisted that they have their engineer operate the pa and use their desk - the genesis tribute band manager/singer explained that the show was intricate and pre-programmed and that they did not play anywhere without it (though they make an exception for tribfest). the venue refused to take the desk or the engineer and the band refused to book a show there. EVERY other venue has been receptive to using the band desk - though if you would also need to run your own cable for the P16M system in your cases.
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As a house guy, I *love* it when a band turns up with their own mixer/splits/IEM system and a loom to our stagebox. Quick & neat as pie to patch in, and I can go straight to mixing FOH.


Had this at the weekend with a 17 channel tribute act playing after the headliners with no soundcheck. A 1 min linecheck got me in the ballpark for gains for FOH, which I could then tweak and have sounding reasonable within 30 seconds of set start. Sheer joy!


And, as with everyone else, take your engineer if you can afford it - you know it makes sense!

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