We’ve finally arrived at PA class, where we are shown how a complete PA system is built and, in practice, routed and controlled. I know the drill by now by doing internships and voluntary work, but it’s nice to stand still with every step and go through possible problems or issues. I get off on analyzing these things to the very act of connecting a cable, so all this is just plain masturbation for me. Don’t tell the others.
Speaking of which though, I get the feeling we’ve all grown as a group, as well. Especially the other eight I work with the most, I’m starting to get along rather well with. We joke and laugh all along the way and even I have learned to communicate in a way that doesn’t come over as demeaning when I know the answer and someone else doesn’t.
I’ve got the technical part down to a fucking art. I can tell you the complete signal flow of both light and sound, and have shown that I can improvise different and needlessly complicated ways to achieve the same results, which, to me, is really what it’s all about. And yes, I know what all the buttons do.
When it comes down to the finer, subtle skills that makes a technician a good one however, is where I have a lot to learn. Stuff like equalizing and the relative volume of each instrument is still a bit of a mystery to me. Usually I can’t even tell you if it sounds “off” or not, but if you tell me I can usually figure out why soon enough.
So far I have often been working together with someone who’s got the opposite problem, and we make a pretty good team. We might not always agree on how it’s supposed to sound, but generally I let him take care of that and I just make sure everything works.
So yes, it’s going well, thanks for asking. I’m having a blast facing new challenges and as far as I’m concerned, this can keep on going for a few more years. The only setback is the fact that I’m trapped in this mentally decelerated country but it’s only so big, right? I’m bound to cross the border at some point.
That and getting up early. Still not used to that.
When deciding to give it a shot and try to join the stage technician classes, I knew I was going to have to make some sacrifices. And one that I knew I was underestimating, but still did, was to give up my stress-free life.
Last night I experienced a whole lot more stress than I bargained for. My classmate/colleague/pal had to work for a radio show and wasn’t going to be able to make it in time, so he called me asking if I was willing to fill in for him the first few hours. Naturally, I agreed; I’m not going to skip on an opportunity like that. What I didn’t realize at the time, is that we were going to be thrown in a studio with little to no explanation at all, and be expected to record, mix and send through an impeccable sound. We were able to do some exploration the day before, so at least I knew where everything was.
The following might be a little technical to your tastes. I’ll include a quick dictionary at the bottom. If you get bored, I suggest you just skip to the end result.
Before getting there, I got a message that we had forgotten to test the link from our control room1 to the broadcasting studio, and we were supposed to do so before anything. So upon arriving, I asked for someone to show me how to do that because frankly, I had no clue. I knew everything I was supposed to be working with but after staring at the broadcasting equipment for twenty minutes, I gave up. A woman came and started rambling as if just “freshening up” something I had known for ages.
Now picture someone explaining you how to perform brain surgery, rambling it off like it’s the most common thing in the world and then going “Now you. And oh, the whole city will be watching you.” That’s pretty much how I felt. But then she spoke the magical word “PFL2” and I help up my hand. “Hold it. That’s all I need to know, thank you.” She went quiet and blinked, not knowing what triggered that reaction. “Well you should know this better than I do, right? You’re the technician here.”
I grinned. “Right.” Inwardly begging God for a quick death.
So now that I knew how to check it, I arrived at the next problem: It didn’t work. Nothing worked. Whatever I did in the control room, didn’t help. I ended up sending the left channel3 to the broadcasting room and the right to my monitors4, and absolutely certain that I was indeed sending out a signal, just started chopping up the cables and by-passing patch bays5 until 45 minutes later, the bitch worked.
Three vocal microphones, two guitar lines, and two laptop channels. We got a lucky break there: that’s not much at all. What also seemed godsent at first was that one artist was a studio technician himself, and we let him work with us tuning everything.
Looking back, that was a big mistake. The very first lesson that we had in the beginning of the year was this:
1. There are no rules.
2. Except for the rules.
3. The artist is ignorant.
4. The audience is ignorant.
So we should have known better. This guy started tweaking his own monitor feed long before our gain6 was set. We only later noticed (amateurs) that the equalizing was completely set to zero, nearly killing the signal altogether. As a result, we had to start over completely 3-4 times, wasting time like we had days of it. When the artists were called into the broadcasting studio for an interview before the live act, our own balance was way off. We just sat there, looking at each other, going “We’re fucked, man.”
In the thirty seconds of commercials in between we could make a few more adjustments, and when the whole thing suddenly started (thanks for warning us, guys), it sounded something like this.
Yes, the voice is too quiet the first few songs and the bass guitar lacks body, but fuck you, it worked. I was so damn relieved about that, that it hardly even occurred to me to go and continue tweaking the signals. Which, as I stated before, is where I lack as a technician.
1 Control Room: The room in which the technician sits, separated from the playing artists and in this case, from the broadcasting studio.
2 PFL Pre-Fader Listen: A button that allows you to check the incoming signal and its strength.
3 Left and Right Channel: Stereo sound, like the music in your headphones, actually consists of two separate signals, the left and the right.
4 Control Room Monitors: Speakers that allow you to hear what you’re doing. After all, unlike live music on stage, you otherwise wouldn’t be able to hear what signal you’re sending through.
5 Patch Bay: A device where all the others are connected to, so you can easily connect one device to the other without needing to go and crawl behind them every time.
6 Gain: Amplification of the signal as it enters the mixing desk, so that you can manipulate it without having to amplify the resulting background noise later. Must absolutely be set correctly before anything.