“Crest makes good toothpaste.”
That was the first thing I heard over the mics when I walked into the theatre on Saturday. Dean was nice enough to let me crash the sound check for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and I had no idea what to expect. My only experience with setting up a band was in high school, when we jammed cables into outlets and prayed we didn’t set the stage on fire.
However at CCA, things are a little more professional than that. Before the band even got on stage to make sure they sounded right, our sound guys did some run through’s, making sure all the mics were working and the monitors (speakers on stage) were hooked up right. This is a video from the main sound desk that shows the guys making sure the drum kit sounds right. Our sound guys needed to make sure that it was loud enough so that the audience could hear the right sounds, but not too loud that it sounded like a bunch of random banging, and the levels on the audio metering scales told them if they were right on the money, or needed to adjust.
Another thing I learned was that for many of the performances here, and especially those with music, there are actually two soundboards. There’s the main one in the theatre that Dean works, and then there’s one in the wings that Steve manages. Dean’s job is to make sure that the audience hears the music right, and Steve does the same, but for each of the musicians on stage. This clip shows just that. Some of the techs were walking around stage making sure everyone was hearing what they needed to hear to perform, and Steve was adjusting on the go.
See how some of the faders (sliding controls) seem to move on their own? They don’t. I found out that Steve can program different channels to have different frequencies (more bass, treble, etc) and then set that channel with those specifications. If he needs more channels, he can move on to a different one and do the same thing. The movement happens when he switches between channels and the soundboard adjusts to the frequencies he set.
Just think of it this way. I love watching Real Housewives of NYC (no shame), but my Bravo channel has really bad sound quality, so I always have to turn up my TV’s volume. When I set my DVR to record the newest episode, I adjust the sound so my TV’s volume automatically goes higher to record that particular show, but will go lower for the next show I record on a different channel.
The actual soundcheck with the band on stage took 20 minutes at most, because everything went so well during the set up. I was glad because I got to meet more of the sound and lighting crew, and they’re a blast to hang out with.
If there are any questions that you had that I didn’t answer, please let me know! Dean said he doesn’t mind me asking questions, so I’m going to put that to the test. In the mean time, here are some photos I snagged during the soundcheck. I went through two cameras before I got any pictures that would work in some way, shape or form, so if they’re a tad grainy that’s why.
But you can call him Dean.
Dean has been the sound guru at Chandler Center for the Arts for the last 15 years, but he started out in a much different place.
“I went to school to be a studio engineer, moved to Phoenix to find work and kind of fell into live sound,” he said, adding that it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with it. He got his start by mixing bands at a local blues bar or $20 and the occasional sandwich (which is also how I got my start in journalism/PR/social media, by the way) and eventually landed here.
“Working in a studio, you put in long hours, and with live, it’s always something different. And my favorite part of working here (CCA) is there are all kinds of events, unlike other venues,” he said.
‘”I like the variety, there’s desk work, running the stage, maintenance and repair, so my days are broken up and keeps the job from getting too arduous.”
The hardest part of his job, though, was getting started.
“Sometimes when you first start, you feel like you’re getting snubbed, but if you stay dedicated, you’ll find something,” he said. His advice to sound techs trying to break into the world?
“Perservere and stay dedicated. Go to tiny places that don’t really have a sound guy, or help out a friend’s band by mixing sound,” he said, because a gig that can only pay for your gas and maybe your dinner could be what opens the door for your next job.
If you would like to see him in action, he’s going to be doing sound demos April 27 and 28, so come down and say hi!
If a performance looks great, but no one in the audience can hear anything, it can very quickly lead to a riot. Which is why we need Dean (who you’ll meet later) and a soundboard.
Call it what you will, audio mixer, mixing console or mixing desk. This vital and giant piece of equpiment makes sure that any sound coming out of the speakers in CCA sounds like it supposed to. It also helps our sound techs know which microphones will pick up what sounds, and when they should come on or go silent. When you have multiple microphones, you have to make sure that no one will dominate the others, so you can hear the singer just as easily as the rest of the band. When a mic is not doing it’s job properly, the who performance is off. Sometime during April Dean may let me sit in on a sound check so you can see him and the board in action.
Seriously though, this thing is a beast. I would have gotten in the photo to show how big it is compared to a person, but being in a giant empty and semi-dark theatre is down right creepy. I snapped my two pictures and booked it out of there.
Yes I’m a giant scaredy cat. No shame.