It’s Stereo, But You Wouldn’t Know It

Well, this is less of a blog post than a rant. A month or two before every festival I start what is known as the advance. This involves badgering agents and promoters to provide information about what we are likely to expect at each festival. This varies in detail (and accuracy) usually producing a fairly hefty back and forth of email between our production and theirs. Recently, though, a new phrase is becoming more prevalent and with it my heart sinks… “Front of house will be to the left of the Stage right PA hang”, or similar… No longer can we expect to mix in front of the stage – no, that would make this already stressful event far too easy. In order to increase audience numbers in front of the stage we have been pushed to either side of the field, lights to one side, sound to the other.
Now even the most inexperienced engineer reading this will be thinking, “well how are you going to hear both sides of the PA? How will you balance it to the noise coming off stage?” Well strangely this worry has been filed in importance by festival production somewhere between portaloo placement and VIP parking. Last weekend it was really hard to judge the overall sound for most of the punters from my mix position, so far were we to one side. Was the other side of the PA even working? I had no idea. Compounded by no soundcheck, and a less-than-impressive sub array, the show was hard.
Afterwards the system engineer commented that it was strange that every other song the sound was a bit quieter on the remote left hand side. Why hadn’t I heard this dip? Well, the side I could hear was fine. The reason, to me anyway, was obvious. We have stereo subgroups of the keys and we alternate between two main sets as we run from song to song. One of the gains on one side had been slightly knocked, an easy fix if you could hear. I was left justified by my rant on non-central mix positions, but depressed that I was a small voice unlikely to be heard over the complaints that expecting VIP’s to walk 100m through possible mud to their pampering enclosure would be a monstrous request…

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