My mom used to say, “Never assume anything.” This is never truer than with audio production. I’ve made many a costly mistake because of an assumption. I made one just last wee … um, never mind I said that.
I’d normally jump in with a story, but today, I’m getting right to the details!
The Costly Audio Production Assumptions:
1. Assume the last sound tech had it right.
Unless the band and stage setup changed between the last service and the current service, “most” everything should be the same. Same musicians, same instruments, same channel assignments, same gain settings, etc. A good audio tech knows that even with the same band and instruments, EQ work will vary week-to-week, and in many cases, from song to song.
The problem occurs when the assumption is made that last week’s sound tech had the right microphone placement, gain settings, monitor settings and foundational EQ’ing. Before jumping into the sound booth, check the drum mikes and the monitor placement, and then go behind the mixer and review the existing settings. Don’t assume everything was right or done the best way.
2. Assume the audio console was reset.
Back when I worked on an analog console, we mixed a different worship band each week. Doing so, my first step was resetting the board. Gains, filters, EQ’s, everything! I’d even reset the board after the service as a favor to the next audio tech.
It’s fairly easy to look over an analog console to make sure everything is reset. No reason to be boosting the low end on the drums while the HPF is engaged.
Then comes digital mixers. Create a scene, save it, base other scenes on it. The problem comes with creating the first scene. A new scene can be saved and titled “NEW SCENE.” Channel routing is done, channel labeling is completed. The basics.
The problem is when the new baseline scene is based on a prior scene. Copying a scene, EVERYTHING is copied. Every channel setting. Why is my electric guitar cutting out? Oh, last week this channel was used for something else and had a heavy gate.
Before starting any mix work, review the console so settings that should be off or reset are so.
3. Assume there’s enough equipment.
How many spare XLR cables are available? How many extra vocal microphones do you have? The smaller the needs, the easier it is to make this assumption. “We have everything we need.” You do? Great. By the way, next week you are getting another guitarist and another vocalist.
It’s good practice to regularly inspect the equipment, from cables to DI boxes to microphones. Through this process, record the number of WORKING spare items. The day a new audio production need comes up, you should be ready.
4. Assume nothing bad will happen.
The channel strip died. The wireless mic died. The wired mic had a short. The guitarist left the pedal muted for tuning. My list of bad stuff could go on. In my early days of audio production, I’d be flipping out. Now, I keep a cool head because I know bad stuff will happen and I plan for it.
Planning for bad stuff is the best way a tech can reduce anxiety. Much of it is proper prep work like checking on battery life and inspecting audio cables. Some of it goes a step further. For example, having a spare wireless microphone or wired mic available in case of emergency.
For the rookie sound tech, look at all the ways equipment could fail and plan for those failures. Make a Plan B. For those with some experience under their belt, make a Plan C. Yes, I’ve had to make a Plan C.
The Take Away
Audio production requires a lot of technical knowledge—see the majority of this site’s blog posts. It also requires we bring our A-game. The minute we make an assumption is the minute we open ourselves to failure. Be aware of these four dangerous assumptions and avoid them at all cost.