Earlier this month our Head of Live Sound, Jay Beard, teamed back up with Elbow's Guy Garvey at the BBC 6 Music Festival at Colston Hall in Bristol, engineering monitors during Guy's performance.
The concert, which was broadcast live on 6 Music and the BBC website, formed part of Guy Garvey's tour in support of his recent solo album Courting The Squall
We decided to catch up with Jay and ask him a few questions about the gig and the import role the monitor engineer plays during live performances...Hi Jay, please could you tell us a little about the show?"Sure - the gig was for Guy's solo performance at the 6 Music Festival in Bristol on Sunday 14th February, with a full rehearsal on the Saturday to warm up for the show too. It was a lot of fun as always!"How did you get started working with Guy Garvey? "I worked with Elbow for years in the olden days before I began teaching at SSR. The main crew that work with Guy now are the same Elbow crew that have been with them since I was doing it. I did a couple of shows for Elbow again last summer (SSR note - You can read more about that over here) , and this was a similar situation." "Julian, who is Guy’s usual monitor engineer, couldn’t do this date due to a prior commitment, so they called me to cover. This was a bit of a funny one because as we got closer to the show and we looked at the schedule it turned out that Julian’s gig (with Bloc Party) was just round the corner but the performance was much later than Guy’s. This meant that Julian could possibly do both gigs but he might miss some of Guy’s sound check. It was decided that I would go anyway so we would be certain that I would be there in case something went wrong at Julian’s gig. Also, it looks like there might be a few of Guy’s gigs in the summer that clash with Julian’s Bloc Party shows, so this gave me a good opportunity to shadow Julian in preparation for this."
What does being a monitor engineer involve?
"More than some people might think! Mainly, setting up of the monitoring equipment - namely the monitor console, in ear monitor (IEM) rack and the body packs. Managing and planning the UHF radio channels the IEM systems work on to ensure the broadcast is clean and clear. Looking after and cleaning of the IEM earphones belonging to the band members. Helping the System Techs with the set-up of the stage system, such as running the stage boxes and satellite boxes. Working with the Front of House (FoH) Engineer to set out all the mics and direct input (DI) boxes for the instruments on stage. Once all this is done we work with the Backline Techs to run a line check. This checks all the mics and cabling to ensure everything is working correctly. Then we work with the band members on the sound check, where we ensure everyone is hearing what they need to hear for the songs in the set."
"Finally, once all the above is present and correct, we are ready to do the gig. This involves using the mixing console to run the gig. What this actually means depends on the act in question, but it’s mainly following cues. A cue is a request for some kind of change for one or any number of band members. These can be pre-prepared or spontaneous requests during the show. We are also there to fix anything that might go wrong or break down. Then, after the show has finished, we have to pack all the equipment away and take it to the next show."
The stage setup
What would you say is the main challenge of being a monitor engineer?
"Hmmm... good question! I suppose one of the main challenges is during the gig, making sure you understand the cues from the artist. This might not sound that difficult, but remember that these cues will come during the performance sometimes in the middle of a song and the communication may be just a fleeting glance. For instance, if you get a request from the lead singer that he/she wants more of his/her vocal but you misinterpret this as them wanting less vocal, you will makes things worse instead of better. This is why you must develop a good relationship with the artist."
Do you have a favourite desk / setup to work on for monitors?
"Yeah, I prefer the Avid consoles personally, either the Profile or the D-show like then one we have in our SSR live venue. These are the same desks as the Elbow and Guy Garvey crew use too, which is handy for me! I prefer IEMs to stage wedges but if I do have to use wedges I’d choose d&b M2s."
How important is it to have live sound training?
"I know this will probably sound biased coming from a live sound tutor, but honestly, it's massively important. It’s not just how complicated the equipment is nowadays, although that is one major issue, it’s also about meeting the industry’s standards and learning how things are expected to be in a professional sense."
What advice would you give someone who is looking at studying a live sound engineering course?
"If it is definitely live sound that you want to do, make sure that the course has as much live sound, live events and PA system content as possible. Also, you don’t need to wait for your course to start or to graduate before getting out there to gigs. If you really want to be a live sound engineer then get out to as many gigs as possible as soon as possible. Watch, listen and try to get a firm grasp of how a show is run and put together. These don’t have to expensive arena gigs either, your local pub and club ones will do just fine. You could maybe ask if you could help out at your local shows too and start shadowing. Getting some real world experience will certainly stand you in good stead when you do start a course."
"If anyone has any questions about the SSR live sound courses, or the industry in general (or motorbikes!), I'd be more than happy to have a chat and offer my thoughts and advice - just email me on email@example.com."
Good advice there....thanks for answering our questions Jay!
Fancy a career in the Live Sound industry? Why not check out the course links below, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact Jay using the email above, or give us a call on 0161 276 2100.