Have you ever been to a concert, that you have been waiting for months to see, sometimes up to a year, to see your favorite artist live? Finally, the day comes, and you can’t wait for the concert to start, your excited, along with everyone else in the arena or stadium you can feel the energy, and it’s through the roof! The show is about to start, the anticipation is high, the excitement is high, and all of a sudden, lights turn off and BOOM!! It starts, the sound, the lights, the video, pyro, everything going off at once, it’s your favorite song, the one on the radio playing nonstop, you’ve even added it to your playlist. After a couple of hours, the show is over. What a show! Satisfied with the wait and the anticipation, you start to reflect back on the show you just witnessed, then maybe, just maybe, you ask yourself, how did they do it? How can a show like that be put together and flawless, and all of your favorite songs, you think again, WOW, what a show!
My name is Ramon Morales, I am a Live Sound Engineer, Sound Man, Sound Guy, Audio Engineer Front of House Engineer and or Monitor Engineer. Many of you may know what this is, and some of you may not. I want to invite you through my journey of becoming a live sound engineer and working for some of today’s biggest international pop stars.
Here is a brief description of what I do. I am a mixer, mixing music is what I do. There are many different factors with the job that I do, but for now, I’ll focus on the mixing part. So, there are 2 types of Live Audio Engineers, Monitor Engineer and Front of House Engineer. Both are about mixing music, same concept for both, but different audiences that you cater to.
Let’s start with the Front of House Engineer. Basically, a FOH Engineer is mixing music for the audience. My friends, and people I meet ask me what I do, after I explain it to them, I usually I get the same question. So, you are in the middle closed off area of the arena floor where all of the computers and lights are? Yes, that’s it, that’s FOH. Then they say, “pretty cool”, you know what all those buttons do?
That area is what we call FOH, typically this is where sound and lights are controlled for the show, but nowadays there is a lot more going in at FOH, other than sound and lights. An Audio Engineer has the job of recreating the “Mix”. That mix is what you the spectator is used to listening to in your car, house, shower, etc. It’s how you identify the song. Many songs have an intro and as you already know, when you hear that intro, most likely you get excited and probably say “OMG that’s my song” and it makes you dance or whatever you want to do when you hear that song. In the Live world, as a Mixer we want to make sure you feel the same way when you hear the song live. Now, there are many factors that can change that, all of a sudden there is a live band, more instrumentation than there is on the Record, the arrangement may be different, and so on. How many times have you been at a concert and a song starts and you are wondering what is that song, maybe you get it once the singer starts to sing, sometimes it can take up to a minute trying to figure out what the song is. When the arrangement is completely different than the original, then there is not much we can do, but rest assured that we are doing everything in our power so that you have a great time at your favorite artists concert.
Monitor Engineer, pretty similar as a FOH engineer, the difference is that, while you are having a great time singing along to your favorite song, the artist and band needs to hear themselves. Yes, you probably guessed correctly, a monitor engineer mixes the very same music that you are listening to and that the FOH engineer is mixing for you, except as a monitor engineer, the engineer is mixing for the artist. A few different things, what you are listening to is a fined tune mix so that it can be as perfect as the record. I’m not saying it’s not perfect at monitors, but musicians and a singer hear things slightly different. It does have to be perfect, but in the perspective of the artist, singer, and musician. Many times, performers on stage listen to things that help with their performance, that you as a spectator will not hear. For example, maybe the artist has to be at a certain spot on the stage at a certain time of a song, And perhaps the guitar player plays a certain riff that gives the artist the “cue” that he or she needs to be at a certain spot on that stage during that riff. It’s a series of events that I won’t get into that much, but maybe there is a spotlight that needs to shine on the artist at that particular time, this is a “cue”. So, a monitor engineer has to make sure that the artist can hear that guitar riff on that cue. I know what you’re thinking, “you mean the artist can’t remember that?”. Slow down, I have toured for over 25 years now. When I am on tour, the routine takes over, in other words, wake up, load in, set up gear, sound check, show time, tear down gear, load out, back to the tour bus, sleep a few hours while the tour bus is in the direction of the next city, and repeat. Do this long enough and you forget where you are or when you are. So, it’s the same for an artist, but add their busy schedules to that, and on top of that everything that is going on in their minds just before, during, and after the show, it really is a lot. So, with a little help from my friends, the monitor engineer, and guitar player in this case, the artist can be at the correct spot on the stage at the precise moment that spotlight turns on. The cue is complete.
Now imagine the stage and a 10-piece band that may move around during the show a lot, and every musician needs to here themselves and the other musicians, and the artist. That’s a what a monitor engineer does. But it does not stop there. There are many other people working behind the scenes that need to hear certain things too. The routing to make that happen can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, but not impossible, we make this happen because this is what we do, overwhelming, and we make the impossible possible, and this goes for everyone in every department behind the scenes, we make impossible possible for you to enjoy.
Like the FOH engineer and his or her mix, everything has to be perfect. Now that you have, hopefully, read through all of this, you may be able to consider yourself, somewhat of pro in this field. I think so.
Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed this, and continue to read my blog posts. Don’t forget to subscribe, click that subscribe button, on my “cue”, GO!
You see, you ARE a pro!