What’s your background in front of house?
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. The public
school system had a vocational tech program
that offered a recording class. I got to spend
three hours a day for the whole year in a small
studio. I fell in love with it immediately. My
teacher had working relationships with techs
and engineers who had worked on a lot of the
Stax and American Records stuff. He hooked
me up with internships with several of the studios
in town. I was 17 or 18, and it’s the only
thing I’ve been doing ever since.
What does it take for a front of house engineer
to earn the trust of his band?
That can be tricky. Fortunately, I have a long
career record, so it’s easy for people to check
up on me. Then it comes down to the feedback
that the band hears from other people. If
they talk to fans after the show and they say it
sounded great, then you’re good.
Tell us about Shinedown’s equipment, setup
and signal chain.
Zach [Myers] uses a two-channel rig: clean and
dirty. The dirty is a Diezel Herbert into a pair of
Mesa Boogie 4x12s. The clean is an Ashdown
350 bass amp. We wanted a loud, punchy,
clean sound that didn’t break up. We have two
Shure 57 mics on each amp; it’s the perfect mic
for loud rock and roll guitar. I don’t do much,
EQ-wise. I high pass to 160Hz and low pass
to around 5kHz. That way I can turn it way up
and it’s not piercing. I prefer to dull down and
turn up so that it doesn’t fight with the vocal. I
use Palmer speaker simulators in line with the
clean, pan both mics to 10:00 and the clean
Palmer to 2:00, add a little bit of delay to align
them; about half a foot of delay. You have to
play with it because it depends on any number
of things. The dirty is panned more to 9:00
and 3:00 or 7:00 and 5:00. Then I bring in the
Palmer in the middle and push it up until it fills.
The Palmers, in this situation, are a little too
bright for me, so I just put a little of that in the
middle. If the mics are at 100 percent, it’s 60 to
70 percent added into the middle. The board is
a Digidesign Profile rig. The onboard compressor
takes a little edge off the top. I don’t use
any delay or anything else on the guitars. The
key to a loud and in-your-face guitar mix is to
take the top and bottom end frequencies off
because you don’t need those frequencies at
high volume. I run a little bit of support track
of strings and piano when he goes to solo, but
a little goes a long way and I don’t want to be
able to pick that out in the mix.
What happens when the crowd comes in and
changes the balance?
I tune the PA with Soundgarden’s “Outshined,”
Seal’s “Dreaming in Metaphors” and Sting’s “If
I Ever Lose My Faith.” Soundgarden is a big,
powerful rock track with heavy vocals and guitars.
I smooth out the high mids in the PA at the
1.6kHz–3.15kHz range. It can be really harsh,
and that’s where Brent’s powerful voice really
builds up. Seal gets the bottom end and lowmid
stuff balanced. At that point, the Sting track
should sound nice and huge and pristine, if I’ve
done my job right. Then doors open, the show
starts. When the set change into Shinedown
comes, I use the Soundgarden track again.
I have my reference with the room full and I
can hear what’s changed. Mostly, the top end
responds consistently. The bottom end can fool
you on how it does and doesn’t tighten up.
How does size of venue affect sound?
I’m fortunate enough to get a fairly consistent
mix across any sort of PA. There are concessions
and compromises you have to make, but the
overall sound does not change dramatically. A
lot of that is in the experience of having worked
with the worst bands, clubs and PA. In those situations,
some days you do nothing, some days
you EQ the hell out of it, and knowing how bad
it can be, you suck it up and get it done.
How much of your job is technical expertise,
and how much is knowing and understanding
Certainly, the more familiar you are with the
band, the better. You can hear what’s not there
and turn up the parts that are missing. It has to
be musical. You have to be able to adjust things,
leave space around things and listen. I pick out
what Eric [Bass] is doing on the bass, and what
Barry [Kerch] is doing on the bass drum or hihat.
Some people don’t listen musically; they
concentrate on one guitar or one bass or one
hi-hat. None of those things should be on top
unless it’s time... it has to fit with the song and
in its own place as well, and you have to make
space in the kick drum in the low mid and put a
boost from the bass so that the two instruments
don’t fight for the same sonic space.
What does it take to be a good front of
You need a solid understanding of the gear.
That doesn’t mean you need to be able to
take it apart and fix it, but that does help. The
biggest mistake I see is in gain structure. The
idea is you are transferring electrical current
into acoustic output. How it goes through the
chain is your gain structure. You need proper
gain structure because the system protects itself
along the way. Push the master fader to zero,
the kick drum to zero, push it up, build around,
know your limitations, don’t choke yourself in
the wrong places. Again, it comes back to listening
musically and knowing that your kick drum
isn’t the loudest thing in the mix. It’s the foundation,
and you build everything else on top of
that. Technical knowledge is important, but I’ll
take a guy who’s listening musically any day.