Learning the Ropes at Concerts

One recent Saturday was a confluence of everything I’ve been doing this summer–concert production and a lot of DJ work. While it was my third paid DJ event of the summer, I’ve also been shadowing an industry professional and helping him with proms, weddings, and working to set up and take down decorations and pro audio equipment.

In addition, I have ventured into a vastly different but still similar world of concert audio production. In this business, we are the guys who mix channels of audio from the band, whether it’s a kick drum or lead vocal microphone. Our job is to bring in touring-grade audio equipment and create a perfect experience for the crowd and band by blending in behind the scenes to make sure everything is going smoothly with lights and speakers. In this business, the DJ’s stress does not come from the “performance,” but rather the risk of one particular thing going wrong at a concert—out of thousands of possible issues.

Where the full expertise of my mentors comes into play is diagnosing issues with our sound or lighting rig and tracking them down. For instance, at this late-summer event, there was a palpable tension in the air as the power conditioner–which we run power through for ALL of the equipment–had a low reading on its display, with 114V input instead of the regular 120. That means that we could not do a sound check or finish setting up for the touring band until the problem was resolved. There also was no way to know if the problem was with our equipment, the cables, the weather, or the power source. Lucky for me, I was not at the heart of this problem because I was running wires and setting up lights on the stage. My boss, Adam, popped open the breaker panel and found the shorted circuit, and everything turned out fine. I just wanted to share this example to show the ways in which this business has its stressors in completely different ways than the DJ world of high school dances, corporate events, and weddings.

These photos are from our full set-up from one of three “3 Caves” outdoor concerts this summer. In the middle is the amplifier rack (that powers the speakers) and audio console where I learned to mix live bands, and on the left is a view of the stage from an audience perspective. On the right is a picture of the band at show time! We’ve done concerts for some big artists like Edwin McCain and the Atlanta Rhythm Section.