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Sound Advice

Let Natural Acoustics Do Their Job by David Norman

My all-time favorite venues to mix in is Radio City Music Hall in New York City. I did a show last year for the Muhammad Ali movie premiere there and I want to share some tips with you.

The acts that performed were; B.B. King, The Fugees, Zelma Davis (formerly with C&C Music Factory), Brian McKnight, Diana King, Fred Wesley Harding (formerly with James Brown), the Andy Marvel Band (which was the house band for several acts and included members of Whitney Houston’s band), Batoto Yetu, members of A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, The Uptown Horns, the guest speaker was Danny Glover.

I was responsible for the house sound and mixed all of the groups while sound was provided by See Factor which supplied the new V-DOSC PA, and let me tell you this is by far the best sounding PA I’ve ever mixed on. I used a Yamaha PM-4000 with 48-channels and a Crest Century 32-channel for a maximum of 80 channels total. I ended up using 73 channels for this show and decided to place the two consoles in a “V” configuration and sit between the consoles to make it easier for me to get to everything since there were no actual set changes between all of the acts.

With no changeovers between acts, the monitor engineer and myself charted our consoles so we were well covered and all we had to do was sub-group muting when a particular act wasn’t on stage. All drum kits were miked individually and all acts shared the same bass rig. All three guitarists were miked individually. The only channels that we used consistently from act-to-act, were the hand-held wireless vocal mics.

My first consideration was making sure that the vocals and drums and bass were prominent in the mix as all of the acts were in the R&B/Rap genre. I also had to make sure that I didn’t un-mute the wrong sub-group for that particular act!

If you’ve never been to Radio City, it’s an incredibly beautiful old building and it sounds incredible. I’ve seen many engineers mix there and the shows that I’ve found that sounded best are the ones where the engineer doesn’t try to blow the audience out of their seats with volume.

One of the strange quirks of mixing at Radio City is that they usually position the FOH mix stage left and you must sit while mixing the show (I hate mixing while sitting). For me, this is a major pain because I would prefer to hear the full right and left stereo mix. I love miking guitars and keys in stereo and to hear that full stereo imaging is incredible at times.

I also made sure to keep the overall volume at a comfortable level as many in the audience were in the upper age range and besides, the room sounds so beautiful that you can let the natural acoustics do their job.

When mixing here, make sure to walk the entire room to make sure you don’t have any dead spots. A word to the wise, hang a center cluster and add your vocals here to get even more clarity to those seats in the balcony.

Having great musicians on stage, a great PA, a great crew and advance planning, mixing at Radio City Music Hall will be a breath of fresh air for any engineer.

David Norman has Tour/Production Managed and/or Mixed for such acts as Aaron Neville & The Neville Brothers, They Might Be Giants, Michael Hedges, Peabo Bryson, Arrested Development, Patti Austin, Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Lisa Germano and many others.

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