Live Mixing Know-how from Buford Jones, Part 1
Jul 7, 2014 11:23 AM, With Bennett Liles
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Mixing for live sound. It’s one of the most exciting jobs around and Meyer Sound’s Buford Jones has mixed shows with some of the biggest names in the music business. He’s going to tell us how things work and what makes them not work at the front-of-house console. That’s coming up next on the SVC Podcast.
Buford, it’s fantastic having you on the SVC Podcast to talk about live mixing. We haven’t done one on that for a good while now and since you’ve mixed with just about every big name act, you’re the one to have for this. Are you in Nashville right now? You get around so much I never know where you’ve lit lately.
I live in Dickson, Tenn. It’s about 40 miles west of Nashville going straight toward Memphis.
As the touring liaison with Meyer Sound you get into some exciting places and have worked over mixing boards with a lot of big names that we would recognize and I’ve wanted to ask you what, in your experience, is the most challenging part of live mixing?
I think the most challenging aspect certainly is consistency. I think that’s what we pride ourselves in as live sound mixers is shows that sound good night after night. You know, we can have the magic flow one particular venue, then all of a sudden it’s a struggle in the next. We try to minimize those struggles, and we do it with technology and equipment. We do it with experience. We do it with just general knowledge that we’ve built up over time, and it’s very difficult. It’s not an easy task to make it sound as good as we’d like to have it sound each night. So having that ambition, that passion, that drive to do that I think really stands out in a live sound engineer. And you know, the venues change so much and the tuning that we go through, the sound systems and the day-to-day process, it can have so many variables for sound. You have so many elements that can go wrong and things that just differ on a day-to-day basis, so it’s quite a challenge. [Timestamp: 2:23]
Yeah, people who do live mixing I think sit there and imagine all those signals going through all of those boxes and connectors while everybody else is just saying, ‘Oh yeah, it’s working fine.’ You’ve taught courses at Infocomm and I know you run into sound operators at all experience levels so what’s the most common thing that you see them do wrong?
I use the term we mix with our eyes instead of our ears; if we get buried a little bit too much in the computers and the technology. Technology is essential to the touring industry, but at the same time we can’t let music take a backseat to any of that. I like to think that during the day, that I get my equipment aligned properly and set up properly, but when it comes show time, it’s full-play music. I was a musician. I still am a musician and I treat the console just as that, as an instrument that I play during the show. So I jam along with the band. I think that musical connection is just extremely vital and it’s something I think that listening to the music, reproducing the music the way the artist has intended it, and this communication with the artist which brings that point as well, I think there’s not enough communication with the artist and a lot of us can improve with that. And it’s spending more time on the stage, spending more time discussing musical concept with the artist to find out really in delivering the recipe. I gotta say in a short story, two years ago I was picked up by a cab driver in New York City and he asked me on the way to the hotel what I was doing in town and I said I was a sound mixer and I was working at a live concert there. And he says, “Who are you mixing?” I said, “Linda Ronstadt.” He goes, “Oh, so she bakes the cake and you serve it.” I thought wow, well put. Well put. If I ever get around to writing a book that will be the name of it: They Bake the Cake and I Serve It. And I think that sums it up. It really does. The music is created on the stage. It is our job as sound mixers to deliver that to our audience and I think there’s very little alteration. We should do that. We should keep the signature of the artist. You’re given a free reign, that’s good. That expresses your artistic freedom. But at the same time I think you have to stay within the musical boundaries of the artist that you’re working for. [Timestamp: 4:42]
You work venues where you have everything you need and I’m sure you’ve been in situations where you really have to swim upstream. Have you ever been in a situation where you have to mix monitoring from aux outs on the front-of-house board?
I have been so fortunate in my career that there’s only two times that I can remember professionally mixing monitors from the front-of-house. I think with a certain caliber touring artist that position is just granted, it’s to be expected. I mean independent monitor mixers or monitor mixers that are independent of the front-of-house console do mix the monitors and they’re very talented people that are able to do that. I have tremendous respect for monitor mixers. I think that job almost requires two or three monitor mixers on stage. I remember Led Zeppelin in the early years that had two monitor mixers. I’ve seen this only on a couple of other tours. I know it’s very uncommon but it almost makes sense, so many people that really need musical cues to perform to and it’s difficult for one person to give the attention to 10, 12 people in the band. Those that are able to do it are extremely talented. That’s just my viewpoint on it. I think it requires a lot of attention. There are cases where we have to do that and I guess any advice that I would give is to try to lock the monitor situation as tight as it can be. If you can get a sound check, to lock that in as closely as possible and let the artist know that you really hope to be able to concentrate on the show out front when it takes place. Now any changes that they might need, of course, that’s going to be delivered to you, but other than that if you can just stay to your mix would be my suggestion, but that’s easier said than done. It’s just when an artist/musician needs something it’s somewhat sporadic and they want it fixed right away, so you have to deal with that. That too is quite a challenge, but fortunately I haven’t had to do that too many times. [Timestamp: 6:44]
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