Hey everybody. Checking in from Cincinnati. IATSE Local 5 is definitely on my short list of favorite locals. Expert stagehands who somehow manage to remain humble while they kick a lot of ass. Always an enjoyable stop.
I’ve gone back and forth with what I want to do with this system tuning post. The last thing I want is for this to become a digital record that someone points to as some sort of authoritative reference. The fact of the matter is, I don’t have time during a load-in to really dig too much into tuning. I’ve developed a quick and dirty method that works for me and yields consistent and predictable results in a very short amount of time. I want this post to be informational in nature. Not a tutorial. Not a guide. Not a reference. Just the facts about what I do on THIS show with the amount of time I’m given. Cool? Cool.
The real dirty little secret: I only measure and observe the orchestra level. Any balcony and mezzanine tuning is done by ear after getting the orchestra level dialed in. I just don’t have time to get mics all over these houses.
I use two SIA reference mics to measure. I have a MOTU traveler built in to one of my FOH racks and I connect my MacBook Pro running SMAART v220.127.116.11.
The first mic is placed at the point where the lower portion of my center cluster (5 ARCS) intersects with the inner fill speaker of my tower. (I pick left or right based on what is closer to the mix position). I measure for delay and amplitude. The two are aligned to a predetermined place on the deck and if the level differences are way out of whack I will even them out (although leaning a little to the center cluster to preserve a center image). After I find my delay number for the tower I apply it to the remaining boxes in each tower (total of 5 Meyer UPQs and 1 600HP sub per side).
The second mic is placed at the point where the UPQ used for outer orchestra coverage overlaps with the first (or sometimes only) under-balcony delay ring. This is used to time the house delay systems. Most of the time the house systems are pretty accurate relative to each other so some simple math gives me the times for any other house systems I am using such as balcony delay or box fills.
After that I walk the entire room and listen to music for coverage and relative timing. I start from the front, setting the delay time of my front fills to match the center cluster by ear and work my way back and up until I have listened to all systems.
The final step is to walk the house during sound check (my assistant mixes the sound check) and make any last minute tweaks before the show.
The most difficult concept for me to wrap my head around when I started in theater is that it is vastly more important to make sure the vocals are heard and understood in every seat than it is for the show to sound “good” in every seat. Over the years I’ve learned how to do both most of the time but it is still a compromise every week. The other wildcard is that we do 8 shows every week. Some of those shows are sold better than others. Some days are more or less humid. Some HVAC systems do a better job adapting to changing weather conditions than others. That’s another reason why I tune to the most basic level. Many measured parameters will shift slightly throughout the week based on conditions. When they do, I have a great baseline of knowledge and measured data to use to get the rig back in line.