An instructive tale from a “one-off” live gig many years ago: Don’t sweat the small stuff? Well, I’m just sayin’…

In early 1986 I got a call to see if I was available to mix an up-and-coming young band for a gig at the local art college. If it worked out, there were more gigs to come. I was indeed available, and subsequently arrived at the appointed hour to load in.

The PA was, as things were at the time, made up of individual components: bass bins, low-mid cabinets, mid-high horns, and tweeters. I don’t remember what brand (or brands) they were or if they were home-built. In any case, we got it set up, and as I was getting ready to start sound check, there was a loud, intermittent crackle coming from the horns.

I brought it to the attention of the tech, who was a nice guy but had misread the rock ‘n’ roll memo – the one that says “make it work no matter what.” Instead, his take on that memo was “if it doesn’t work, you’ll just have to do without!” and he proceeded to say brightly, “Well, we’ll just have to do the gig without horns!”

I wasn’t of the same opinion, and having isolated the problem to the 4-way crossover, phoned the Canadian distributor (from a pay phone!) to see about finding a spare. No dice, especially since these particular crossovers had custom EQ cards for whatever system they were being used with. So I took the crossover out of the rack, opened it up, and re-seated all of the chips and connectors.

That solved the problem and we were ready to start sound check…except that the monitors (which I was doing from front of house) were totally distorted, to the point of being unusable. When I pointed this out to the tech, he said, brightly, “Well, we’ll just have to do the gig without monitors!” Again, I didn’t agree, so we started troubleshooting.

He informed me that the monitor racks were brand new and proceeded to proudly show me the wiring inside. It was indeed very beautiful, with neat 90-degree bends in the 20-gauge solid copper wire. I had a strong suspicion that this wire was the issue and suggested he try some alternate wiring. He didn’t have any adaptors (of course) so I went back to FOH and pulled a couple of correct ones out of my kit, handed them over and asked that he make the changes while I talked through the wedges from FOH.

He did so, but the monitors were still completely distorted. This happened with all four mixes, so finally I went to the stage to have a look. He’d implemented the alternate wiring but (surprise!) without disconnecting the originals. I yanked these out of one mix, and it immediately started working.

After a bit more time correcting the rest, we were finally ready for sound check…which went fine. After the usual kick!…snare!…hat! and a few songs, the band headed off to the dressing room.

As show time approached, I wandered down to the dressing room to check in with the band. One of the guys told me that he had noticed a crack in his mic clip and was worried that it would break during the show. I said “no problem” and headed up to the stage to change it.

But there was a problem…with the rushed sound check and everything else, I couldn’t remember what the guys looked like or who played what. So I walked up to the first mic stand I saw, looked at the clip, and sure enough, there was a hairline crack in it. Now the crack didn’t look that serious, I’ve seen hundreds like it hang in there for years, but I thought, “This guy must have X-ray vision, but if that’s what he wants…” and changed the clip.

Twenty minutes later, the band appeared on stage, and the guy who spoke to me, who turned out to be the leader, walks up to the next mic stand over and says, “Hi, we’re…” and, CLUNK! The mic rolls neatly out of the clip and hits the floor. I ran up, changed that clip (which was in fact just barely hanging together), and the rest of the show was a success.

I guess my troubleshooting skills in dealing with the major issues, and my mix, outweighed the “great mic clip screw-up” because I ended up working with the band for the next six months or so, a period that included their first hotel room (another story…), album release (another story…), and first cross-Canada tour (several other stories…).

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