Why aren’t my headphones working?
By Dave Swallow
The following is an article written by Focal Press author and Live Audio Engineer Dave Swallow for Lighting and Sound International magazine. Dave has a monthly column called Mix Position where he cronicles his wild and witty adventures as a Live Audio Engineer. The following article was Dave’s very first article published in January 2012.
You can find all of Dave’s articles and much more on his new website: http://www.dave-swallow.com/
Welcome to the New Year, and my new column in LSI. Exciting! The goose (or Turkey) has been well and truly cooked, the sherry and mince pies are missing in action, and I’m left wondering how many New Year resolutions I’ve already forgotten.
Last year provided plenty of new technology that took another little piece of our souls, provided a simpler solution to our increasingly hectic lives, or numbed our minds just that teensy bit more. Mixing on an iPad started to take a bigger hold on the industry with more and more people telling us how brilliant their lives have become because of this wondrous year 3000 stuff – straight out of an Arthur C. Clarke novel. ‘There’s an App for that’ never sounded so…apt.
I was asked to look after a corporate show a little while back, the first for a very long time. I can’t remember the last time I was in sole charge of the PA, so ignorantly jumping into this world of banqueting and faux-generosity was a like playing the golden fiddle. These are places where you aren’t just trained to be scared of the client, but where you’re expected to be afraid of the audience as well. To be honest, this all falls into insignificance compared to the real issue of the day; why aren’t my headphones working?
This mind-numbingly tedious problem was driving me crazy. I thought digital technology was supposed to make our lives easier? The conundrum is; I can hear the hiss from the headphone amp, but nothing is coming out. Maybe I need to assign it? Then it hits me; Why the hell should I have to assign the routing of the PFL to the headphones?! I’ve never had to do that in the past.
Well Dave, have you done the insert-brand-name-here course? I never had to attend a course on how to use an H3000, Series 5, or a GL3300. I mix bands for a living, I don’t have a degree in computer science or a PhD in mixer manufacturer psychology. If something didn’t work, out would come a can of switch cleaner, a quick spray and then it would either work or not. These days, phoning a friend is common occurrence when something doesn’t work. Talking of which, I was trying to find the polarity reverse on an amp once, no such luck, but I could find Pong on the other hand. Swings and roundabouts.
I’m not afraid of some Orwellian future where the machine tells me how to mix my show, or the possibility of being grounded, restricted to mixing from the comfort of my front room. I welcome digital technology with wide open arms, I’ve heard the possibilities, and it does sound awesome. But, is this tech getting stuck too far up its own arse? Sometimes I get presented with a console and all I want to do is roll the flight case back on to the truck, drive to its manufacturer, then roll it over each toe of every member of the R&D department. Mixing has become a series of thought process consisting of; “Where’s the FX rack?”, “Why doesn’t this button now work?”, “How do I save?” and “Why aren’t my headphones working?”
Dave Swallow is Mixing Engineer, Live and Studio Audio Engineer, Tour Manager and Tour Consultant who has toured extensively in Europe, North America, South America, Australia and Japan. He has mixed and supervised countless sessions, including Itunes, Aol, Yahoo, BBC, and B-side cuts. His live TV appearances include Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live, Dave Letterman, Austin City Limits, Conan O’Brien, Regis & Kelly, VH1, Later with Jools Holland, Brit Awards, Live at Abbey Road, BBC One Sessions, Parkinson, Friday Night Project, Album Chart Show, E4, Taratata, New Pop, Jonathan Ross, Alan Carr, Top of The Pops, CD:UK, T4, Davina, and Mobo Awards. Recently Dave won the Live Sound Engineer of the Year award at the 2011 Audio Pro International Awards in association with NAMM. He is also the author of Live Audio, a book published by Focal Press.