I’m in the midst of preparing for my next tour with an artist I’ve never worked with before, so I thought I’d fill you in on how I prepare for a new gig.
The first thing I do is get the artists catalog. In this case, it’s quite extensive- nearly 500 songs! That’s a lot to learn.
I create a playlist that contains all of their songs. I've also requested a list of songs from their most recent tour's set list, so I can focus on where to start. Then I start doing some critical listening. I’ll listen to the sonic structure of the song, what instruments are the driving force, what if any are featured, where do they all fall in the mix? What are the tones of the individual instruments? What kinds of effects are there? Are their instrument solos and where? All the while making notes, lots of notes. I’ll break it down by Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Bridge, Chorus, Verse, etc.
This is what I do, not necessarily how you would do it and it serves to guide me in building my mix.
The important thing is to have a plan on how you are going to re-create the artists sound. And it’s just a guide. Sometimes the live performance will be quite different from the artist's record, but this gives you a place to start. If you don’t know the music, you can still have good mix, but it won’t be great if you’re missing all the cool little guitar parts or some keyboard parts that the fans expect when you don’t know are supposed to be there. Get familiar with the songs.
It’s also important to find out what the artist's ideas are for their live show. What do they want it to sound like? I’ve worked for artists who wanted their live show to sound exactly like the record, and artists who had very little input and said ‘just make it sound good’.
Sometimes, it’s all pretty straight forward and organic. Other times, it can be very complex. It’s important to communicate so you know what’s expected.
You can do this on the local level as well. If you’re mixing at a venue and know that next Friday you’re going to be doing FOH for the band “Fish Biscuit”, whatever you can find out about them ahead of time will help you be prepared and do a better job. Do they have original music? Can you listen to it to familiarize yourself with it beforehand? Do they play covers? What style of music? If you aren’t familiar with the style of music they play, start listening to other bands in that genre. Do your homework.
The more familiar you are with what you are going to be mixing, the better job you can do.
More to follow in part 2...