Behind the scenes with ZIO and Royal Collective 24.04.2018
Capitol is a small venue in the city; beside concerts there are also plays, comedy and musicals on stage.
Why this artist?
This blog post is going to be a bit different compared to my normal concert reviews. I simply cannot review this concert objectively, because in some small way, I was involved in it. However, the experience gives me the opportunity to give you an idea what goes on behind the scenes of a concert. Yes, it may vary depending on size, artist and personal preferences, but the basic concept remains the same.
If you go and see a concert, you’ll usually buy the ticket some time in advance, calculate the travel time, think about what you might wear and when to get to the location depending on where you want to stand or if you have reserved seats. You get in, wait for about thirty minutes to an hour until the support act starts and then you are entertained for the rest of the night.
For anyone involved in planning the whole thing, it’s a bit of a different story.
It starts with two questions “why you want do the concert” and “what your concept is”. If it’s a release party or a tour following a new album, it’ll be pretty straight forward. The advertisement for the album is most likely already out, so you follow the same concept and plan the show.
While as part of the audience you think about your own outfit and that’s it, it’s a bit different for the people involved in the production. Clothes are the least of your problem, you need a stage design. Depending on the stage design and your songs, you need lights. When referring to lights it doesn’t mean “on and off”, it means a different setting for each and every song. You might need videos as well; they need to be designed in advance. Props for the stage that comply with the fire safety regulations is also something that needs to be considered.
Depending on those factors you need the actual lights, spots and video projectors. All that means that the technicians and the creative department need to work together right from the get go, especially if you do it all on your own, without a huge company behind you, which organises everything.
Sound, lights, camera
When you have the concept and the lights figured out, you need the sound technicians and their ideas. These days nearly everyone plays with in-ear headphones, which means that the singers and musicians have customised earbuds; these not only block all noises from the crowd and the stage, but also allow each and every one of them to have their own mix. Usually they hear their own voice/instrument pretty loudly and the rest is mixed according to their own preferences. Some might not need the horn section, others want the bass very loud and so on. The more people on stage, the more complicated it might get.
If you watch an artist on stage tapping his ear, it’ll usually mean there is something wrong with his monitoring sound, meaning it could be too loud, too quiet, wrong mix, whatever. The person responsible for the monitoring sound is the person you will not see, if you are in the audience, because their place is right beside the stage. Eye contact between this technician and the artists can be crucial.
The person mixing the sound you hear (front of house) at the concert is the one sitting smack in the middle of the room, together with the video and light technicians.
These (at least 3) technicians are the first people at the venue together with their help and the company who delivers in the speakers and lights or sets up the stage.
For this concert they started at nine in the morning to set up the sound, the lights, the video cameras and the decorations. Countless meters of cable and wires were being laid, tons of equipment hung up, wireless connections installed, light bulbs exchanged and the lines checked once they are done.
Once the technicians are done, the musicians (or their help) can set up the instruments. If you play the horn there is not much to do, but it’s a different story for the guitarist, the piano player or the drummer. The drummer is usually the poor guy who needs the most time, because he not only needs to set up his drum set, but he might also have a rug that goes underneath, maybe a wall that needs to be set up in front of him and then the whole set needs to be tuned. Yes, you can tune a drum set.
While others work, block the stage with their equipment or trouble shoot, you wait. And wait.
Meanwhile the organiser of the evening (usually the tour manager – if there is one) takes care of questions at the venue. Is anything else needed? Is the catering ok? What about the guest list? What about the press, security and so on. Water is missing. Where are the towels for later? And then, again, you wait.
The band got in at 12 to set up their instruments and get familiar with the venue. Soundcheck started shortly before three. In between were last minute changes to the guest lists, towels and water supply, coffee runs, getting forgotten material…
Soundcheck took a looooong time for several reasons; with a band as large as Zio and Royal Collective there’s just always something not working or someone off stage who should be on stage.
After the soundcheck there was dinner. Catering for all involved before the band left- well, most of them, while the rest of the team stayed, changed, did last minute changes and set up the last details for the get in.
Access and Passes
Before the band could leave we had to be sure that they could get back in and get backstage, which means they need special passes or bracelets.
Depending on how many different groups of people you have, you hand out different passes/tickets. AA(A) are the all access passes – meaning you can go anywhere. The real AA passes only get handed out to the band and the team, no matter what they advertise. Real backstage passes are not sold to fans.
Little bit of advice: Even if you have the AA pass: Please stay out of the artists room/area, if you are not 100% needed there. It’s a matter of respect. Some of them have their own rituals, others need to concentrate. If you just waltz in there or bother them with stuff and chatter that can wait will distract them… Imagine a situation when you were very nervous, like and exam or your driving test, and then imagine people babbling away, interrupting you, while you are trying to concentrate or focus. Not really nice, right?
Beside the AA passes, there might be passes for the press, VIP with catering, meet and greet… the list is endless and depends on how creative you get. Sometimes they include different entrance and entrance times. Other times they might just be to access different parts of the venue.
We basically had three: AA for the band and team/crew. Those for the people with seats on the gallery and the normal tickets. It was a small concert so no need for too much fuss.
Let the show begin
We opened the doors at seven pm and by then everything had to be ready. The merchandise had to be laid out, change ready, barkeepers and security in place, all the band backstage, sound and lights set up, guest list up to date…
We managed to open seven on the dot, which had been questionable when the soundcheck took forever. Thanks to the thorough prep of everyone, opening went without a hitch and when the support band Cris Cosmo went on stage, everything was ready. He played for forty minutes. Then came the twenty-minute change over.
What does that mean? It basically means that the support act has to get their stuff off stage and everything needs to get ready for the main artists. At some concerts you can see some technicians walking on the stage (most likely you can only see their flashlights) while they plug in cables and get everything ready. That is also the reason why there is always a small break between the support act and the main act. If the break is too long (longer than 20-30 mins), most likely there’ll be something wrong. Either the band isn’t ready or something isn’t working on stage. Don’t whistle, don’t scream, it won’t change a thing; they are all doing their best.
Zio went on stage at nine, after a 15 min changeover. By then most people on the guest list and those with reserved seats and tickets were there. The intro started playing, the crowd started yelling, lights, music…
How the sound sounds
While the audience can’t see the sound technician who does the monitoring sound, they can see the FoH technician, the video and light guys, photographers. Personally, if I am at a concert as a guest, I Iike standing close to the FoH, because the sound there is usually really good and you can’t get squished from more than one side. Also, you can tell what is going on on-stage by the reactions of the technicians. If they start getting frantic and pressing button after button you know something is wrong, even if you can’t see or hear it (yet). Sometimes you can see the setlist on their screens. You might even see, if they have Co2 shooters prepared or if some kind of confetti explosion will rain down on you. Also, if you want to know if there is time left for you to get a drink before the show starts; watch the FoH. As long as the techs are playing with their cellphones and don’t have their in-ear system in: Get your drink, it’s still gonna take a minute.
Just, promise me, do not do that one thing: do not offer them advice. What might be too beat heavy for you, might be what the artist wants. What you think is too little piano in the mix might have a technical reason. You wouldn’t want someone to tell you how to do your job, when they have no idea what they are talking about. Your opinion is your opinion and that is fine, but in this case: keep it to yourself, because if you asked all the people at the venue for their opinions of the sound, you would get as many opinions as people. And while you might have worked as a DJ in your free time, keep in mind that those are professionals who are hired for a reason. Be respectful. And let them concentrate.
The show was over shortly before eleven and while the audience likes to stay inside the venue and chat, in this case as in many others, it wasn’t possible.
The second the last song of the night is over and the band goes off stage, the work still continues. You might have heard of parties and rock’n’roll and sometimes that is possible, but it would be way later. Directly after the show everything that was set up, needs to be taken down and packed up; stage, decorations, mixers, cameras, speakers, lights… all comes down the second the audience leaves. The artists might chat, get something to eat again or simply pack up their stuff. They might hop onto the tour bus to leave or grab a ride to the airport. Meanwhile the trucks and transporters that take away the equipment come in.
I left at 1.30 am, once most of the smaller stuff was taken down and I couldn’t help anymore. Technicians and some members of the band stayed longer. There you have it, your 14-hour work day. And we didn’t have to hop on a tour bus or catch a plane.
We had fun though and I am glad for the experience. It was a nice change from my usual work routine and I am looking forward to doing it again. I am not one for the limelight, but I love to work in the background. I love it when a plan works, I love live music, and I love concerts.
Do it again?
Absolutely. The band members are just really nice and easy to work with. I had a great time. Thanks to everyone involved!
And a short clip: