A front of house (FOH) engineer is a bit like the manager of a national football team – they’re always under surveillance by thousands of people who are usually convinced they could do a better job, if only they had the chance. But do these self-proclaimed FOH-gods knows that it sometimes takes more than an hour to find the right position for the bass drum microphone? And that this is only one of hundreds of aspects a front of house engineer has to take into consideration when getting the best sound for a band night after night after night?
Dirk Schulz knows this only too well. He’s been working in the music business for over 20 years and has toured the world as a sound engineer, producer, musician, guitar tech, stage manager and production manager. Once the guitar tech for Mando Diao, Dirk is now the front of house engineer for the Swedish rock band – one of the most successful acts of all time to come out of Scandinavia. In 2010, Dirk recorded and mixed the band’s MTV Unplugged concert in Berlin, producing the gold-selling album ‘Above and Beyond’ as a spectacular live recording of the show. This autumn, Mando Diao are touring their new album ‘Good Times’, released in May 2017.
As part of a special BIMM Masterclass session, Dirk gave the music students an exclusive insight into his work on the day of Mando Diao’s concert at the Columbiahalle in Berlin. BIMM Berlin regularly offers different Masterclasses to their students to give them a practical insight into different jobs in the music industry.
On the day of the gig, all preparations for the concert are in full swing and the staff know exactly what they’re doing. The schedule is tight: it’s only five hours until show time and the line and sound checks still need to be done. While Dirk is explaining the stage set-up, it gives the students a good idea of how complex, well thought-out and well prepared the gig is. Sensitivity and patience are obviously key attributes: “Sometimes it takes more than one hour to adjust the mic,” says Dirk about the kick drum microphone.
After taking a look at the stage system and the microphone-mixer, Dirk shows his actual workspace: the front of house. It’s a small sectioned-off area opposite the stage, surrounded by the audience, where the sound operator has unobstructed listening. The students learn about the significant role the venue plays in FOH and how sound engineers face new challenges at every location because each of them is different – in size, in method of construction and in building materials – and all these factors affect the sound greatly. For a perfect sound, Dirk works with modern technology and computer programmes, but in the end, a musical ear, experience and flexibility are the most important ingredients. When Dirk speaks, he’s entirely in his element. There’s not a scrap of insecurity on show – he’s a pro and knows his work inside out.
“My job is to make the band happy… and to make the audience have a great concert,” he says.
During the afternoon, not only did BIMM students get to meet the heroes behind an amazing rock concert, but they were able to see for themselves the work of a front of house engineer for a famous rock band. They experienced first-hand the technical challenges a sound engineer has to deal with and saw what goes on behind-the-scenes at a gig with an audience of over 3,000 people. The students have learned that even the most up-to-date technology can’t replace a musical ear and that a sound engineer can only benefit from excellent technology if they know exactly how to use it.
To find out more about studying at BIMM Berlin, order a prospectus.