Kevin Madigan has many years of experience as a live sound engineer and as a consultant specializing in architectural acoustics and noise and vibration measurement. He has worked with a diverse range of artists including The Smashing Pumpkins, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Lucinda Williams, Mastodon, Eels, and Pavarotti.
As part of our monthly On The Road With… series, I recently had the chance to catch up with my old friend Kevin Madigan who has traveled the world with top headliners as both a monitor engineer and as FOH. Here are his thoughts about the differences in work.
Hi Kevin – thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. So you have a really interesting vantage point. You’ve mixed monitors and front of house for some of the world’s largest acts. Are you an FOH guy or monitor guy at heart?
Mmmm, I suppose really I’m a FOH mixer at heart. I can do both and I’m happy enough at either end of the snake but I just enjoy FOH a bit more.
What kind of advice can you share with engineers who are coming up – who should focus on monitors and who should focus on house? Or is it all just the luck of the gig?
I suppose that often it can be just the luck of the gig and whether you’ve been the monitor tech or FOH tech. You won’t know which you prefer until you’ve done both though.
Get educated. Understand as much about sound as you can. Read things like “Sound Systems: Design and Optimization: Modern Techniques and Tools for Sound System Design and Alignment” by Bob McCarthy or “Sound System Engineering” by Don Davis.
Get as much experience as you can by doing everything from making cables to packing trucks. If you decide you want to do either FOH or monitors, try to get yourself to a place to make that possible. It might be with local sound companies or performance venues. Never say no to a gig (okay, at least within reason). Own up to your mistakes and try to learn from them. Remember that while your technical skills may get you a gig, your interpersonal skills will help you keep it.
Is the money the same?
That’s experience and situation dependent. If you’re a very integral and trusted person on a tour, be it at FOH or monitors, your value will likely be reflected in your earnings.
Have you ever done any studio engineering? Is that something that you’re interested in?
Yes, just recently I finished a mix for a live show DVD release which was done at Groovemasters and The Village Recorder in Los Angeles. I like it quite a lot.
We get a lot of questions from bands that tour with a FOH guy but not with a dedicated monitor guy. In your opinion, how feasible is it to start using in-ears with this type of touring situation? What are the pros and cons?
It’s a difficult thing to do but not impossible. I don’t know if I can see any obvious pros in terms of audio. Quite often, in-ear mixes require the same attention and detail as a FOH mix. The important subtleties are so much more apparent compared to wedges. A great monitor mixer who’s familiar with the act is really so important to get the best from in-ear mixes.
From a front of house perspective, is it easier to mix a band that is on ears? Why?
Yes. Having less sources of often high-level sound on stage to interact with a FOH mix makes things much easier.
And lastly, who gets more grief from the artists – the monitor engineer or the front of house engineer?
Grief? Musical artists are wonderful people to work alongside. They brighten our days and are a constant source of inspiration. Then again, closest to fire, first to get burned.
Thank you Kevin – see you on the road!