Engineer and tour manager Keith Yancsurak joined the Nick Waterhouse tour in Portland, Ore., at the end of April. Waterhouse and his six-piece band are on the road playing the artist’s vintage-style, original R&B songs and promoting his eponymous new album, and—because Yancsurak had to wrap up a commitment at Jazz Fest in New Orleans before he could join them—the band had already played a few dates when Yancsurak came onboard. For the engineer, it’s a bit like jumping onto a moving train, especially seeing as this is Yancsurak’s first time out with Waterhouse.
Going from zero to 60 on a tour in progress takes fortitude, and it takes preparation. So we asked Yancsurak for five tips for sound engineers who need to get up to speed fast on a new production.
1. Familiarize yourself with the sound.
Before you go out, start with the records; that’s where I begin my journey with any artist. And then watch some YouTube videos if you can find some recent footage, to see what the feel is like and what the band is doing onstage. For this tour, it also helped that I already listen to so much of the stuff that Nick references in his music—that vintage ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll and R&B—that’s music that I already know and love and is always in my daily rotation.
2. Get to know your artist.
Of course, you want to talk to the musicians about what they’re playing, and get their ideas and wishes for the sound of their instrument, their voice. But also you want to get to know the people. One of my favorite things about touring is those hours in a van, driving around this beautiful country and getting to know somebody, finding out our common interests and talking about music that we love. Because you’re going to end up in this situation where it’s 2 a.m. and you’re trying to shave a few hours off the marathon drive you have ahead to the next gig, and—it happens time and time again—your co-pilot puts some music on that changes your life. It’s beautiful to connect with someone like that.
3. Bring gear you know, and plenty of it.
I have favorite pieces of gear that I use on all the artists I work with. On this tour, I’m bringing a lot of Sennheiser microphones, and some Beyerdynamic and Shure mics as well. I have some custom Beyer ribbon microphones that I’ve had modified. And these days, it’s mostly digital consoles out there, which I like, but I also want to get some analog mojo into the mix, so I am taking an analog compressor that I’ve been using for the past year: the Alan Smart C1. This is all equipment that I have an intimate knowledge of, and I’ll be able to try some different things on Nick’s vocals and guitar, give us some different ways to get to that vintage sound.
4. Develop a process to speed-read the room.
The venues range in size from 300- to 1,000-plus-capacity, and I was glad to see that we’re playing a lot of rooms that I’ve worked in before. But sometimes you get to a new place and you don’t have the luxury of time to get to know the space. So you need to have a process that happens quickly as possible to feel it out. Some people play a piece of familiar music in the room, and I do that at times, but lately I’ve been using my own voice. I just talk through the P.A. and that’s the fastest way to get things rolling in an unfamiliar space for me.
You also want to talk to people who work there. The house guys love sharing information, and it doesn’t make sense for them just to sit back and let a visiting engineer work. I try to get them involved and make them part of the team. They’re in there every day, so they know the room better than anyone.
5. Get a healthy start.
On most of the gigs I’ve been doing for several years, I’ve been tour-managing and sound engineering, and I’m the self-appointed driver as well, so it’s physically taxing from day to day.
So for a week or more before I go on tour, I try to go light in terms of everything that I put into my body. At this point I look at it as, I train to go out on tour. I try to be rested up and just really in great health to start. That way I have the energy to do my job and I’m able to enjoy it, because spring is a beautiful time of year to be touring.