Mixing Desks and Deaf Mixers




During the 80s when I was a band groupie in Townsville, I had many, many opportunities to be behind the scenes of big and small bands and watch them setup and watch them do soundchecks. And I met many of the mixers, who were often roadies who knew how to turn the mixing desks on and twiddle the knobs.

And I discovered why most shows have the volume turned up loud enough to hurt. The roadies have been doing this sort of work for years. And they are slightly deaf. Some are very deaf. Think about it. When I go to a pub and watch a band and I get up close to the band to take photos or adjust my microphones (bootleg time), and I'm not wearing earplugs, then I have a ringing in my ears for a day or two. Or my ears go partially numb, or I lose some of the frequencies. The roadies do this sort of thing every night for weeks on end. If you give your ears a break, they will mostly recover and the ringing stops and the frequencies will come back. But if you don't give your ears a rest, like the roadies, your ears don't recover. And you go deaf.

If you sit at the mixing desk with the mixer, and watch him set things up, you realise that he is usually partially deaf. And the volume gets wound up a bit. But later that night when the crowd is on the dance floor, there is a huge buzzing noise from the rest of the crowd who are drinking and trying to talk (shout), then you can watch the roadie turn the volume up and up and up until HE can hear it comfortably. But when HE can comfortably hear it, it's painful for the audience.

I don't think this happens with the big professional bands, because the mixers for them have taken care of their hearing. But go and see pub bands and feel your ears bleed.

I don't go anywhere these days without earplugs. If the band is fine, I don't put them in. If the band is loud, I put them in and I can everything but without the ill effects. The Page/Plant concert was so loud that I even got a slight ringing in the ears despite using earplugs. Richard, the mate I went with, didn't use earplugs and his ears were still ringing days later. He couldn't hear me when we went outside afterwards.