IT’S LIVE WITH JUST ONE-CHANCE-to-get-it-right at “Music’s Biggest Night”—the annual GRAMMY Awards telecast—and audio mixer (and guitar player) Ron Reaves seems as tranquil as a cat napping in the sun. With two stages humming constantly—one being struck and reset for the next act, while the other hosts the current performer—the sound crews move at an insane pace. And yet Reaves methodically adjusts his audio settings with all the calm and confidence of a tech who has logged 11 GRAMMY shows.
“Stage volume is the biggest enemy with guitars,” he offers. “Tonight, Tom Morello is playing really loud to get his tone, and it’s appropriate for this song [the finale performance of LL Cool J’s “Waddup”] because everything is loud. Tom’s guitar sound comes into my console flat with no EQ, and it goes out the same way, because his tone is perfect. But crank your amp to back a singer, and you may force me to mix around the guitar.
“We have a two-second delay at the Staples Center in Los Angeles [GRAMMYs venue], so I haven’t put any effect on any guitar other than compression. If a guitarist is using too much reverb, I may ask that it be pulled back a bit. Of course, you don’t tell The Edge to turn down his echo.
“Mic placement is critical. There are 30 audio assistants on stage who handle all the microphones. If they don’t put the mics back in the same position they were during rehearsal, it changes everything. That rarely happens, though—those guys have superhuman memories.
“It’s a treat to mix for the GRAMMYs. When Jeff Beck did the Les Paul tribute a while back, it was a thrill to have his guitar running through my console. I once said that I mix music for free. It’s all the other sh*t that I charge for.”