Anyone who works in the world of live shows knows who he is. When you hear him speak, he distills an authentic passion for his work and perhaps this is a good part of the reason for his success. The first time you hear his name, in all probability, will be accompanied by a tone of admiration and respect. We see them often at our facilities, taking care of every detail, and this time we are fortunate he provided us some of his time to talk to us. We talk to Fernando Díaz.
The crisis, as in many other sectors, has hit hard and live performances have been particularly affected. Less tours and fewer dates, fewer opportunities for new talent, lighter production … However, you can also see this crisis as an opportunity to purify the sector and professionalize it more. How do you see this period?
In fact, you have already given an answer that for me, defines in part the “good” things that can be drawn from this extraordinary crisis that we are going through: I fundamentally think that there are two important conclusions: the first, which already sees a very interesting professionalization in our sector, in fact there was a bubble comparable to those in the real estate sector … during the last years there has been a disproportionate growth in the entertainment world favored by the economic boom, bulky caches, uncontrolled disbursement of many official institutions, etc … which led to a proliferation of companies, producers, management, etc … for most of which unfortunately today there is no room due to the low demand for activities, and on the other hand, and under my point of view, professionals who during this time instead of enduring “the downpour” expecting better moments, took a courageous step and continued to invest in technology, media and training personnel so that ultimately, I believe that they are the ones that will last in time and obviously will be up to date with the news and trends that our market will demand.
You have worked with a lot of great artists with very different musical styles, productions of all sizes, different venues … and I would like to know what are the main conditions when carrying out your work and what has been the biggest challenge to which You have faced what you remember.
I always have a “maximum” in my work philosophy: less = more … every time I face a job, whatever it is, I try to find the simplest and most direct way to achieve it and achieve realistic goals. It is true that I have the immense luck to count on first-class technological means and support from companies and wonderful professionals, but that does not mean that I relax; quite the contrary. There are countless factors to keep in mind that I would eternalize in this interview but I will not go into details. The basic thing in developing a project for me is to find a way to achieve a good result with the minimum of technical complications, for it is necessary to observe with whom and where you are going to make the sound, adapt to the conditions of the place or the needs of the artist, make a coherent design according to the available means (with a minimum of elements that guarantee the accomplishment of the work to be performed), a lot of communication with the partners involved in the production: lights, stage, backline, video, musicians and a lot, a lot of patience …
I could list countless events, concerts and productions that have been very complicated for me. Almost all go back to past times where we almost had to do “miracles” with very basic technologies. To list a few: Pope John Paul II’s visit to Madrid in 1983 with 100,000 people in the Bernabéu stadium and more than 3 million in the Paseo de la Castellana where the stage was the entire surface of the lawn and was broadcasted for more than 80 countries … I think you can get an idea of what that supposed, with analog consoles brands that almost nobody today would know and not to mention the circuit of equalizers, processors, effects … with all this, the result was great…
I remember with special affection the festival organized by Miguel Ríos on the esplanade of the Faculty of Biology for more than half a million people where for the first time we mixed teams from almost all the (few) audio companies in the country and began to understand the complexity of the audio, of the phasing, and coherence, the sum … in case someone does not know, then, there were no computers nor spectrum analyzers, almost nothing … surely if I would live it again today, or listen to it, it would seem almost ridiculous, but then it was a milestone.
I could also tell you about music festivals like the 24 hours of rock that were made in the palace of “rebotes” of Madrid before its remodeling and we would mix hundreds of bands for hours and hours… the conclusion is that today we count on technology and tools that make work incredibly easy and allow us to undertake any project with guarantees, but I cannot forget that thanks to having had those past experiences I have an intuition and some “buffers” that justify many of my decisions.
I return to what I said at the beginning of the answer: less is more and I can assure you that it works.
After all, you are the last human filter between the artist’s work and the viewer. How is the relationship you establish with the artist to faithfully convey his ideas in the show?
For following the lineup of what has been spoken up to now, confronting him with all simplicity. Speaking clearly, explaining things skillfully and with humanity. Never try to convince the artist to change habits to facilitate your work, but look for ways, ideas, methods to bring your concepts as faithful as possible to the public, and always without covering up the truth and without excuses …
Your artist needs to be calm and confident with your experience and skills, and also know that you have an ally who will respect him to reproduce what he wants to bring to the audience.
They open doors, the venue is full, highest expectations, the lights go out and … Do you still feel that tension right before you start a live show?
You cannot imagine it … as an anecdote I can tell you that I always tell my live show partner, adventurer, assistant, systems technician and good friend of mine, Juan Carlos García, minutes before starting the concert that the day that I don’t have butterflies in my stomach and a certain(calm) nervousness, that day, I should honestly leave the profession: of course that tension is necessary, it is simply the result of concentration and responsibility you have on your shoulders.
It is known the interest of brands to listen and respond to the needs of who, after all, will choose and work with their systems. What technical solution have you been missing and have not yet developed?
Ufff, difficult question: equipment that does not need to be adjusted, that doesn’t weigh a lot, that doesn’t break, that never fails, that reaches 200 meters, that is not expensive and that is mounted and dismounted in 3 minutes (laughs). Forgive the joke … although that translated to desires I can conclude that every year I am more surprised with the advances in our field both at the level of sound reproduction in P.A. as in digital tools for mixing. If they tell me more than 20 years ago that today I would be able to dispose of the elements with which I worked, I would answer them that they were completely crazy … that is why I think that, although slowly, what is to come is impressive. Obviously in terms of loudspeakers, line array boxes, etc … physics commands and it is more complicated to evolve … it is as if you ask me if someday the man will be able to do a marathon of 42 km in less than two hours … the limits are clearly set but I firmly believe that there is many surprises to come. As for the digital process, apps and tools the possibilities are endless … surely our children will mix in a device smaller than a telephone and perhaps, why not, the audio is virtual, we will perceive the waves by other elements that do not involve mechanics … Science fiction? … who knows …
We talk about the support and innovation of the manufacturers, but: What does it mean for you as a professional and for your work to have the whole team of a company like Fluge supporting you? How important is the company that provides the equipment?
An immense satisfaction. Having a company that gives definitive solutions to all your needs and that also worries to innovate, to give you the best service, to grow at their rate and also use your opinion to evolve, is one of my dreams fulfilled. Not always (or never) are the costs of the equipment that I provide proportional to the prices and budgets of the productions. When you see a group of companies that values and puts preference in the quality of the equipment, the full disposition of its technical staff, uses the time necessary to give solutions to your design without equating it to the economic compensation received and gives hints of its professionalism and power of evolution. I can only honestly say: Thank you very much Fluge!
And as for the human factor, what do you expect from your team? How do you usually work with them?
I think that the people who know me, know of my high level of exigency, of perfection, of the attention to detail however small, knowing and counting on that and the successes achieved I am very proud to share them with them. I am nobody without them and I pretend that they feel in a winning team, brave and that accepts to take risks, in an order, a simple script and basic rules of coexistence. Here all the suggestions, comments, ideas and whatever count … I learn something or two or a hundred every day.
I assume that I cannot be liked by everyone, that is obvious, but honestly I think that I have made my professional life and my knowledge public, I hide nothing, who is with me is in a team where we all are one.
Although you work primarily in the field of live shows, you have also begun to develop studio productions. How do you face this new challenge?
To be honest, I have to confess that I am by no means a studio expert. I try to do my best but I am very far from many of the great professionals of this country.
I have my own (quite modest) studio at home, which allows me, above all, an added comfort to work when you really find inspiration for it. In live shows you only have an opportunity that is immediate, it is “direct”, there is no going back, what is done, is done … in studio you are not affected by the external factors, and above all you turn back and amend all you want …
I mostly mix in live concerts, I think I find myself in my comfort zone and I recognize that some of the productions have had a lot of acceptance … I also have to admit that I do not have enough patience for the production of a record: Again from each shot, the hours and hours of editing … but that’s because of so many years on the road … the adrenaline “hooks me” too much.
Returning to the live shows, I read some statements of yours a few years ago in which you indicate that when you want to raise one level, it is almost always a better option to lower another. In addition to this, what are your basic principles to treat sound?
That’s true: I come back to the “ less is more” concept … uploading an instrument is easy to take it flat and the tendency is to raise the others to balance it … that is a spiral that leads to disaster …
The sound is very basic (within its complexity). The less you tweak (equalize), the less you manipulate (dynamic) the less you perfume (effects), and the more transparent it is, the better results you will get. The fundamental thing is to hear each instrument as it sounds naturally, to look for a good microphone and to place it in the ideal distance and way for the reproduction of the same is ideal … logically this is an idea that seems rudimentary and it is so … once you have everything sounding you have to be proportional, it’s like dressing a salad: oil, vinegar and salt: if you exceed with any of these additives you will have a salty, greasy or acidic salad … whoever is moderate and “logical” will make most people like that salad …
As for equipment settings, it’s exactly the same: the placement, angulation and dispersion are vital. I try to use what is necessary for the place, neither more nor less … after a good adjustment helped by a good systems technician to phase and time all the zones covering every corner of the premises. After this, is the final touch in which my ear commands exclusively … I base my musicality on the way I like to hear things while as long as I can maintain a certain fidelity to hearing and my age allows me …
Finally, there is the feeling of power. I love that the equipment sounds powerful, but careful that this can lead to deception. Sounding loud is not sounding good. You may be listening to a single loudspeaker with such an aggressive range on certain frequencies that can be unpleasant and harmful, or listen to a huge gas-filled system where your senses do not suffer because it is naturally proportioned.
And as for the direct application of digital equipment … Do you consider that the period of adaptation of the industry has already taken this great leap forward?
Of course yes. The new generations have come from their initiation “feeding on” digital technology. Those of us who existed before this era, except for a few exceptions, have all recycled ourselves to the current technologies and I must admit that thanks to emerging from the analog world there are certain techniques that have helped me a lot to understand and improve my experience today .
Don’t forget that although dominating the digital software and techniques, I am a great lover of the vintage, the processors with valves that give me some analog “grain” and I still miss plugins, equalizers consoles, recorders, etc. …
Which point do you consider most critical: the selection and previous configuration of the equipment or work from the control desk?
Both. Both are linked together and both must be pre-designed and made with the same skill. A great sound engineer with a misconfigured computer is going to have a complicated session, just like a good computer in the wrong hands.
The difference may be that the first part is more technical, more precise and surgical and the second is more artistic.
We have been fortunate to have your full disposal for this interview and we know that you are highly requested to give seminars and master classes worldwide, apart from transmitting knowledge on more technical aspects. What are the main ideas you want to send out to your audience? What feedback do you get from them?
I repeat for the umpteenth time: “less is more”. Simplicity, be true to oneself and others and loving this profession are keys to success. I always say that anyone can reach the top, no matter where you go, just insist on being perseverant, trust your concepts, listen to others and respect both them and your work.
Finally, tell us how the future looks for you. What projects do you have in hand?
The most immediate are 2 master classes in Los Angeles and New York from where we have done this interview. In February I return to travel to America, with Alejandro Sanz to Argentina, Luz Casal to Colombia and Alejandro Fernández to Chile, and then return return and set up the Dial Prizes Gala in Tenerife. From July on, carry out the Vitoria Jazz Festival and begin rehearsals of what will be the new world tour of Alejandro Sanz that will have me occupied during 2015 and 2016.