Year-End Fun, and a Big Question

by George Petersen
in Editor's Note

Fig. 1: The growth of console input numbers over the years.It’s hard to believe that December’s already here and 2013 is right around the corner. That, of course, is unless some ancient Mayan astrologers were right in their assessment that the planet would end on 12/21/12, in which case, all bets are off. If for some reason, that happens to be the case, try to get paid up front for any holiday gigs you book.

However, I think we’ll all still be here on the 22nd, so if you’re putting off your holiday shopping, you might want to start early anyway. And the reason for that is because we puny mortals have faced and survived similar situations in the past. These go back to 634 BC (Romans thought apocalypse would come in that 120th year of the empire) and then on and on, including more recent examples such as the ominous year 1984, the Harmonic Convergence of 1987 and the foreshadows of two different doomsdays last year by religious nutcase Harold Camping.

But I’m gonna go way out on a limb, with a prediction that we’ll all be fine. In fact, you have my personal assurance that everything will be okay, so pay your bills, don’t quit your job, and count on showing up to provide sound for all those holiday parties and year-end gigs. While everyone else is out shopping and swilling eggnog, there’s a lot of activity this month for sound pros, so like bears getting ready for winter hibernation, stock up on these opportunities now.

Now, the Real Question

However, I’ve finally figured out what may create havoc with the tilt of the planetary axis, and it’s global input change. This relatively new concept is based on the ever-increasing number of inputs used by large FOH consoles. In this year alone, we’ve witnessed shows requiring an incredibly large number of mix inputs. Barbra Streisand’s tour (in this issue page 28) had 170 inputs at FOH, with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour coming in at 166. In last month’s FRONT of HOUSE, we reported 112 inputs at the mix position on Madonna’s MDNA tour. Earlier this year, the Springsteen tour needed 104 preamp channels (96 at the board plus eight external pre’s), so, clearly, the number is on the rise.

The growth of console input numbers over the years.The chart of console input size by year shows the evolution of the trend back to 1960, when a 12-channel desk was considered pro. In 1965 it was 16, and then 24 by 1970. We have long since passed the 32 (1975) and 40 (1980) points, and by 1985, we needed 48 inputs to get by. A decade later in 1990, it was up to 64, and by 2005, 96 was de rigueur. Obviously, today we’re way over that mark, and at our current rate, we’ll be over the 400-input point by mid-century. By then, physical limitations come into play (an analog-style mixer with 400 one-inch-wide input strips would be more than 35 feet long), so it’s obviously a digital solution.

But what will happen when your mixer has more banks of layers than input strips? And these days, is it really possible to mix a rock trio and somehow get by with just 96 inputs? These are some great topics of thought to mull over during the holidays.

Ready, Set, Spend!

Speaking of the holidays, we asked David Morgan, our resident mega-input mixer (after all, he did mix Paul Simon’s 140-input Graceland tour back in 1987) for suggestions of stocking stuffer gifts for sound reinforcement pros. True to form, he came up with a splendid selection of goodies to please the most discriminating audio hound. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but turn to page 39 for a most useful and entertaining read.

In terms of gift ideas, I’d somehow be remiss if I didn’t suggest some great items we have around here. Think of it: no lines, no hassles, you can have a cyber shopping day of your own any time you want it. If you’re seeking something for either a budding future FOH engineer-in-the-making or a buddy who’s a seasoned pro, check out the huge selection of top-rated instructional books and videos on pro audio topics at the FOH/PLSN Bookshelf ( Books on lighting and stage production are also available, but we all know that audio is what really counts. And the gift of knowledge is perhaps the most special gift of all.

On the cool side, you can’t go wrong with an FOH T-shirt. They’re offered in classic, always-in-style black, and they are perfect for yourself or any pals on your “A” list.

George Petersen, FOH editorBut most of all, we’d like to wish you a joyous holiday season from the entire staff of FRONT of HOUSE and Timeless Communications. We consider each of you as part of our family and hope you have a safe, fun and prosperous December — at least once the checks from all your holiday gigs clear. So have a cool yule and a great New Year to come.

Catch George’s editorial commentary at