Few people outside the band itself are more important to a touring band’s success than their Front of House (FOH) sound person. What we in the audience hear coming from the stage is a real collaboration between the players and the crew, all filtered through the ears and eyes of that all too under-appreciated mixer. Many a band has been hindered or destroyed by bad sound, while others are elevated on a given night or tour by an outstanding FOH mix. So on that note, we bring you the best example we know of combination skilled technician and zen master, the one and only Stan Doty. He’s been behind Wilco’s sound board for more than a dozen years and is as close to a 7th member of Wilco as exists out there on the road.
HQ sat down with Stan on the band’s recent European Tour and asked him a few questions about his gig, history and philosophy. Here we go:
HQ: How about a bit of background. How did you get your start mixing live bands and specifically Wilco?
Stan: Well I’ve been doing live sound since 1977. I bought Cheap Tricks’s bar PA in ’78 and my first show with it was Humble Pie at the Great Illinois Purchase in Rockford. I’ve owned sound gear ever since. My connection to Wilco: I used to be partners in a record company. Uncle Tupelo sent us a promo cassette. We didn’t know if there was a market for what heard, so we put them on a show backing up one of our bands at Cicero’s & instantly fell in love with them. But by then the band was already signed. Missed that one. Told them they should be playing Lounge Ax, where I had the PA in Chicago, and from then on I worked with the band off and on. When Wilco started I did most of Jeff’s acoustic shows and, of course, was honored. I started touring full-time with Wilco around the time of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and have been with them ever since.
HQ: You’re the longest tenured member of the Wilco technical crew. To what do you attribute your longevity?
Stan: It helps if you enjoy being with the people involved. The Band and crew are like a family. There are a lot of good people in this world and being able to travel helps you keep in touch. And we get to work in some of the best rooms in the world. But the most important thing is I’m a big fan of the music. That helps when you hear it night after night.
HQ: What’s your favorite/least favorite part of the job?
Stan: Favorite is being part of the excitement that happens every night as the show begins. Hearing how the songs are written and then what they become. That still blows me away. Least favorite: Being away from home and missing family.
HQ: Favorite place to mix/least favorite place to mix?
Stan: Favorite is centered between the speakers 150 – 250′ back. On the same level with the fans. Least favorite: under a balcony in a corner with a ceiling 2 feet overhead and no under balcony speakers.
HQ: Any tips for aspiring bands and/or mixers?
Stan: For bands: play a lot of shows and practice a lot and try to find your voice. The thing about bands is most of them break up or go through changes. Stay with it — good things usually come to those who work hard.
For mixers: A good sound guy should be able to mix in almost any situation. Big, small, club, hall. Learn how to operate as much of the gear you come across as you can. Record and listen to as many of your mixes as possible. It’s great practice. If you are in a club situation, work hard on learning monitors. It all starts on stage. If the band isn’t worrying about hearing themselves there is a better chance the show will be good for the fans. And as we know, it’s all about the fans.
HQ: You’ve lived through the change from analog to digital mixingwell boards (and audio in general). How has that changed your job and what the audience hears, if at all?
Stan: I suppose it is like any other job where things change. You either grow or you go. The difference is an analog board is right in front of you whereas a digital is staked on pages. That’s the main difference when you’re running 40 plus channels. All mixers have different sounds built into them electrically. But the end result should be as close to the same as possible. These days the power, processing and speakers are so efficient that very seldom do you find a sound system that is not up to snuff. Most problems come from operator error.
HQ: What are your most memorable Wilco shows and why?
Stan: Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the last time we did Lollapallooza and both times we did Bonnaroo. These were all big shows for the band and they turned out just how they should have from a sound point of view. Radio City because the sound was reviewed in the press for being great. Bonnaroo because Mix Magazine told me I had two of the best mixes on the main stage they’d ever heard.
HQ: You owned the rock club, Otto’s, in Dekalb, Illinois for many years. Any favorite memories?
Stan: Wilco played their first show with Pat and Nels at Otto’s. Meeting Robbie Kreiger of the Doors. He played The End which he said he had not played in 20 years. Having Ted Nugent walking about my building all day and playing a great show. Snoop Dog. Hanging with Lemmy from Motorhead.
HQ: How long do you continue to plan on mixing?
Stan: Until the excitement is gone. Right now I’m living the dream. I believe that attitude is 95% of the job. That goes for anybody at any job after a certain amount of time. I hope to mix for at least 10 more years.