A front of house engineer, aka FOH, is the person on tour that takes care of mixing the sound the artist is putting out to the audience. The front of house engineer is usually in a barricaded box or tent in the middle of the crowd and their main responsibility is making sure the audio sounds good for the concert-goers.
Skills required to be a Front of House Engineer
The main skills needed to be a quality front of house engineer translates to any other job related to sound on the road. Anyone with a good ear for sound would have a leg up in this field, as it’s necessary to be able to pick apart different parts of a song rather than just hearing the song as a whole. Any sound person has to be able to focus on each individual piece contributing to the sound without losing track of the song as a whole.
Having a good ear isn’t something that can be taught, but it’s a skill that can be practiced. A solid understanding of the RF spectrum is a must. Without understanding the way that the spectrum works and having EQs memorized, the job as a whole will be much harder. Sound engineers also have to have a good understanding of acoustics and the way sound works to have a good concept of how to do their jobs well.
The other half of the job is understanding the physical equipment, and you won’t be able to do the job without it. The anatomy of a mixing board, how all the audio hardware works, and dealing with different setups in every venue you’re in are some significant hurdles a front of house engineer will need to address.
The Difference Between FOH and Monitor Engineer
Overall, the point of any sound tech on tour is to make sure the artist and the audience can hear everything during a show. The number of techs brought out to do the job is dependent on the level of touring an artist has reached; IE the more prominent the artist, the more techs they need, but the job breakdown always stays the same.
The monitor technician is responsible for everything the artist needs to hear on stage. They mix from the side of the stage, so they’re capable of making any adjustments on the fly for the band. The front-of-house person is mixing the live sound for the audience. They’re at the booth placed basically in the center of the venue to hear acoustically the same thing the audience is listening to and make the changes necessary to put on a great show. One person can do both of these jobs, or some bands will let the local crew handle the FOH mix while they use their own monitor engineer.
Daily tasks of a Front of House Engineer
As a front of house engineer, the day begins with walking in to examine the venue. They listen to the room to make sure that they’re aware of what they’re working with acoustically for the show. There’s a lot to learn about the acoustics of a space when it’s empty. Once all the gear is loaded in, it’s time to set up. Front of house is located in the middle of the venue floor. This is the best place for the engineers to hear the acoustics of the room they’re in and make sure they’re mixing the show to the best of their abilities. Once all the gear is set up, the sound person will tune the PA. They do this by playing pink noise through the speakers to measure exactly what everything sounds like in the specific space. Once this is done, the engineer will listen to songs they’re really familiar with to make any necessary adjustments and make sure everything sounds good.
Once everything is set up and running, it’s time for soundcheck. The artist will come in and play through a couple of songs to ensure that everything is working and sounds good for the show. Soundcheck is basically the only time to make any kind of adjustments to things so it’s a really important time for both artist and the front of house engineer. If the band is unable to soundcheck for whatever reason, the front of house engineer is able to have a virtual soundcheck using multitrack recordings from previous shows to simulate what the band will sound like.
From there, the only thing left to do is have a successful show. The front of house engineer spends the duration of the show making the artist sound as good as possible. As the show progresses, it’s up to the engineer to make sure that they’re reacting to everything on stage. They need to pay close attention to not only the volume and quality of what the artist is producing, but also making sure that necessary effects are being used. They’re also making sure that if there are any fires to put out during the performance that they’re able to do so discreetly and quickly. After the show is finished, it’s time to lid up and load out to rinse and repeat the next day.
Front of House Engineer Tips
- Digital is the future, so make sure you understand the gear
- Listen to the room because acoustics and PAs are different everywhere you go
- Whenever possible use the openers to make sure everything sounds good
- Use soundcheck to deliver bad news/make changes
- You’re giving the artist the confidence to do what they do, so make sure you’re taking it seriously
- Know your audio frequencies! Audio Frequency Trainer
- Make sure your gear is clean and fully functional at all times