Legendary Front of House Mixer Dave Natale spent a week in April 2021 with The Blackbird Academy students. As one of the most influential and respected live-sound guys in the business, Dave’s long-time career spans every genre. He’s mixed The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Yes, Motley Crue, Fleetwood Mac, and a list of artists that goes on and on with no reduction in star power.  And, he has additionally mixed the two most recent Super Bowl halftime shows.

Dave shared his candid thoughts on the industry, as well as the approaches and techniques he’s honed through countless performances with some of the greats.

The Blackbird Academy: What was your favorite show you mixed?

Dave Natale: I told you that I never worked for a band that I didn’t like, and that’s rare — very rare. You’ll always end up getting stuck — especially when you work for a company. The company says, “You’re going to go out and mix that band.” “I don’t like that band.” “Well, you gotta go mix that band.” Then, you gotta go mix that band. I never got stuck with one I didn’t like.

Who did the best shows? They’re all different. Tina Turner, 38 Special, Yes — I mean the music is all so crazy different. Motley Crue, whoa boy…

BBA: Was there one show that stood out — one stadium you played that had an energy that couldn’t compare? 

DN: The Stones played that Coachella thing that they did three or four years ago. The first night — they came out — and oh my God. I knew. I hit the all-mute button — number eight. “Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones.” [Imitates roar of the crowd.] I went, “Oh my God, I can’t do any wrong!” It was really good. That was a good day. 

Another one that was really good was when they [The Rolling Stones] were out in Pasadena and did the Rose Bowl. That was another one, really good. Bands always play good for the most part. It’s when you get into a situation where you have a good sound environment to work in, like Coachella, for example. You’ll understand what I’m saying. Coachella is a flat field. There’s no acoustics. Nothing’s bouncing off of anything because there’s nothing to bounce off of. It just disperses. The Rose Bowl is an old stadium. It’s 85 feet tall. There’s no boxes hanging over. There’s no roof. It’s just a bowl like this with the PA hanging above the bowl. And again, bouncing off of nothing. Anything like that — a flat field, a festival out in the middle of Holland or Germany where they do a lot of them — just a big flat field is where it’s gonna sound good. 

Dave took us on a virtual tour with The Rolling Stones.

BBA: Tell us more about your thoughts on Pro Tools.

DN: There’s a place for it, but it sucks the life out of stuff. It makes it too regimented, too perfect. People aren’t perfect. That’s another thing that bothers me. “I made a mistake there.” You and me know it, maybe. Now, I know it because you told me. It went right past me and everybody else. That’s called being human. That’s what humans do. They make mistakes. Humans don’t play perfect. Perfect’s boring. It’s like flat. Flat is boring. 

That’s how I feel about it. Mistakes are fine. Noise is fine. I grew up with albums’ crackle and popcorn. It’s okay. It’s not loud enough that it’s louder than the music, and we can’t listen to the music. It really didn’t change the music that I like, so I’m okay with all that stuff. But, there’s a predisposition right now for everyone to be beyond perfect, and that’s not right. Click track? There’s no need for it. If a drummer’s good, then a drummer’s good. 

BBA: What’s a mistake a lot of engineers might make?

DN: I see a lot of guys that just turn stuff up, they leave it up, and go, “Now I can’t hear the guitar.” They turn up the guitar. Then, it’s “I can’t hear the keyboards.” So, they turn the keyboards up. Then, the whole mix is that much louder, and the vocals are that much quieter because everything is getting that much closer to it. So, this is just my way of keeping the vocals loud.


Students checking out Dave's mix.
Students checking out Dave’s mix.

 Are there some things you wouldn’t want to mix?

DN: Yeah. Next question? I don’t want to get into anything, but yes are some things I wouldn’t want to mix — anything where people aren’t playing it. I don’t want to know anything about Pro Tools. That’s another thing. There are no Pro Tools bands on that resume. None. Zero. I’ve never had to do it, and I don’t. I feel like it’s cheating. I don’t care what anyone else says. It’s not. You’re going to sit there and call yourself a musician, and you’re going to sit there and practice and practice. It sucks. We all know that, but that’s how you get good. That’s when you earn the right to be called a musician. Pressing buttons? I could do that all day long, and I’m not a musician. So, I don’t want to know about it. 

BBA: Who would you like to mix live?

DN: I’d like to mix Heart. I think Heart would be good. That’d be good.


Dave on one of his mixes in class…

I wanted you to also see how weird the EQ [equalization] is. Like I said, don’t do this, or you’re gonna get fired. It’s weird. Most people have the EQ way flatter. It’s only gonna take out a couple of things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, this is how I do it for most bands. You can’t do it with The Stones because The Stones’ drums would sound stupid if you had Rolling Stones with that drum sound. So, the song is much more natural. There’s much less EQ. No gates. It’s just much more of an organic sound because it has to be. It’s just the nature of the band. But, for most bands, I do like this. 


Many thanks to Dave for stopping by to share his experiences! This conversation is just the tip of the iceberg of all the tips and techniques Dave covered in class. To experience this type of mentorship and hands-on learning, enroll in an upcoming Live Sound program at The Blackbird Academy by submitting an application.