Hi, Jason. Starting with the vocal is one method that’s probably guaranteed to work. I will say that a talented, experienced professional who’s musical and has ears — who knows the sound level that their system can produce — knows their mixing board well — could start with the drums and in advance have a good idea of the headroom they need and the proportion that a drumset should be at anticipating the mix. When I mix a rock group in the studio I can start with the rhythm section and eventually add the vocal without an issue and be in the ballpark. Because I have a calibrated monitor gain and I know in advance where I should set it to produce a given SPL in the room for rock mixing. I set the monitor gain in advance and just using my ears (without having to look at the meter I can get the drumset, the bass and percussion “in the ballpark” by how loud they sound. By the time the vocal is in the mix all I need isjust little tweaks, not big ones.
What I’m saying is the Katz method of calibrated monitor gain works well in the studio. Unfortunately, with venues having very different characteristics, I don’t think the reinforcement engineer can use the calibrated monitor gain concept.
But calibration will help, and I know it: if they set up their gain structure so their digital boards are well below overload to produce a given SPL. For example, -20 dBFS pink noise yields 85 or even 90 dB SPL, and the board and chain will never overload. Then they can start with the drums and using their ears get them to a comfortable, not too loud level, which will leave plenty of gain room in the chain to add other instruments. Once the vocal has come in, they can concentrate on fine tuning the nits of the balance, not doing what Jason described as “oh my god, the vocal is buried.”