Brandi Carlile


Brandi Carlile at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo.

Photo by Candace Horgan

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Brandi Carlile built a loyal fan base from actively touring over several years, drawing in new fans with her dynamic and energetic shows. Musically, Carlile shows little regard for staying in a confining box, whether she performs country-oriented material like “Keep Your Heart Young” or her straight-up cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” She has recorded with the likes of Elton John and the Indigo Girls, and opened for artists like Tori Amos, the Avett Brothers and Chris Isaak. With the release in early 2012 of her fourth studio album, Bear Creek, Carlile has moved up to become a main attraction.

Mix caught up with Carlile’s tour at her first headlining performance at the famed Red Rocks in Morrison, Colo.

Running sound for Carlile is Alex Gardner, who has been with her for eight years and is today the only sound engineer on Carlile’s tour. Engineering runs in Gardner’s blood, as his father worked as a tour manager and sound engineer and Gardner got an early start in the business by working summers at the sound companies where his dad worked.

Gardner’s first touring assignment was with Everclear, and when a friend who was on that tour had to decline an offer to work a short tour of Carlile’s, Gardner stepped in and has been with Carlile ever since.

Carlile still travels with a minimal setup. “I just finally got my own console on this tour, so we are taking baby steps,” laughs Gardner. “I would love to bring our own P.A., but it’s a pretty big jump to do a full production. You have to have a semi and all that stuff, so right now, I’ll just be happy with my console and my mic package.”

For the tour, Gardner has been mixing on an Avid VENUE SC48, but at Red Rocks, which had a large production due to a simultaneous HDTV broadcast on, Gardner was working on an Avid VENUE Profile.

“It’s very similar to the desk that we normally tour with,” explains Gardner of the Profile. “There’s a lot going on at this show with audio and video for the TV broadcast. They are taking an entire split, as well as a left/right from me, and some audience mics. The one we travel with [the VENUE SC48] is very compact, which is nice because we are just traveling in a couple of trailers. It’s got everything you need: comps and gates and effects and EQs are all onboard, so you don’t need any outboard gear. It sounds pretty good for a digital console, and it’s very user-friendly.”

Before the tour, Gardner set up most of the gains and inputs for the tour on the SC48, as the mics and DIs that the band uses don’t change.

“I mainly just EQ the room every day and maybe use different outputs for different zones, but it’s pretty well set day-to-day,” he says. “As far as comps and gates, I don’t use a lot. I use some gates on drums. With compression, I use very little. I have some on the vocals and bass channels, but not much. As far as effects, not a whole lot with these guys either, just a plate that I put on the drums and sometimes on the acoustics, depending on the room. I have a basic hall reverb for the vocals, and I sometimes change the times on it from song to song, if it needs it. Then I have a bigger hall reverb and a delay that I use at times for dramatic effect, and then I have a separate reverb and delay that I use for a specific song, ‘Hard Way Home,’ which is new.”

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Engineer Alex Gardner

Photo by Candace Horgan

Gardner employs mostly Sennheiser mics and Radial active DIs. Fiddle player Jeb Bows uses an L.R. Baggs DI on his mandolin and an A.R.T. tube DI on his violin. Carlile has four DI lines for her different guitars, and uses a switcher to go back and forth. Tim Hanseroth also sometimes plays acoustic guitar, and Phil Hanseroth at times uses an acoustic bass. Despite the preponderance of acoustic instruments, Gardner has no issues with stage volume and integrating the electric instruments with the acoustics.

For vocal mics, Carlile uses a pair of Neumann KMS 105s, one at center stage and one at the piano. The Hanseroth twins use Sennheiser e865s to sing harmonies. On the kick, Gardner uses a Sennheiser e902, while the snare top and bottom are miked with Sennheiser e905s. For the hi-hat and overheads, he uses Sennheiser e614s, the rack and floor are Sennheiser e604s, and he has an e905 on a trash can lid. The guitar amps get Sennheiser e906s, and the bass mic is a Sennheiser e602.

At Red Rocks, Dowlen Sound provided an Outline GTO line array with 12 cabinets per side, plus one downfill and nine subs per side on the ground. All amps were Powersoft; GTO monitor wedges lined the stage.

“It’s the same P.A. that Bassnectar got noise complaints with in Morrison, minus a few subs, so I figure we are okay,” he laughs. “I came in and tuned it, but they hung it. We boosted the tops a little bit to get the throw to the top of the venue without killing the people down low, but as far as tuning everywhere, I just ring it out with Brandi’s vocal. If I can get that sounding good, I can get everything else sounding good, so that’s kind of the focal point.”

Often, a house engineer will handle monitors, but sometimes Gardner will handle monitor mixes himself. “Fortunately, Brandi is really easy on the monitors, so we don’t need a monitor guy,” comments Gardner, somewhat ruefully. “Basically, I’ll just get everything set with the vocal mics and our guitar tech will run through all the instruments, and I’ll catch it out front while they get basic levels set onstage.”

Most of Carlile’s backing band uses wedges, though Bows and cello player Josh Neumann are using in-ears. Gardner says he doesn’t think Carlile will ever use in-ears, as she likes to feel connected to the audience and hear the crowd. The monitor mixes are fairly simple, according to Gardner.

“Brandi gets a little vocal and acoustic in there, but very little,” Gardner explains. “I think she’s been mixing in some other stuff lately, like a little cello sometimes and maybe a little fiddle, and Tim’s acoustic.”