Dan Black performs
Mix talked with engineer Steve Pattison about Black's current tour.
How much gear are you carrying?
Gear-wise, all I'm carrying is an Allen & Heath IDR32, a wireless router and my laptop. We also have our own Radial DIs and a trusty [Shure] SM58 for Dan.
Tell me about your setup.
The setup is real simple. I toyed with this idea last year whileout with Alphabeat. We did varying-sized shows from 15,000 to club gigs and we were carrying two iLive 112 desks. In the club shows, there wasn't always space for me to put my desk at front of house so I would leave it at the side of stage with the monitor board. I connected a wireless router to the network port, then connected my laptop wirelessly to the network and ran the iLive editor software that synched up to the desk so I could remotely operate the desk!
The outputs from my desk (left, right and PFL) would be patched into the house multicore, so on the house desk I would just bring up the first two faders, pan them left and right, and PFL the third channel. So I still mix using my desk and I can remotely PFL individual channels for line checks, et cetera, even when there is no space for my desk! Please note there is no audio passing through the laptop; it is merely acting as a remote control.
Hence, inputting my outputs and PFL into the house multicore so I can see them and hear them at the house desk. We then took this one stage further by just using a single desk at the monitor position. I occupied two bottom layers of Ben's (Booker, monitor engineer) desk and operated remotely. We had six stereo in-ear mixes, six wedge mixes, five FX sends and my FOH mix—with two engineers operating simultaneously on different layers, tweaking different mixes. And it ran flawlessly. Because I was operating on a different layer, Ben never saw his half of the desk alter in any way so I didn't affect the screen or anything he was doing. You can't do that with any other digital board. As soon as the remote operator does anything, the desk will jump to whatever he's doing and not stay with mix 5, which you were just tweaking! The only thing Ben noticed was the FX being muted between songs.
From all of this I asked whether it would be possible to just have a mix rack and operate it via just a laptop using the editor software as a stand-alone system—and now you can!
So it was with all of this in mind that when I started working with Dan Black, I was thinking of using the most versatile and unobtrusive system I could put together. Again, Dan's shows where wide-ranging from large festivals to clubs and fashion events. So taking regular production would be a pain. Dan's sound is a gathering of electronic and organic—electronic drum kit, loops, pads, synth, bass, guitar and Dan's distinct vocal; lots of electronics but all played and triggered live by the band. To enable me to keep as much consistency from show to show, I implemented Allen & Heath's IDR32 as the brains of the outfit and mounted it into the Plexiglas illuminated loop station that lives next to the drum kit onstage. So all my inputs from the band go straight to the IDR32. Once we wheel it onto the stage, it's just a matter of running out two looms to connect my inputs and three cables for backing vocals.
I output five mixes into the house multi (L, R and three wedge mixes), plus two sends for the drummer's mixer and one stereo in-ear mix, which is for Ferdi who plays pads, sings and triggers the loops. However, he doesn't have a headphone amp or a wireless system so I simply plug his headphones into the headphone socket of the IDR32 and I PFL his stereo ears mix for the show. Now it's an integral part of their setup—it really is plug and play! Fifteen-minute festival change-over? No problem! Five inputs to the house, first two faders up in the house, monitor mix one to stage right, mix two to center and mix three to stage left? Just check five input gains and they're on!
I've split my file on the editor into three desks now so I have an FOH desk, a wedge mix desk and an in-ears desk. This gives me greater control and flexibility over the show and everybody's listening pleasure. This is now much more easy to achieve and setup using the new custom layers function. It's simply a box into which I can drag any and as many faders as I like, and I can have as many layers as I like. So I have an FOH layer with all the channels, FX and DCAs I'm likely to play with for the FOH mix. A wedge layer with separate channels and the master aux controls. An in-ears layer with more separate channels, and so on.
Ialso have a record mix layer and a DCA layer. It's a cinch to switch between layers and everything you need is right in front of you all the time. It can be like mixing one-handed the first time you try it because you've only got one cursor, but once you think about your layout and assign DCAs carefully, it becomes second nature. It's great being able to mix from the audience. I'm no longer stuck at FOH and can listen to what the audience is hearing and make changes in real time from right where it matters. I've had no wireless issues either, even at some big festivals where I've been up to 60m away from the router and it's only a regular NetGear home router, nothing special. Same goes for the laptop; it's just a regular £500 Sony from a couple years ago. It makes a real difference being able to use your own desk always.
What's the most important part of your mix?
Not too much ice and orange, plenty of vodka! Control is probably the most important thing. There's so much extraneous stuff happening live and you really need to have a handle on everything or you'll be chasing your tail and tying yourself in knots trying to find what's missing or what's bothering you in the mix. Keep it simple, work with what you've got and build a good foundation. From that you'll get consistency and from there you mold the sound into what you want to achieve.
Mixing live, you're the engineer, mixer and the producer. What you say goes because it's live. Get the band in the habit of asking themselves are they creating the right sound in the first place, get it right at the source and your gig is so much easier. Then you can work with the act, helping them create arrangements that work better live. Sometimes you only need to imply stuff for people to hear it, sometimes you only notice the FX when you mute them and that "something" is gone. But above all have fun (and get your invoice in early)!
Where can we find you when you're not on the road?
You'll probably find me on my motorcycle heading for the Alps or Spain, or hurtling through a Welsh forest on my mountain bike being chased by my dog, Jack.