Out in support of their sixth studio release, The King Is Dead, folk/pop artists The Decemberists made a pit stop at the annual Outside Lands festival, San Francisco, playing to sold-out crowds near the end of the last day. For the festival date, the crew—including front-of-house engineer Rich Hipp and monitor engineer Marcel Cacdac—brought in all their normal touring gear except for the Meyer speaker system, which was provided by UltraSound. For the rest of their recently wrapped 2011 tour, Portland, Ore.–based Horne Audio provided all equipment.
Both engineers are quick to say that the approach to their respective mixes doesn’t change that much for a festival situation. Cacdac says, “We’ve been lucky in that we are able to use our production at festivals: consoles and local racks, splitter, snake, power distro, mics, stands, cables, et cetera. This has given me the luxury of a consistent mix and confidence without needing a soundcheck. I usually recall a show file from a previous festival or similar-type outdoor venue, and away we go!”
Front-of-house engineer Rich Hipp
It also helps that both engineers are working on compact setups: Avid VENUE Profiles at both stations, with no outboard gear. Some of Hipp’s go-to plug-ins include Echo Farm, TC Electronic VSS3 and ReVibe for ambience; and Purple Audio MC77, Impact, Focusrite d2 and d3, and Serato Rane Series for dynamics and EQ. Cacdac uses many of those same plug-ins, adding in Fairchild 660s for Jenny Conlee (accordion), Nate Query (upright bass) and vocalist Colin Meloy’s overall in-ear mix; a mono Fairchild 660 on John Moen’s snare top; and a few onboard gates/expanders for Leslie cabinet, glockenspiel and guitarist Chris Funk and Conlee’s vocals, “to reduce bleed as well as channel comps for various acoustic instruments,” Cacdac says.
In addition, Hipp’s VENUE system has an HDx card connected to a Macbook Pro with an HD Native card running Pro Tools|HD9 for multitrack archive and virtual soundcheck. “I can use the live tracks from the night before to check my workflow from input to output. It’s an amazing tool.”
Monitor engineer Marcel Cacdac
Onstage, acoustic and electric instruments mingle together, creating a wider sonic palette that keeps the engineers anticipating their next fader move. “The dynamic range from song to song is wide, so I just try to present that as best I can to the audience,” says Hipp. “The Decemberists’ songs are very narrative, and vocal intelligibility is an important part of my mix.” Hipp mikes Meloy with an Audix VX-10, while backing vocals get Audix OM6s. In fact, there are numerous Audix mics in use—from snare top, to bass cabinet, to glockenspiels—with a smattering of Electro-Voice (kick), Shure (overheads) and Heil Sound (guitar cabs) models. “The Heil PR-31BW is my newest mic, using it on a guitar cabinet,” says Hipp. “On my drum vocal, I’m using a small-diaphragm condenser [Audix SCX-ONE HC]. We decided to fully embrace the drum bleed in the vocal mic, essentially making the drum vocal another drum mic.”
That bleed onstage is also affecting Cacdac’s monitor mix, as Moen will sometimes play keys or sing in Funk’s mic or even play melodica on Meloy’s mic. “I have a very active mix and I’m constantly reading their body language, too,” he says. “I make a considerable amount of fader moves based on their body language, always anticipating and, for the most part, pre-emptively mixing what I believe they need at any moment without losing the feel for the song or the dynamics of the moment. Depending on the set list, I have several cues, especially when they change instruments, which happens often.”
The majority of the band—with the exception of Funk, who has an L-Acoustics 115XT HIQ wedge—is on in-ears so that Cacdac can create the same musical environment in each performer’s mix; they use Sensaphonics 2X-S models, and drummer Moen also has a Buttkicker Concert Series transducer. In addition, fiddler/vocalist Sarah Watkins (special to the tour) is on Ultimate Ears.
At the end of the show, Hipp finds that his addiction to creating and establishing “good audio” continues to grow. “Each day presents a new set of challenges in which I learn something more about that pursuit,” he says, “and understand more deeply what is good audio and what is not.”