There's no “Take 2” on tour, which means performing artists need a crew that knows them well and can anticipate the band's needs/wishes. So it only makes sense for artists to forge good, long-standing relationships with their live sound engineers. Such is the case with heavy-metal rockers Distrurbed: Scott “Skitch” Canady has been working the boards for the band for the past eight years. He first acted as their monitor engineer shortly after their debut release and then moved to the front-of-house position 18 months later. Similarly, Rob Lightner started with them as a sound tech during the band's 2005 run on the Jagermeister tour and then moved over to monitor world during that summer's Music as a Weapon run.
The band (and “fire” man from their latest release’s cover art) performing before an energetic crowd.
Photos: Steve Jennings
While Disturbed has made its share of trucks-and-buses tours across the U.S., when the band pulled into the San Jose Event Center (San Jose, Calif.) at the end of January 2009, it was with a scaled-down production. The band is carrying control — a pair of Yamaha PM5D consoles — and a Maryland Sound package of proprietary double-12 wedge monitors and JVL VerTec 4889 sidefills (along with Crown I-Tech amps to power the 4889s and Powersoft amps for the wedges); they are renting racks and stacks.
“We brought the PM5Ds because they are small and easy,” Canady says. “There's no reason to spend money now when we're going to spend money later on the Music as a Weapon tour, where we're going to be carrying production.”
Throughout this tour, Canady has seen JBL VerTec and L-Acoustics V-DOSC boxes. “It's got to the point where every company has the same gear,” he says. “So it's common for us to see a bunch of 4889s, or if it's a smaller place a boatload of 4888s. On a tour like this, we'll ask for what we think is minimal.”
For the San Jose show, Canady worked with a collection of VerTec 4889s hung in a left/right array, along with a series of frontfill boxes. “I try to keep it very simple,” he says. “I prefer everything up the middle, straight-ahead and forward. I've seen a lot of guys and know a lot of guys who are pan fans. I applaud that; I get it. But I've found that straight-down the middle is best.”
Lead singer David Draiman
Canady takes a fundamentally rock 'n' roll approach to his mix, both for the hangs and the frontfills. “I used to add vocals and guitars [to the frontfills], but we've been on a 40×60-foot stage regularly and the frontfills can take an overall mix,” he says. “So I send a left/right mix to those boxes with just a bit of EQ and processing.” He prefers to fly as much of the rig as possible and likes to avoid sidefills whenever possible, but it turns out that guitarist Dan Donegan relies on a flown rig on both sides of the stage and a personal monitor to hear his live performance.
Front-of-house engineer Scott “Skitch” Canady
Those sidefill boxes give monitor mixer Lightner a unique challenge, especially as the rest of the band is using Sennheiser personal monitors for their mixes. “He doesn't even need the sidefills with how loud he runs his amps, but he just likes it loud,” Lightner reports of Donegan's mix. “There have been times when David [Draiman, lead vocalist] has come over, and said, ‘You gotta turn his guitar amp down,’ but I'm just the monitor guy. Luckily, we're playing large enough venues to where the stage volume doesn't affect the front of house.”
The rest of the band made the transition to personal monitors back when Canady was running that side of things. Most of the mixes Lightner provides, working from a PM5D, are standard. Each gets a bit of everyone, including a click track. “There are a couple of songs where David will start with a vocal piece on 3 and the band will come in on 4,” Lightner explains.
One of Lightner's big changes during this tour was swapping out a Mackie board that drummer Mike Wengren had in his rack with a MOTU mixer. “It had been there for years, and it was distorting,” he says with a smile. “So we got rid of that, but he won't let me send him the kick drum trigger, the samples or the click.” In addition to personal monitors, Wengren has a pair of JBL VP powered subs that are suspended under the drum riser and pointing up at him.
That is a challenge for Lightner as he does not have a good reference for Wengren's kick/snare ratio. “So when I'm cueing up, especially during his drum solo, all I'm hearing are the subs under him for the kick. It's kind of weird for me listening to his mix without a kick drum in there.”
Monitor engineer Rob Lightner
The subs under the riser setup caused a bit of consternation with Draiman, Lightner says, because he has a problem with low end in his monitor mix. “It has to do with his reference between the guitar and his vocals,” Lightner says. “So I EQ his monitors a bit and roll off some of the low end.”
Although Lightner hasn't measured stage volume, there's no doubt it's loud enough to impact the crowd mix. Canady, though, is nonplussed. “I've been in that role as the monitor engineer,” he says. “And everybody is nice and professional, so that if I need something turned down we work with whatever we can to get by.”
One of the ways that Canady and Lightner have worked together is on mic choices, especially for the guitar amp. “We have two Sennheiser 609s, and a [Shure] 57 and 81,” he says. “And because we're using a digital board, we can use the right track to get the guitar to cut through on his ear mix.”
Other than Draiman's 57 or wireless 87c vocal mic, Canady has moved the band into using the Audio-Technica Artist Elite Series. “It's been a benefit for me and I can hear the difference,” he explains.
It also allows him to better represent the band without the use of effects, other than what's called for based on the current release, Indestructible. The band and Canady's philosophies blend in this way: “They don't overdo something in the studio so they don't have to rely on it as a crutch,” he says. “There are no vocals or guitars [played in the background during the live set]. The things we play are electronic noises and hand claps.
“It comes down to this,” Canady continues. “If I went to see a show and felt I was cheated with all sorts of enhancements, then I would be highly upset. Even as an engineer, if I feel that something is too drastic or over-exaggerated, then I get upset. If it's obvious to me, then it's probably obvious to others and I would hate to cheat somebody who came to see this band because they love them. I have to say, though, this is a strong band with talent, and that's a benefit to any engineer.”
David John Farinella is based in San Francisco.