Marcel [Van Limbeek, monitor engineer] and I make all of Tori [Amos'] albums using an analog desk, and this is the setup we've used over the years [live]; we like the way it colors the sounds. As far as mixing goes, it's identical to the mix that comes out of the studio console. I like the fact that everything can be accessed instantly on the [Midas] PRO6. I have the drums, bass, keyboards and piano on VCA groups so I can mix them. Then I have four channels of Tori's vocals, and I've found the PRO6 works better for this than anything else. [Two vocal mics to individual channels] are fed into a group that inputs back into three channels, with a different compressor on each, depending on what songs she's singing. I just push that fader up and un-mute one of the two vocals with the auto-mutes. Then those three channels are fed into another group that has the EQ inserted on it, which is an overall EQ for either vocal.
Coming offstage there's 32 inputs, but then we've got audience and record mics; I also double up a bunch of drum channels and route them through some processing and then back into the board on separate faders for a different sound. All in all, we've racked up quite a lot of inputs. I also run a mic line — which is copper wire, not a digital line — as we only have a digital snake (MADI lines) running between DiGiCo D1 consoles from stage into an Avalon 737 mic pre and then into the console on a line-in for Lucinda's vocals. Before it hits the stage rack, it gets split with a Radial ISO splitter to the DiGiCo stage box and then to the mic line, which runs down to me. I've actually got two vocal channels: the MADI one and the mic line. The reason for all this is that if I had to insert the 737 over her vocal channel, I would not be using the mic pre of the Avalon, only the EQ and compression. What I want is the Avalon to be the front-end of Lucinda's vocal sound. That said, we are using the DiGiCo D-TuBe pre's in the stage rack on our vocals and acoustic guitars, and they sound really great.
Many venues—particularly sheds and open-air shows — can sound reasonable if you keep the volume down. Many younger FOH engineers mix too loud, trying to blow the place down. I like to mix at about 102 dBA, leaving plenty of headroom. So what do you do when the screaming fans put the level at 110 dBA — even in-between songs? One thing to do in such cases is to bump the level of the first song way up and then bring it down, which gives the audience an impact up front, and then gives them a chance to settle down. Another thing is to keep the bass in perspective, with a balanced ratio of lows/mids/highs. I try to tune the P.A. so it sounds like Genelecs in a studio, and a lot of the newer venues can actually sound good if you keep volumes reasonable and work with — rather than against — the room.
I made (the sidecar) bus ID 1, which makes inputs 1 through 16 on my right — weird! It just made sense this way because it puts all of the drums on one bank and all of the percussion on the next, and I put Shakira's vocal fader at my right hand where I can get to it quickly. This puts the output faders in the middle, the selected channel section is just to my left and the guitar channels appear down on the left end. As for inputs, I stopped counting at 72! Seriously, it's something just north of that, if you add in all of the talkback from the MD and monitor guy and so on. And I'm not including effects returns or CD playback lines in that count, mind you. I know we were fishing for snake lines the other day, and there are 80 in the split!
I'm doing monitors and front of house for the girls from the monitor desk. I have the [Neumann KU 100, aka “Fritz”] dummy head sitting out at front of house and it's returning two lines back to monitor world that are feeding a pair of JBL 4328 studio monitors. I'm sending all my monitor mixes pre-fader from the console, using the internal effects, and mixing left/right on the faders and sending it to the house. I also have a split from the head going to my laptop running SmaartLive, so I'm able to hear those microphones out front while being able to visualize it on SmaartLive. In addition, I'm using a pair of Neumann 184s for my audience mics. I have two channels of track coming from Pro Tools and six wireless mics onstage. That's eight channels on the console. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to do it from one desk!
I have been working for Clair/Showco for 19 years and have been touring for the last 15 years. When I became a system engineer, I got to work with some of the best FOH engineers in the business, so I took in a lot of good and bad info. It was cool to be able to A/B these guys. Now that I'm starting to mix at FOH, I'm putting it to good use. First, you need good gain structure. I saw so many opening-band mixers with bad gain structure that couldn't keep their mix together. Also, when EQ'ing an empty room, don't overdo it. When people get in the room, your sound will change, mostly for the better. Always make sure your delay times are right between the P.A., front-fill and subs; after that, I delay everything back to the loudest thing onstage. Lastly, use your ears; use your computer as a tool.
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