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Gavin DeGraw: High-Energy Show With a Responsive Mix

Gavin DeGraw performed at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., in June 2014

Photo: Steve Jennings

Multi-Platinum selling singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw is in the middle of a hectic summer touring schedule, co-headlining with singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson in across the U.S. before heading to Europe in September. DeGraw is touring behind his fifth studio album, Make a Move, released last fall on RCA.

DeGraw and his band (musical director Billy Norris, guitar; James Cruz, bass; David Maemone, keyboards; and Travis McNabb, drums) have also been opening for Billy Joel throughout 2014, joining Joel at each of his shows when possible. Mix saw DeGraw near the beginning of his summer run in late June at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., and then caught up with front-of-house engineer Mitch Vanhoose by phone during a rare two-day break from the continuous action and travel.

Photo: Steve Jennings

“[We just had] a 17-day run—17 shows in a row,” Vanhoose says. “That was the doozy. We did the Berkeley show. We had just like 15 minutes to grab as much of the gear as we needed for the Billy Joel show and got on a plane, and the next day we were in Madison Square Garden. Then we did a show in San Luis Obispo [Calif.] the next day. If we can pull that off, I think we can do anything.”

Vanhoose, a 2004 graduate of The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Ariz., has worked with DeGraw since May 2013, having joined the sound crew through Relay Productions in Nashville, which provides tour coordination, staffing and consulting.

Two production companies are supporting DeGraw and Nathanson: ESI Audio is providing 48-channel Avid Profile consoles for both FOH and monitors; plus, ESI Audio president Erick “Otto” Celeiro is Nathanson’s FOH engineer, as well as a former FOH engineer for DeGraw. Sound Image is providing the stage package. The tour is not carrying P.A. systems. “For the most part, this tour has seen line arrays—pretty nice,” Vanhoose says. “We’ve had some Meyer [Sound P.A.s], EV X-Lines, and some Adamson Y10s.”

Photo: Steve Jennings

The Profile offers Vanhoose a high level of comfort and confidence. “I’ve been a recording engineer for a long time,” he says. “So, using Pro Tools for so long has made me familiar with Avid; it’s the most familiar and the easiest workflow. And for the longest time that was the console that could run all the plug-ins that I’m used to using; now, most all the consoles can do them. It’s reliable and it’s available all over the country, if anything happens to the one that we’re carrying.”

DeGraw and Norris constructed a set list for this outing that emphasizes the more rock-oriented songs from Make a Move and DeGraw’s catalog. “We’ve gone for a more-high-energy set on this tour,” Vanhoose says. “It’s a larger than life kind of sound that you can’t capture on a record. On the last tour it was more dynamic. I’d say there are 16 songs in the set, and probably five from the new album. When we started out, [Norris] told me that they wanted the front-of-house guy to be like the sixth member of the band and have input on the music. It’s cool that they trust me and respect my opinion. It’s a good relationship.”

Vanhoose built a show file in the console during rehearsals that serves as the foundation of his mix. “It’s easy pulling up the instruments and the mics because it’s already three-quarters of the way there,” he says. “And then it usually takes the first two songs to get [the mix] to where you’re happy. It’s definitely an active mix. Different people are featured at different times. There are delay throws and stuff on his records that they want live. I do his mix like I’m going to be automating a recording, just riding the vocals and then routing the reverbs so that whenever he belts something out I can pull back the vocal and push up the reverb, so it’s a little bit more musical and more pleasing, and less harsh to the ear.”

Front-of-house engineer Mitch Vanhoose at the Avid Profile console.

Photo: Steve Jennings

DeGraw’s vocal chain includes outboard plus console EQ: “I’m using the Shure ULX-D wireless [system] for him and an SM58 [capsule], and I’ve been going line-level out of that into a Rupert Neve Portico Channel II channel strip. It has a preamp and then a parametric EQ, a de-esser and a compressor. It also has a Texture control. I go through that and then into the console, [where] I do another chain of EQs in case I have to grab something, for when he goes out in the crowd and stands in front of the speakers.

Then I use a Waves C6 multiband compressor and Massey L2007 Mastering Limiter [plug-in], the Waves H-Delay and the ReVibe reverb that comes with the Avid consoles.” McNabb’s drums take Shure Beta 91A and Beta 52A on the bass drum, Telefunken M80 on snare (top), SM57 on snare (bottom) and side snare drums, Sennheiser 604s on the toms, AKG C 451s on hi-hat and ride, and AKG 414s for overheads. The bass amp and Leslie speaker cabinet (top) get Sennheiser 421s. A Beta 52A mikes the bottom of the Leslie cabinet. Vanhoose mikes the guitar amp with a Sennheiser e906 and Cascade FatHead ribbon mic. “And then all the vocals are 58s, except for Cruz.” Vanhoose says. “I’ve got a Telefunken M81 on him. I’m all about whatever is going to make the band comfortable, because if they’re comfortable, they’re going to output the best product, and make my job easier.”

Monitor engineer Mike Knight also mixes on an Avid Profile and is the newest member of DeGraw’s tour, joining in late June. “A buddy of mine that works for Relay Productions called to see if I was available,” he says. “I was just getting off of two weeks with the X Games so the timing was perfect to roll right into this gig.” Knight says that he is deploying six channels (stereo) of Shure PSM 900 and four channels of Shure ULX-D wireless mics. “Most of the guys are on JH Audio IEMs,” Knight says. “A couple guys are on [Ultimate Ears] IEMs. I use 1964 EARS V8 IEMs.

“Gavin likes to hear a general mix of everything with his vocal on top and his piano a little under,” Knight says. “Then I put a little vocal plate and a tap delay for his vocal effects. The rest of the band like to hear their instrument mainly, with a general mix underneath them.

“I’m just happy to be working doing something I love,” Knight adds. “Touring isn’t for everyone but I’ve come to really enjoy it.”