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Indie Band’s Tour Sound Ready to Wreck and Roll

L.A. pop-punk act The Wrecks rips it up live, but that's aided by an inspired high-tech, low-cost system the band carries on tour.

Studio pro turned FOH engineer Andrew D’Angelo has created an ultra-automated, MIDI-driven tour sound setup for The Wrecks.
[/media-credit] Studio pro turned FOH engineer Andrew D’Angelo has created an ultra-automated, MIDI-driven tour sound setup for The Wrecks.

Los Angeles, CA (June 30, 2020)—Early on in the touring life of The Wrecks, during a break in their show schedule, the band’s front-of-house engineer, Andrew D’Angelo, had an opportunity to mix the opening act on a Red Hot Chili Peppers arena tour. Inspired by the headliners’ production setup, he says, “I thought, how can I do that?”

D’Angelo remembers standing side-stage talking to the guitar tech next to a rack full of pedals. “The guitar player clicked a button on stage and all I could hear was relays clicking inside the rack,” he says, all controlled via MIDI. A lightbulb went off in his head.

The Wrecks had just been signed and had a budget to buy some equipment for the studio and stage. To provide consistency between shows, D’Angelo and the band devised a setup that automates the switching of guitar tones during the show for both guitarists, drives scene changes at the front-of-house console and, for good measure, also provides in-ear mixes for the band and their techs without the need for a monitor engineer—an unusually comprehensive setup for an indie band with one album out.

“One of the things we got early on was a Behringer X32 [mixer] and Sennheiser in-ears,” he says, “so we were touring with an in-ears rig and a front-of-house rig. It’s a large amount of kit, but we had the funds to buy the gear and a trailer to carry it around in, so we did it.”

An onstage roadcase houses a pair of Kemper Profilers for the two guitarists plus an X32 Rack, which provides the in-ear mixes. The Profiler digital guitar amplifier and all-in-one effects processor has long had MIDI capabilities, but few people have made the most of it until recently, says D’Angelo. “We were one of the first.”

A laptop running Apple Logic Pro X drives the show, playing out elements that are otherwise not easily reproduced on stage as well as effects such as sub drops. “There are extra tracks,” he says, “one MIDI track for each Kemper then another MIDI track for a Voodoo Labs pedal switcher. When the Kemper calls up a certain tone and that tone is looking for a pedal, that pedal gets turned on automatically.”

Guitarist Nick “Schmizz” Schmidt’s pedalboard is on stage, says D’Angelo, “But he doesn’t have to do anything. The only time he presses a pedal is if he wants to take over and add something on top of what has already been programmed.”

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It may sound like overkill to automate a few tone changes, but the fact is, he says, there can be many, many changes during a single song. Some songs are simpler, he says, “But any particular song might have 30 tones per guitar player. Let’s say we have a tone that he’s playing, and I want to turn up the reverb—I’ve got it automated to turn up the reverb then change back.”

That takes some of the burden off the engineer, whether it’s D’Angelo—who also mixes FOH for L.A.-based band Flor—or someone else. It also means that the band consistently sounds its best night after night.

“If you spend time getting things right from the beginning, making guitar tones work perfectly, then their band sounds like their band, almost regardless of what you do at front-of-house. There will still be the vibe because most of those sounds are not being created at front-of-house; they’re being created at the source,” he says.

As the band’s recording engineer—he was strictly a studio guy before he went on the road for the first time mixing The Wrecks—D’Angelo had been hands-on with the Kempers since day one. “I thought about it early on and saved all the tones they were using, labeled them and made sure I could go back and assign those tones for live, so when they play, it’s literally the tones from the records.”

Plus, he says, “We used my live microphones to record their records. From the beginning to the end, it’s the same quality.”

Consequently, the band’s show is very hi-fi, he says. “Some people don’t like that. We’ve had people accuse the band of not playing. They’ve accused them of playing to a track because it sounded that good. That’s the best compliment you could give me or them—but the band is really organically DIY; what you see is what you get.”

The rig has since evolved to also automate the show lighting from the laptop. And whether D’Angelo is at FOH with a Midas or some other desk, he says, “I have a Waves SoundGrid system that I bought that is also programmed. I’ve got snapshots for every song”—again, driven from the Logic session. “It’s just one big MIDI universe,” he says.

D’Angelo also programmed the in-ear mixes in the X32 Rack, which offers band members a level of consistency regardless of whether they are playing a club, a theater or an outdoor festival. “It’s changed their performances for the better, because they’re always able to hear everything all the time,” he says.

“We did a couple of giant throw-and-go festivals where they played the main stage and we convinced the festival to let us run our rig. Normally it would have been awful, with them standing on stage during line check to get whatever monitor mix you can get in five minutes. Instead, we threw our rig up and they played the same show in their in-ears that they’d played hundreds of other times.”

It works equally well for fly dates, at home or abroad. “You can go to another continent with a couple of flash drives and have the gear that you need on the other side, and you can have the show programmed the same way,” without requiring hours of prep in another country. “We’ve flown to a show, with the files, and done the show on rental gear, and it sounds exactly the same,” D’Angelo says.

“I’m at a point where I could walk away from front-of-house and into the crowd and enjoy the show,” he laughs. “I almost feel like I don’t have to do my job anymore.”

Behringer •