Over the past 10 years, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson has continually found ways to expand her audience thanks to her persistent and evolving artistic vision, hard work, DIY aesthetic and willingness to try new approaches. Once noted as a breakout indie artist from within the ranks of MySpace, which helped to catapult her early songs from the Web into the soundtracks of the hit TV series ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, as well as TV commercials (which in turn won her new fans), Michaelson went on to realize various chart successes with subsequent album releases between 2008 and 2012. She also toured rigorously during that time.
In April 2014, Michaelson moved further into pop-star territory in releasing Lights Out, her first widely collaborative effort, which resonated with a wider audience and sparked a newfound momentum in her career. According to Pollstar, which called 2014 “the most successful year of [her] career yet,” Lights Out “peaked at No. 5 on the Nielsen SoundScan chart. The lead single, ‘Girls Chase Boys,’ marks the first Top 40 hit of Michaelson’s career.” Michaelson toured in 2014 to promote the album, and then upped the production ante when she set out again in June 2015.
Her “A Summer Night Out” headlining tour was a jaunt through 20 cities from June 3 through June 30, visiting theaters, auditoriums and amphitheaters, with stops at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colo., and Summer Stage Central Park. A Summer Night Out debuted a special lighting design, dual ramps connecting upper and lower levels, and a piano riser at center bringing a higher level of interaction with her fans.
Joining Michaelson (Yamaha piano and Renaissance Guitar Company tenor ukulele) onstage were co-musical directors Saul Simon MacWilliams (keyboards, guitar and trumpet) and Chris Kuffner (contrabass and electric bass), Allie Moss (electric and acoustic guitar), Billy Libby (electric and acoustic guitar), and Sarab Singh (percussion). All band members provided backing vocals.
Mix caught Michaelson in Seattle at the Paramount Theatre on June 17, at the midpoint of her tour, the 11th of 20 shows.
“This tour came together because Ingrid wrote an amazing record that added to her fan base and commanded larger venues,” says Thomas “Chip” Valentino, Michaelson’s production manager and monitor engineer. “I have worked with Ingrid on every tour since we started working together seven years ago.” Valentino is part of a crew that includes tour manager Kevin Rife, assistant tour manager Ben Adams, front-of-house engineer “Dutch” Worthington, stage manager Wayne Davis, backline techs Avel Sosa II and Michael O’Neill, and lighting designer Ezra Donellan.
VER Nashville provided a package including audio control surfaces, six d&b audiotechnik Q7 front fills, d&b M4 wedges, microphones, direct boxes and a small floor lighting package. “In previous tours we were only employing audio production,” Valentino explains, “but now we are running with staging and lighting, which brings the audience a more compelling performance and a more interactive environment for Ingrid to perform [in]—an environment that was designed by the incomparable [production designer] Sooner Routhier. Prior to production rehearsals, the band spent time going over the arrangements and rehearsing all the material at Complete Music Studios in Brooklyn.”
FOH engineer Worthington, who is based in Austin, was on his second tour with Michaelson this June. “The d&b J-Series rig is one of my favorites,” he says. “I need what most everyone needs in a P.A. system: clear, undistorted sound reproduction with even coverage of the venue and plenty of headroom for the full-on rock songs. I personally like the midrange to be on the smoother side considering the amount of midrange information in vocals and instruments. Of course, so much depends on the space we’re in—theater versus outdoor venue versus club. For the most part all the P.A. systems on this tour have been really good.
“I have an Avid Profile out front with 46 inputs from the stage,” Worthington continues. “This is what she toured with for this entire [Lights Out] record cycle, and so it made sense to keep consistent for this last run. I mix Ingrid more like a rock band than a pop star: I keep her vocals on top of the mix, but perhaps not as out front as [I would for] a pop act. I always try to keep the backing vocals very present with hers. It’s a very dynamic set, so I follow suit with the mix, as well. I like to play with layers of reverb on vocals and just try and keep it musical and follow the flow of the show.”
Michaelson sings into a wireless Shure KSM9 up front and a wireless SM58 at the piano position, and Worthington sends her vocal directly into a stage rack, where he applies an Avid Smack! compressor/limiter plug-in and Waves C6 multiband compressor as needed: “The C6, depending on the room, helps with smoothing midrange and some de-essing,” he says. “As for effects I like to keep a nice short layer of ’verb on at all times and then apply medium hall as well as ’verb with long predelay, a really long decay time for a dreamy feel. I also sneak a bit of tap delay in for certain parts as well. I use snapshots for every song, but have her vocal channels on recall safe and my fingers always on them. Ingrid moves between her piano mic and main vocal mic, loves to tell stories and improvise songs—she keeps me, and the band, on our toes.
“Every member of the band is a really incredible musician and all play multiple instruments during the show,” Worthington adds. “Although there are a lot of midrange instruments, it is usually balanced sonically with a low-end counterpart and high shimmery components, as well. It always holds true that good sound starts onstage, and this is certainly the case here.”
At the monitor position, Valentino also mixes on an Avid Profile, saying that he appreciates “the ease of routing, setting up snapshots and editing is clear and simple. The platform does not leave much room for user error. I also like that you can use Waves plug-ins natively.” The tour employs Shure PSM1000 packs with P10R Wireless Diversity Bodypack Receivers and P10T Full Rack Dual Channel Wireless Transmitters, which Valentino calls “far and away the best in the industry for clarity, functionality and RF performance.”
Michaelson and her bandmates each use JH Audio JH16 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors. “We are fortunate to have both Shure and JH Audio backing Ingrid,” Valentino says. “JH Audio has been our go-to company for years now in terms of IEMs, and I could not do my job as consistently without them. Not only do they have an amazing tonal quality, bass response and color, but the family aspect of JH Audio also makes doing business an utter pleasure.
“Of course, Ingrid prefers to hear her voice and the instrument she is playing foremost in her mix,” Valentino notes, “but under that there is a good amount of bass, kick drum, Allie Moss’ vocals, as well as a little of everything else to fill in the mix. In production rehearsals, the [musicians tend] to want to hear themselves mainly, but as the days go on, I mix everything else in around their primary instrument. I feel it is my job as an IEM engineer to bring a cohesion to each person’s mix, so they are all listening to what the other band members are playing, as well as themselves. This is something that can be lost within the isolation of IEMs. It also lends to them performing onstage together and playing off one another, which adds to the audience’s perception of the performance.”