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Live Sound

Kyle Hamilton on Making the Most of Tour Rehearsals

The FOH man for the likes of Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Prince and others discusses his rehearsal process.

New York, NY (May 3, 2019)—Many live sound engineers are equally adept in the studio, but Kyle Hamilton, a mainstay on the pop and R&B tour scene for decades, is one of the rare FOH men who have a few Grammys on the shelf back home, too. As a result, he brings experience and insight garnered from both roles into play whenever he steps behind a console, regardless of whether it’s in a well-appointed studio control room, or the floor of a 20,000-seat arena.

That’s made him a first-call front-of-house engineer for Janet Jackson, Prince, Usher, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams and others, and likewise, in the studio, he’s worked on numerous projects, including the ones that netted Grammy awards for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album in 2001 for his work on Gladys Knight’s At Last, and Best Pop Solo Performance in 2015 for mixing Pharrell’s hit “Happy” live.

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Hamilton’s goal every time is to recreate the record, as he explained to Pro Sound News back in 2018 while on tour with Janet Jackson: “When [producers] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are standing right next to me, they want to hear their record! When I give Janet her two-mix of the night, she wants to hear her record, with a live feel of course. All those signature sounds, the little things that put you back into the moment where you first heard that record? That’s what we strive to do, night in and night out.”

Key to making that happen is to get the mix in good shape right from the start—which, for Hamilton, means honing in on key features of a song and figuring out what it requires while a tour is still in rehearsals.

“I multi-track the entire rehearsal while I’m in the same room as the band; let them do their thing,” he said, recently. “Then when they have a break, I play back what I’ve captured and then subsequently mix it like I would do in the studio. So then, at the end of the day when you add a PA, you know your foundation is right.”

Hamilton has used this technique throughout his career, and has been using JBL 708P studio monitors in rehearsal as part of that process ever since he became Usher’s engineer. “When I listen to these speakers, for this genre of music, it gives me the perspective of listening to the record,” said Hamilton. “When I listened to them in their flat response—no EQ, just straight flat speaker—it took me back to when I first heard his body of music, mainly the Confessions album. I have to be in the same mind space, and when I sat down and listened to them it was just a nice, warm, kind of fuzzy feeling. It was not harsh. It was just everything I was looking for in order to do what I needed to do for this.”

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For now, however, he’s out on tour with Pharrell, with major upcoming festival appearances including Something in the Water, BottleRock Napa Valley and Essence Festival scheduled for this spring and summer.

Harman •