Lady Antebellum, from left: Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott
Photos: Steve Jennings
Front-of-house engineer Brett “Scoop” Blanden has seen Lady Antebellum, the three-piece also known as Lady A, skyrocket from the debut of their self-titled album in 2008 to last year’s release of Need You Now (which garnered the band Vocal Group of the Year and Single of the Year for “Need You Now” at the 44th Annual CMA Awards, as well as Grammy nominations for Record, Song and Album of the Year). Along the way, Blanden has helped to create the tour’s “audio family” and sculpt his mix so that the band really shines, as they recently did at the Fox Theater (Oakland, Calif.)
“I think that the show has really developed itself,” Blanden says of the band’s evolution onstage. “In the first place, Lady A has been really aggressive in the way that they push their music and their desire to present that experience to the fans. Have my mixes changed? I hope they have. I hope that I’m increasingly a better engineer day to day. When we started out, it was a three-piece band, so I experimented and used stereo-miking guitar concepts just to provide a richer guitar experience. Now that we have three guitar players onstage, some of those things have become minimal.”
What hasn’t changed for Blanden is the way he attacks his mix. Having grown up in the recording studio side of the industry (he’s a former manager of Ocean Way Nashville), he tends to mix for a flatter sound, paying closer attention to mic placements and things of that nature rather than diving straight for the EQ. “Part of it is natural, and part of it is because I love lyrics,” he explains. “I tend to put vocals on top just so that everybody can understand what’s being sung without having to listen too hard. I think that Lady A runs the gamut in terms of the spectrum of the music: They do everything from a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ to up-tempos to power ballads.”
THE TOOLS AT FOH
With such a diverse range of musical styles to contend with every night, Blanden relies on the Studer Vista 5 board and Lexicon 960 effects processor to create a wide palette of “colors.” Sound company Maryland Sound brought Blanden to its headquarters to listen to five different consoles on five different types of P.A.—all interchangeable in one setting—so that he could choose the right gear for the job. “I don’t know how many people get the opportunity to do that, but it was really informative. It allowed me to choose the components that I thought would work best for my artists. The Studer seemed to fit my style of mixing best, and I thought it was going to give me the best representation of my artists in a live environment.”
In addition to the 960, an Eventide Eclipse (vocal doubler) and TC Electronic D-Two delay all run AES out of the console, with Blanden working with the console’s onboard comps and gates. He’s using the Studer-branded PC to interface with the board to manage his Waves C6 multiband compressor VST plug-ins, which are used on vocals. “It’s really worked out well for Hillary [Scott, vocals] and Charles [Kelley, vocals]. It’s also a viable de-esser; anyone looking to choose a de-esser in their live mixing environment should check this out. The latency is so low that we don’t really notice it at all. I have that on my five vocal channels. I have the 960 set up to recall custom programs I made for each song when I go down the cue list in the Studer.”
Blanden can make tweaks to the cue list, most specifically in response to the type of crowd the band is performing for that night: “Do we have a younger crowd or an older, seasoned ticketholder? Things like that definitely dictate many things, from how predominant the lows are in the room or how much sub I’m going to use, how loud the show’s going to be, what types of instruments we choose to be more noticeable; if it’s a more rockin’ crowd, I’m going to put more guitars on top,” Blanden explains.
Front-of-house engineer Brett Blanden (left) with systems tech Adam Robinson at the Studer Vista 5 console
“We soundcheck almost every day, so the band’s comfortable with the FOH mix and the way the room’s responding,” he continues. “How much 200 [Hz] is coming out of the guitar amp and out of the P.A. definitely affects how [Dave Haywood, backing vocals/multi-instrumentalist] is going to play. But so far, our ability to have a pretty regular soundcheck lets the musicians participate in the same types of custom fit [that I’m doing with my FOH mix] for the audience.”
Monitor engineer Kurt Springer mans a 96-channel Avid Profile. “I’m a chameleon when it comes to which desks I use,” he says. “When I use a Studer, I’m happy with just a 960 and a few nice vintage effects pieces such as AMS reverbs. On the [Avid] platform, I have a tendency to utilize plug-ins until I run out of DSP. I like to use different plug-in compressors, on keyboards especially. Instead of making a typical stereo pair, I use left and right—a la George Martin—to give left and right a different textural dynamic.
Monitor engineer Kurt Springer at the Avid Profile
“My musical theme for the band is to create as big of a universe as possible. First, I want everybody to hear what everyone else is thinking. I want enough space in all of the mixes to make it easy for the players to hear each other even when only a hint of an instrument is asked for by the player. In other words, I try to give them full content even if they have an agenda to minimize it.”
Lady Antebellum is all in-ears, using a combination of UE9s and Westone models.
The MSI-provided P.A. comprises JBL VerTec 4888DP boxes with the new DP-DA processing card, as well as VerTec 4880A subs powered by Crown iTech HDs. According to system tech Adam Robinson, the signal flow is completely digital from the moment the mic hits the preamp all the way to the speaker box. “We also carry eight Outline Mini Compass boxes for fills,” Robinson adds. “We’ve found that their output and adjustable horizontal dispersion is quite helpful, along with sounding pretty damn good!”
Robinson tunes the system with a couple Earthworks M30 mics and Smaart 7 to get a pretty decent flat response in the room. From there, he throws on some tunes and listens to the system. “We’re doing venues from medium-sized theaters to small arenas, and we even threw in a large club gig in there,” Robinson says. “Along with having a rig that has been able to scale easily to all of these places, the ability to control individual boxes when needed has made our job easy and slick. We have the ability to do four hangs—mains and sides, typically—and even place a couple of boxes on the deck when needed, all without worrying how we’re going to divide up amp channels or processing paths.”
Lady A is a Sennheiser endorser, so many of the mics found onstage are from this manufacturer, including a Neumann KK 105 S capsule atop a Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld transmitter for Kelley; a SKM 5200/MD 5235 handheld RF for Scott; and an e 935 hardwired for Haywood. He’s making extensive use of mics from the evolution 900 Series on drums, while bass sees beyerdynamic M88s. For guitar amps, Blanden places two mics on each amp: a Sennheiser 421 and a varying flavor of ribbon. “I have just tried that out this year and have gotten pretty good results,” Blanden says of the double-miking amp strategy. “I’m currently using the Cascade Fat Head II ribbons as my secondary mics to the 421s. I believe ribbon mics afford you more leeway in the phase-relationship department, especially if you are using more than one microphone. It’s just a different flavor and having more colors available for my palette is always welcome. I try to use all passive DIs, if possible, especially on acoustic instruments: guitars, Dobros.”