As a young musical artist starting out, perhaps the best gift you can receive is simply to be heard and noticed. In 2015, 22-year-old Swedish singer LÉON posted her music online, hoping it would resonate. It did just that. One glowing tweet from Katy Perry, and she found herself with 19 million listens on Spotify and a newly minted worldwide fanbase. Next up, a world tour. Mix caught up with the crew at their Seattle stop in May.
“LÉON is considered a soul-pop artist, but the last thing we want is a sterile ‘pop’ sound,” says Tour Manager/FOH engineer Clint Rowland. “While we do operate with tracks, they are there to support the band and not the other way around. The music and the vocal need to breathe, and I’m there to make sure they’re allowed to. I’m using the house console and P.A. each night, but my overall approach to the mix is the same: find harmony with the room. I listen to what it offers and what my limits are and I operate within that space. I try to bring out the best of what the room has to offer.”
While pop is where LÉON is making a name for herself, her musical influences appear to be much varied, with clear nods to powerful vocalists like Amy Winehouse and Stevie Nicks. “Dreamy Stevie Nicks reverbs for LÉON’s ears work well,” adds Monitor Engineer Julian Higareda. “They do a great cover of Dreams during the set, which was what gave me the inspiration during production rehearsals,”.
As with any powerhouse singer, finding the right vocal groove in an ever-changing venue style is the challenge.
“Our [musical director] put in a lot of work in leveling out every track, every keyboard patch, everything, which for a FOH engineer is a gift,” Rowland says. “LÉON’s vocal is paramount, that’s what people pay money to hear. So, for me, there is no other option but to have her vocal right in your face the entire show.
“At the same time, her music is so incredible and cannot be treated as an afterthought,” he continues. “Her band puts in work, they find their pocket and I make sure that it’s there to carry LÉON’s voice throughout the show. To help achieve this, I send everything except LÉON’s vocal and effects to a stereo group and add a ‘soft’ compressor with no more than 3 or 4 dB of gain reduction. So, during the upbeat and more heavy moments of the show, the vocal does not get buried. Again, each venue reacts differently, so it varies.”
“The mix is minimal as far as inputs, but I am riding faders for her the whole show depending how close she is to the drums or how much she can hear the FOH in her ear mix,” says Higareda. “She has sensitive hearing, which was a great challenge for me to learn to mix. We worked on getting her gain, output and pack to the perfect level to give her the full resolution of a quiet mix. Small movements in her mix are felt and heard more drastically.
“Using the Shure KSM8 has been great, with its tight pattern,” he adds. “Although its’s a dynamic capsule, it still has the clarity of a condenser, which works great for the ears. The Shure KSM8 keeps minimal bleed for the ears as she dances around the stage, which is key so that she is comfortable the whole show. She also likes to walk into the crowd which has been a challenge for me to make sure her mic doesn’t cut out while she is having this special moment with the audience.”