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Live Sound Showcase: Going International with Phil Collins

By Clive Young. Phil Collins is 'Not Dead Yet'—and he and an audio team from 3G Productions are crossing the country on a sold-out arena tour to prove it.

Brooklyn, NY (October 26, 2018)—Phil Collins has been on the road on and off for the last 18 months, covering Europe and South America with his Not Dead Yet tour. Named after his 2016 autobiography, the production is currently crossing North America on a sold-out, 15-show arena run, with audio provided by 3G Productions (Miami/Las Vegas/Los Angeles).

Given the star’s presence on the international stage, it’s only fitting that the audio team behind him was likewise drawn from around the world. Frenchman Michel Colin manned the FOH desk, much as he has for every Collins gig for the last 18 years, including the 2007-8 Genesis reunion tour.

“It has changed over time,” said Colin, pausing during load-in on the floor of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “For me, the biggest difference is that I started on an analog console, the Midas XL4, which was fantastic, sounded amazing, but we had a lot of racks with dbx compressors. Around 2005, I started using an XL4 MIDI-linked with a Yamaha DM2000 and also with all the effects. For Genesis, we used an Avid Venue [D-Show], and now this S6L-32D is the next level; a continuation, but better. It is clever and user-friendly; I don’t have to think for hours to know how to do something.”

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The show had 68 channels coming off the stage—quite reasonable these days when you consider Collins was backed nightly by 14 musicians, with multiple backing vocalists, horns, percussionists and guitars, as well as bass, keyboards and drums. It may be easier to create that ‘big ’80s sound’ with the help of a big band on stage, but as a result, Colin faced a different issue at the FOH desk. “The challenge for me is to mix so you hear everybody, not only the voice and the bass drum,” said Colin. “If you can see someone, you should be able to hear him—even the little shaker when everyone is playing loud.”

Helping make that happen was a string of snapshots for every tune on the 23-song setlist—a necessity, given the size of the band. “Now during the show, I can make the mix—push the voice a bit, the trumpet, EQ a bit,” said Colin, who typically used stock Avid plugins like D-Verb, and Sony Oxford plugs on vocals. “My only external stuff is the TC System 6000, because it has plenty of options of interest—especially the old AMS ‘Non-Lin’ reverb, which is part of his drum sound.”

That drum sound was crucial for a Phil Collins show (you’re mentally hearing the fill in “In the Air Tonight” right now, aren’t you?), so Colin leaned on the subs to ensure everyone was well aware of it: “I try to mix close to an album, but we are in an arena and the sub pressure is more important for a live show—you need to feel the drums on your body. If you listen back with headphones, I think it sounds very close to the album, but we push some.”

Helping push was system designer Ben Philips, a New Zealander, who oversaw a Waves Audio-based recording rig modified for looking after all audio en route to the P.A.. “When we went through South America, we weren’t carrying a P.A.,” Philips explained. “We were picking up lots of local ones that were sounding a bit different and a bit funky in their own way. Some of them were very good, some were interesting. Quite often, we experienced times where there wasn’t the infrastructure to bus multiple consoles together, so we had to come up with a solution and we happened to have a bit of kit lying about in the form of a few Waves products, server and some interfaces. We cobbled that together and then finally put it together properly where there’s a fully redundant Waves server package. Everything’s redundant in there with UPSs and two computers, again for bussing and additional support consoles. We bring in all the pre-show music and any video content through it, so Michel doesn’t have to bother; he can leave his desk locked and walk away. Also, I can do some tweaking—not of the mix but some of the nasty frequencies that might jump out and you have tame them. It has filled the bill quite well.”

For the North American run, the tour carried a massive L-Acoustics K1/K2 rig, provided by 3G Productions. Neil Rosenstock, an American, not to mention audio crew chief, looked after 175 boxes nightly, 150 of them flown. “The main P.A. stays almost the same every day,” he said. “Delays, too; it’s pretty much the same configuration unless there’s something in the way. Then we might do a center cluster and then a left and a right.”

The main P.A. typically consisted of 12 K1s, four K2s and eight K1SBs per side, with outfills hung the same, minus one K1SB. Hangs of a dozen K2s were used for the 270° fills on each side, and two flown center sub clusters consisted of endfire KS28s, each eight deep. Center fill duties were handled by a half-dozen KARAs and delays were all K2s, hung in four clusters of six.

The amplifiers powering all that were perfect for a Phil Collins tour, because they, too, were in the air tonight. Flown with the P.A. to save floor space and reduce cable lengths, 60 LA12s were used for the main P.A., subs, KARA outfills and 270° hangs, while a dozen LA8s were flown with the delays. Back down on the ground, LA8s and LA12Xs variously powered a dozen SB18 subs, frontfills such as four ARC-IIs per side and four KARAs on SB18s; and four X8s for spot fills.

Getting all that hung was no simple job. “We start marking the floor at 7 and the first audio points don’t show up until 10AM,” said Rosenstock. “There’s 120 points and 55 of them are audio. We don’t start hanging audio until 10:30 or 11, so it’s not horrible. We don’t have a soundcheck and our goal has been to shoot for 2PM. We’re out, whole production, in 2 ½ hours.”

Despite all that firepower—or perhaps because of it—the show didn’t need to get that loud in order for everyone to hear it clearly. “It’s not very loud actually,” said Rosenstock. “We’re coasting at 94 to 98 dB A weighted, on average; peaking at 102 maybe.”

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The stage, too, was rather quiet despite the presence of 15 musicians. Swiss monitor engineer Alain Schneebeli, who has mixed Collins’ monitors for 25 years now, looked after 32 mixes nightly on his Avid S6L console. With the exception of two L-Acoustics wedges for bassist Leland Sklar and a sub behind drummer Nicholas Collins, the rest of those mixes were sent to Shure PSM-1000 systems and a variety of earbuds. “For Phil, myself, Nicholas and some others, we have JH Audio,” said Schneebeli, “while the horn players play with Westone. Richie [“Gajate” Garcia, percussion] has some generics, depending, and everyone else has Future Sonics.” As might be expected, most of the band had typical ‘everything, but me a little louder’ mixes. “With Phil, it depends on the song,” he said. “He has a lot of his own voice, a lot of reverb, a lot of treble, thin stuff.”

The North American leg wraps up just before Halloween, but there will still be one more night—11 of them, actually—ahead for the production. A run through Oceania, winding up in New Zealand, awaits in early 2019, so for now, the tour, like its name suggests, is not dead yet.

3G Productions •