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Maroon 5 and Counting Crows Tour

Mix magazine interview with audio engineers and live sound crew on mixing audio for Maroon 5 2009 tour. Tips, techniques and equipment applications from Maroon 5's front of house (FOH) engineer. Mix magazine June 2009

Front-of-house engineer Jim Ebdon

These co-headliners recently finished their North American tour, where Maroon 5 front-of-house engineer Jim Ebdon spec’d the new Clair Global i5 Version 3 prototype.

How much gear did you carry on this tour?
We were using the new Clair Global i5. We had a Version 3 prototype, which I thought was amazing. Clair has really worked it out. The P.A. was incredibly consistant, very loud and punchy. The high frequencies were super-accurate. I can’t wait to hear the current improvements they have made since. We typically hung 12 i5s and 10 i5Bs per side for the front hangs, and eight i5s per side on the side hangs. We used eight Prism subs per side and a collection of P2s as in-fills. At FOH, I used a DiGiCo D5 and Bruce Jones [Counting Crows’ FOH engineer] used a Digidesign Profile.

Do you have a specific mixing style for Maroon 5?
Hmm? Well, I don’t try to make anything that it’s not, if you get my drift. Its easy to over-EQ and add plug-ins galore, but I mix with my ears and not my eyes. I think with any band I mix, I just try to make everything as natural as possible. I use very little processing and very subtle effects. Believe it or not, it’s very easy to screw up guitar, bass, drums and piano! I’m a big fan of “less is more” in a live situation. I like to get the source sounds right first and then microphone choice and then a good-sounding console and P.A. system. I’ll then use some reverb and compression to separate and add depth to certain things. Then the big challenge is to get the vocal on top. I like to hear what the singer is actually singing, so it’s important to me to get a good balance of band and vocal. Adam Levine has a strong voice so this makes it a relatively easy task.

Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine sings through a Shure SM58 wireless mic.

What is your go-to piece of gear for this tour?
I’m not sure it has been invented it yet! but It could be an old SSL stereo bus compressor. I like it on drums.

What important gear choices or console setups did you come up with having been able to work with the band during rehearsals?
My console of choice is the DiGiCo D5. I was one of the original users and it suits me well, and I like how it sounds and performs. When I’m in rehearsals with a band, I like to set up in a separate room away from all the noise. This is good because the band doesn’t know you’re there and I like to really listen to what’s going on clearly on some studio monitors. This enables me to fine-tune sounds and get a feel of how they play and the dynamics of different songs without the huge reverberant sound of an arena.

These guys are great musicians and were very focused on getting their source sounds right. I ended up using a Focusrite ISA430 for Adam’s vocal and a dbx 160x on the bass. I also had a TC 6000 with an ICON remote for reverb effects.

When I get to the P.A. in production rehearsals, I can almost tune the system to the mix I did in the studio, give or take some minor tweeks. I used a Crane Song HEDD192 across the mix just to sweeten the digital sound and make it analog again—yeah, how about that! I find digital mixes hard to listen to for long periods.

Microphone choice was also big on the agenda. I tend to use the same mics on any drum kit; I just know they will work. AKG 414s on overheads and snare bottom, Opus 88 on toms, KM184 on hi-hat and ride, and a 57 on the snare top. Kick drums are sometimes an issue. I like it to be huge but without that awful ear-splitting click at the front of the sound. Again, as natural as possible. I ended up with a Beta 52 and an SM91 mixed together. The mic placement is also important. Quarter of an inch either way is critical—try it!

Adam Levine sang through a regular Shure SM58 wireless mic, which actually worked out well. On the guitars, I used a mixture of SM57s and Royer 121. Royers are just amazing on guitars.

I recorded all of the shows on CD with audience mics mixed in to make the CDs sound like a real show. I also multitracked each night. Usually, I would take out a very expensive Pro Tools system, but unless the band is actually going to do a full video shoot—which they weren’t—it seemed financially a bit over the top. However, I did a little research and found that RME had just introduced its HDSPe MADIface, which basically meant I could use the MADI from the console and go directly into my MacBook Pro and record 56 inputs straight to Logic Pro, bypassing lots of pricey hardware and converters.

This was a great way to archive the tour and I have since mixed some of the tracks with excellent results—but you will never hear them!

Where can we find you when you’re not on the road?
I like to be at home with my family.