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Mixing Macefield Music Fest

BALLARD, WA—The annual Macefield Music Festival, held in the Seattle suburb of Ballard, prides itself on its independent spirit, presenting more than 60 artists at a variety of local venues over two days.

Engineer Chris Mael tackled the house mix of the Macefield Music Festival on an iPad running Mackie’s Master Fader app, connecting wirelessly to the new DL32R mixer. BALLARD, WA—The annual Macefield Music Festival, held in the Seattle suburb of Ballard, prides itself on its independent spirit, presenting more than 60 artists at a variety of local venues over two days. Mixing such artists as power pop stalwarts The Posies, The Maldives, Nightrain and The Sonics at the main stage were sound engineers Greg “Greedy” Williamson on monitors and Chris Mael at front of house. What made this gig different was the fact that there was no actual “front of house” mix position.

Instead, both were mixing on Mackie’s new DL32R digital mixer. Opting to mix via wireless control on iPads using Mackie’s Master Fader app, the two engineers instead moved around the venue as necessary, ensuring that all areas of the audience could hear everything. The festival marked the DL32R’s public debut, even if most people could only see the iPads in use instead; the mixer served up 32 channels of I/O and DSP, all stored in a three rack space stage box that resided at stageside, where the monitor desk would typically have been.

“I would be standing in the middle of the audience mixing and have the person next to me say, ‘Are you actually mixing this show from right here on your iPad? That is freaking cool!’ It happened with every band,” said Mael, a veteran live sound engineer who has manned the faders for numerous Grammy Award-winning artists. “But it’s also incredibly useful. I was able to walk back to the delay stacks and adjust the sound, listen from in front of the main stacks, then off to the side. Anywhere I wanted to go, I had the entire mixing console in my hand and could make adjustments instantly. No worries about the mix position being in a bad spot.”

Greg Williamson, whose touring credits include Foo Fighters, had a similar experience in monitor world. “I could walk right up on stage while the band was playing, hear their monitors, and make the adjustments,” he noted. “That’s exactly what I did with the drummer for the Posies. I just came out and sat with him and my iPad and said, ‘OK, what do you want?’ There’s no guesswork, no running back and forth.”

Setup for the Macefield festival was straightforward, said the engineers, despite the absence of traditional desks. “There was no physical console, no racks full of effects, and no audio and power snakes to run out to the front of house position,” Williamson said. “We just ran the inputs to the DL32R at the side of the stage and powered up the WiFi router. From there, it was just iPads. Each band would soundcheck, headliner first, and we would save all settings as a snapshot to recall later.”

Though working from iPad screens, the engineers nonetheless were able to use features that would be present on a physical console such as subgroups, mute groups, VCAs and matrix busses. The DL32R also allowed wireless control over multi-track direct-to-disk recording, and an option to record to Mac or PC. While it wasn’t used, the option was available that musicians with iOS devices could have had their own, individual mix stations as the DL32R can take on multiple controllers.

The engineers themselves had previous experience with mixing shows on iPads, having each used Mackie’s earlier, iPad-controllable DL1608 mixer. Having made use of new features in the Master Fader application like subgroups and VCAs, digital trim capability on each input, and more patching and routing options, Williamson remarked, “Moving up to the 32, it does so much more. The new Onyx+ mic pres are incredible, and I love the fact that you can switch between modern and vintage EQs. This is the first time I actually feel like the band and audience are getting the full range of what I can do, because I can actually go out there and listen to it with full control of every mixer function from input to output. It honestly has changed everything for me.”

After handing front-of-house wandering around the house, Mael likewise came away from the festival upbeat about the unusual approach to mixing: “The DL32R gave me full control of everything, but without making it so complicated that it got in my way. It’s a whole new level of usability. We had no problems, and the sound quality was great. Being able to mix from anywhere with a system that’s not much bigger than a briefcase—it’s incredibly liberating.”
Macefield Music Festival