Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard co-headlined The Stadium Tour this summer, laying down the loud for 1.1 million fans in the process with help from Clair Global and an army of audio pros. Don’t miss Part 1, looking at the shared RF system, sizable P.A. and how they approach mixing Mötley Crüe.
DEFINING DEF LEPPARD
While Mötley Crüe last hit the road in 2015, Def Leppard has been a fine-tuned touring machine for years, able to fill your local shed every summer with big crowds ready to hear the band’s seemingly endless string of melodic metal hits. Bringing those reverb-drenched choruses and ringing power chords to a stadium setting this summer seemed all the more fitting for the band’s music, and for the group and its longtime crew, it was an easy move to make.
“It’s a couple more speakers,” joked Ronan McHugh, who first came into the band’s orbit subbing for another recording engineer in 1998 and then never left. “I don’t want to sound like I’m taking it for granted, but it feels like it gets easier the bigger it gets. I always say to [young audio pros] that clubs are the hardest shows you’ve ever do. As you come up through it all, it gets better. Obviously, some of these stadiums are horrendous because acoustics are bad, but you’ve got all the gear you need to work around it.”
For the Stadium Tour, some of that gear included the DiGiCo Quantum 5 console that McHugh oversaw with a Waves SuperRack nearby. The only outboard units were a passel of Empirical Labs Distressors, used to corral the group’s trademark backing vocals. “The more I do this, the less stuff I’m using, because I think that’s the secret of it,” he said. “If it doesn’t sound good, you need to change the source; no amount of stuff is gonna fix something that’s bad. Once you get the source well and good sounding, you shouldn’t have to do a whole lot to it.”
With that in mind, most of the inputs off the stage were direct, with only a handful of live mics up on the deck. Guitars and bass came direct from Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III effects processors, while much of drummer Rick Allen’s kit is digital for decades, so Audio-Technica AT4050s captured ride cymbals, AKG C414s were used for overheads, and the rest came down a MADI line to a DiGiCo Orange Box that put it into the fiber loop. A half-dozen Shure Beta 58As were used for backing vocals in different positions, and Joe Elliott’s lead vocals were heard via a Beta 58 capsule on an Axient Digital wireless. “With Joe, we’ve tried different stuff, and we just keep coming back to that capsule; he’ll tell you, ‘If it’s good enough for Paul McCartney, it’s good enough for me.’”
While McHugh has increasingly used the Quantum 5’s onboard tools to shape his sound (“The Mustard stuff is great”), the Waves SuperRack plug-ins still were put through the paces nightly. “For Joe’s vocal chain, I use a PSE [Primary Source Expander] on that, and then go into an 1176 and then a C6, which does what a 901 would have done back in the day—a little bit of de-essing and you’ve got to take a bit of 900 out of his voice. Then after that, I have an R-Vox; I use that to clean up and keep the noise floor down at the end.”
If Def Leppard played larger venues this year, it helped that the band has a sound to match; McHugh’s task, then, was to find the middle ground between the original albums and the live environment: “For me, I’m trying to recreate the feel of the record, but it’s more the vibe of albums rather than being identical. Their kind of music is really suited to a big show; it works really well in the stadiums.”
Over in Monitorworld was another longtime audio team member, Ted Bible, who’s worked with the group for 22 years, 13 of them behind the monitor desk. This year, that desk was another Quantum 5, and he took advantage of it to provide Klang immersive in-ear mixes to the JH Audio Sharonas that all but one bandmember wore. “Klang is a native software on DiGiCo now,” said Bible, “and that makes it really simple to do because all you need is a computer, and a DMI card gives you 64 x 32, which is more than enough for my guys.”
Def Leppard tours often enough that it usually only needs three days for rehearsals, but between the pandemic pause and the band’s decision to add five brand-new songs to its set, the group spent three weeks prepping for the stadium run—which provided the perfect opportunity to introduce Klang into the mix.
“I had the time and resources to sit there and dial in it,” said Bible. “You could even literally have the bandmember walk over, grab the touchscreen and move things around while he’s playing—’that sounds really good’ or ‘no, that doesn’t work.’ It works well with the Sharonas; there’s so much room that you can move things around, turn things down and have fewer competing frequencies. Say you’re used to digging out a space in your kick drum for your bass or vice versa; you don’t have to do that as much when you’ve got separation in the ears. You put the bass on one side, kick drum on another and there’s a lot less competition on those frequencies.”
ONE HOT TOUR
Between the tools on hand and the camaraderie among the audio teams, there were few drawbacks on the Stadium Tour—except for the summer sun. The rampaging heat waves that have plagued the U.S. throughout its hottest season were brutal, and the high temperatures were a challenge.
“In St. Louis, we were on the field at front-of-house and I’m not exaggerating—it was 113 degrees,” said Carpenter. “Neither people nor consoles like 113 degrees. Console manufacturers do not recommend running them that hot either, and they all have diagnostics that tell you how hot they’re running. Luckily, production has provided us with industrial air conditioners, which for our sake isn’t really an air conditioner as much as a cold air blower.”
It was been much the same up onstage, Flaws reported: “There’s typically three or four air conditioners on stage left between Ted, Scott and Scott. We’ve been trying to keep the walls up on certain days when it’s absolutely just too hot. You’ve got to get basic when it’s like that— Gatorade and water are your friends.”
Despite the occasionally overpowering weather, however, the crews stuck it out—and the audiences did, too. “They’ve been holding these tickets for years,” said Carpenter, “and while there’s plenty of gray hair, there’s also plenty of young men in Poison and Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard t-shirts, singing the songs just as loud. They stay through the heat and the rain and everything we’ve been dealing with out here; they have been amazing.”