Neil Finn croons into an Earthworks SR40HC microphone with custom windscreen on the current Crowded House tour.While known in the U.S. primarily for the somber classic, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Crowded House has had a long streak of sunny pop hits virtually everywhere else in English-speaking world. Those tunes, combined with raucous, barnstorming shows, have made the band an enduring concert draw (U.K. rock bible, Q magazine once dubbed them the best live band in the world), as each night finds the group trading quips, showing off musical chops and pulling the occasional surprise out of a hat.
The summer of 2010 saw the New Zealand- based band do two separate runs through North America on its then-current world tour; while European legs found it carrying an L-Acoustics V-Dosc rig from Liverpool, U.K.-based AdLib Audio, the U.S. runs had the band carrying a strippeddown equipment list provided by Firehouse Productions (Red Hook, NY). Along for all legs of the journey, which will continue into 2011, is longtime FOH engineer Angus Davidson.
“For the U.S., we basically took out exactly the same rig except no stacks and racks, so we’re running Avid Venue Profile consoles at front of house and monitors, and Pro Tools|HD at front of house,” Davidson explained. The recording rig is no mere afterthought, as the band sells custom, wooden USB drives nightly that contain MP3s of the evening’s show and the group’s new album, Intriguer. The fully loaded thumb drives wind up for sale at the merch table less than 15 minutes after every show
The plethora of Avid gear on hand is no accident—after singer/songwriter Neil Finn put the band on a 12-year hiatus in 1995, Davidson donned a number of hats, including his present post as Avid’s live sound sales manager for Australia and New Zealand. That, in turn, led to his choice of gear for something that Avid doesn’t make: live sound microphones.
In 2008, Davidson set up a road show across Australia to present Venue desks to potential buyers, and purchased Earthworks PM40 piano and DK25/L drum kit mics for the journey after seeing them demoed that year at the NAMM show in Anaheim, CA. They proved such a success that when Crowded House geared up to tour behind Intriguer, Davidson outfitted the stage with no less than 28 Earthworks mics. In addition to those same piano and drum mic models, the stage now sports six SR40HCs with custom windscreens for vocals; SR30s on the guitars and Leslie cabinet; and an additional collection of DP25/ Cs on snare, DP30/Cs on toms; SR30s on hi-hats; and SR40s on overheads.
“We did it and have been completely vindicated,” Davidson enthused. “The sound is amazing, and what we’re getting on Pro Tools|HD for the live recordings is fantastic. We’ve got the consoles and assigned mics with us every night, so we’ve got the two key ingredients of the signal chain nailed, no matter what.”
Crowded House’s longtime FOH engineer Angus Davidson with his Avid Profile console at New York’s Bowery Ballroom.Making the most of his console’s features— as might be expected—Davidson has around 80 snapshots stored, one for each song, and also uses automated effect sends as needed throughout the show: “I’ll have a fader next to Neil’s main vocal which automates a send to whatever it needs to be for a particular song. It may not get used at all or it might be sending a long delay, for instance. The same thing applies to the guitar, so if there’s a repeating line like in ‘It’s Only Natural’ or ‘Weather with You,’ I might add an Eventide Harmonizer plug-in and a big reverb to widen it out without making it take a lot more space. There are things that on an analog console take a lot of effort; on this system, it’s just recall and then ride faders, so you have more time to concentrate on what you’re mixing.”
Plug-ins are used in full force on this tour, with Finn’s vocal chain passing through a number of selections. “I use Avid’s Massenburg MDW3 EQ3 V3—the five-band parametric from George Massenburg which I love; it’s an amazing, clean phase linear EQ. I use two Serato dynamic EQs, which are very predictable and accurate— Robert Scovill switched me onto them—with one at about 3K and one at 400. Then there’s a McDSP 4030 Retro Comp classic compressor just to put a little warmth in there; it might knock one or two dB off when he yells, but it’s nice. Although they’re all digital plug-ins, they don’t sound digital; with the Earthworks mics, they’re very natural and open, and that’s what I strive for.” Other plug-ins on hand include Sonnox offerings, McDSP’s ML4000 limiter on bass, Avid’s own Revibe and Crane Song Phoenix.
Tackling monitors for the tour is another engineer with a longtime association with the band, Paul Jeffery. On his own Profile desk, Jeffery oversees 14 d&b audiotechnik M2 wedges as well as Sennheiser G3 personal monitor mixes for bassist Nick Seymour and drummer Matt Sherrod.
As it happened, personal monitors were also worn by a special guest on the last show of the group’s sold-out, threenight stand in New York, as David Byrne sat in to lead the euphoric crowd through sing-a-longs of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” and “Road to Nowhere.” And wouldn’t you know it—half the audience waited on line afterwards to buy a USB stick of the concert, each one anxious to carry Davidson’s mix work back home to their own Crowded Houses.
Firehouse Productions (Red Hook, NY)
FOH Engineer :
Monitor Engineer :
FOH Console :
Avid Venue Profile
Monitor Console :
Avid Venue Profile
Monitor Speakers :
d&b audiotechnik M2
Personal Monitors :
FOH Plug-Ins :
Eventide Harmonizer; Massenburg MDW3 EQ3 V3; Serato; McDSP 4030 Retro Comp classic compressor, ML4000 limiter; ReVibe; Crane Song Phoenix
Earthworks PM40, DK25/L, SR40HC, SR30, DP25/C, DP30/C, SR30, SR40