Monitor mixer Seamus Fenton (left) and FOH engineer Ben Findlay
Long before the night's first note rings out, there's a feeling of being wonderfully overwhelmed at Radio City Music Hall. But while the audience and band are amped on this rainy evening in New York City, the group's front-of-house and monitor engineers are cool and collected. For FOH engineer Ben Findlay, who splits his time as evenly as possible between recording and the road, this tour is a welcome opportunity to spread the word about the band's sonically rich fourth disc, The Seventh Tree. “It has amazing soundscapes and thought-provoking lyrics; really, I think it's a fabulous record,” he says. “When Allison [Goldfrapp] steps on the stage, you can't take your eyes off of her. It's not a straightforward show.”
Goldfrapp is a duo in the studio, but co-founder/keyboardist Will Gregory no longer tours. Instead, Findlay is using his Digidesign VENUE D-Show Profile to mix a seven-piece band that includes drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, violin and harp. “There are 48 different outputs that we're keeping track of,” says Findlay. “When Digidesign first showed me this Profile for Peter Gabriel's Growing Up Live tour, they said, ‘You'll be able to run third-party plug-ins,’ and that's a unique selling point because I can use the Sony Oxford plug-ins. The Inflator fits great to perk up the mix a bit: I'll put it across the main outputs, but I wouldn't have it across the whole show because it gets to be wearing.
“I don't mix the same way every night because sometimes it's nice to hear songs in a slightly different way,” Findlay continues. “I start from a pre-programmed point and then tweak it according to the room and how everyone's playing. I'm not into that overly harsh thing, but you have to be quite careful of how you position bass: If you don't have a very aggressive midrange and you've got too much bass going on, it turns to shit, for want of a better word. I'm trying to keep the spectral balance at that point where you want it to be just a little louder.”
Although Findlay has enjoyed touring Europe with an L-Acoustics V-DOSC system, he's quite happy to be working with Radio City's house P.A. tonight: a JBL VerTec system in an L/C/R hang with eight subs per side. “I'll play a couple of tracks I know through the P.A., with an Oxford EQ strapped across the P.A. and my sub outputs,” he says of his nightly tuning ritual. “I'll tweak the P.A., discuss it with the system tech, and more often than not, they'll take off the Q on their crossover and I'll flatten mine.”
Monitors are under the firm guidance of industry veteran Seamus Fenton, who pilots a Yamaha PM1D mixing a Sennheiser Evolution G2 in-ear system. “In a way, this gig needs two monitoring engineers: someone to do Allison and then someone to do everyone else!” he says with a laugh. “I have to constantly mix her in-ears as she goes. The movements you do are very small, very intricate, but you have to do them. There's an awful lot of backing vocals on the tracks, for example, which have to be balanced for her.”
Photo: Sam Frank
To capture Ruth Wall's artistic harp playing, Findlay places DPA 4088 miniature cardioid mics on the instrument. “You can't get inside the resonator box; there's a hole like that,” he explains, indicating the size. “We use the DPA cardioid pin mic pointing at the hole, contact mics and contact pickups. Once we found the place to put the mics, it's become one of those instruments that you don't have to worry about. There is a slight issue with spillage onto the mics, but the signal that you get from the contact pickups makes the sound pretty representative.”
Miking Goldfrapp's gorgeous voice — a musical mix of majestic grace, strength and whisper — is a wired Shure SM57 Beta. “It's got great rejection, which is important because although we are using in-ear monitoring, it can still get loud onstage and Allison is a very delicate singer,” says Findlay. “And actually, I quite like the sound of it.”
David Weiss is Mix's New York editor.