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Tour Profile: Imagine Dragons

Taming Big, Thunderous Percussion and Dynamic Vocals

Imagine Dragons at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco.

Photo by Steve Jennings

The year 2013 will be remembered as the breakout point in the four-year career of Las Vegas–based indie rock/pop quartet Imagine Dragons—Dan Reynolds (lead vocals), D. Wayne Sermon (guitar), Daniel “Z” Platzman (drums), and Ben McKee (bass), with Ryan Walker on keyboards and second guitar. The band launched into its current Night Visions tour of mid-size venues and amphitheaters in support of its 2012 major label debut album of the same name, produced by Alex Da Kid for Interscope. Mix caught up with the band at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco in March.

An expanding fan base has caught onto Imagine Dragons’ tightly arranged vocals and rhythmically driven songs. They augment traditional rock rhythm section instruments with a battery of drums that includes an extra floor tom, a high-pitched Japanese drum, quad toms, a 36-inch concert bass drum and a Japanese Taiko drum.

Front-of-house mixer Scott Eisenberg and monitor engineer Jared Swetnam are tasked with accurately balancing and controlling each of these elements within a variety of rooms and settings. As an added variable, the band is traveling light on production, carrying only an Avid Venue SC48 console for monitors; three Shure PSM 1000 dual-channel wireless transmitters and Shure mics provided by Clair Brothers; additional Blue and Sennheiser mics; ACS Custom USA in-ear monitors; Radial DI boxes; and backline instruments and amps.

“If I can get control of the low end in the room [during soundcheck], that seems to be my biggest friend,” Eisenberg notes. “I might have 10 or 15 minutes [to make] the system sound good before doing a line check with all the instruments, getting the low end so I could control the drums—and then in the vocal range, just making sure that it didn’t sound nasal-y or boxy, but that it brought out the nicer frequencies of the vocals so I could make them sit on top.”

Front-of-house engineer Scott Eisenberg mixes on house-provided consoles. At The Warfield in San Francisco, he worked on a Yamaha PM5D.

Photo by Steve Jennings

Eisenberg’s vocal mix begins with Reynolds, who sings into a Shure U4D wireless mic system with an SM58 capsule. “Because we’re not carrying our own [FOH] console, I’m trying to use more of the standard, onboard effects that I can find anywhere so that no matter what club or festival that I come into, hopefully I won’t run into, ‘Oh, half my plug-ins don’t work!’”

When he’s on a Venue Profile, Eisenberg turns to the Bomb Factory BF76 compressor/limiter. “Dan has a really strong voice, so it’s easy to let it stand out by itself with a bit of compression and a little chorusing,” he says. “They’re not afraid of reverb! [Laughs.] I usually go for a decent-size Hall. There are a few songs where I’ll use more of a slapback to make it more personal. And I’ll generally use a tap delay on Dan’s vocal—usually somewhere around 450 ms—that I’ll bring in and out as it applies to each song.”

Background vocals by Sermon and McKee are into Blue Microphone en•CORE 100 mics; drummer Platzman uses an en•CORE 100i because it has a tighter polar pattern for improved off-axis rejection to compensate for bleed from his drum kit. “They have a good sense of each other, balance-wise,” Eisenberg says. “They don’t get as much of that when they’re on in-ears, but they’re easy to mix. I use the same Hall reverb for the center as well as the background vocals.”

Sermon and Walker’s guitar cabinets are each miked with SM57s. Sermon plays a BilT electric with built-in effects through a Line 6 M9 Stompbox Modeler into two cabinets to create stereo guitar parts, which Eisenberg says helps open up space in the FOH mix and allows him to fit Walker’s guitar by panning it a small amount to one side. McKee’s bass cabinet takes a 421 and a DI. Platzman’s four-piece drum set receives standard miking with a combination of Shure and Sennheiser mics.

Monitor engineer Jared Swetnam travels with an Avid Venue SC48.

Photo by Steve Jennings

“The biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to place that extra percussion,” Eisenberg says. He uses 604s on the extra drums, save the Taiko drum, which takes a Beta 52. “With the concert drum you take out some lower midrange, somewhere between 200 and 400. With this Taiko drum, we were trying to figure out how to get the best low end out of it while also hearing a good attack. But that drum puts out such a wide frequency array [laughs], and it’s got an enormous sustain, so gating it was really difficult. There were nights I just had to gate it manually—literally turning the fader up and down—because the sustain would hold the gate open for 30 seconds.”

In monitor world, Swetnam says he appreciates the SC48 because it offers “sends on faders, quick on-the-fly soft patching—which is convenient when having to swap out wireless packs during a performance, eight built-in stereo FX returns, and its local I/O made it a very portable all-in-one system. For Imagine Dragons, I mix with a cue list of changes for each song. Luckily we have a consistent setlist each night. I haven’t had the need to use snapshot mixing, though with the increase in our production and inputs for the U.S. tour in May, it might become an necessity.” The three Shure transmitters give Swetnam five stereo stage mixes plus his cue mix.

“Finding the right balance of vocal EQ and compression, reverb and delay is crucial, especially when the artist moves with his microphone and the stage sizes vary from show to show,” Swetnam says. “On smaller stages it’s important to monitor these levels to avoid washing out the vocalist mix with bleed from other instruments. Mixing with in-ears, carrying a console, and using the same mic package every night can give you a level of consistency and freedom to fine-tune your monitor mix over the course of a tour.”