Melissa Etheridge is standing center stage at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, Calif., in late June (the third show of her 20-plus-date tour), belting out a series of favorites that fans have been waiting to hear since she stopped touring in 2004 after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Given her zip and the audience’s fervent response, it’s clear that the evening was a marked success for both.
Etheridge’s tour kicked off in the middle of June and will run through the summer, including dates in New York, Montreal and Chicago. The Oakland show came just four days into the tour and front-of-house engineer Dan Wise (who has mixed for Jason Mraz for the past three or so years) and production manager/monitor engineer Jon Schimke have already hit a pace where Etheridge and her band — bassist Mark Browne, drummer Fritz Lewak and guitarist Philip Sayce — cut through the audience’s ardor. Schimke has been with Etheridge since 1994, and this is Wise’s first long run with her.
Sound Image (Escondido, Calif.) supplied the crew with a JBL VerTec VT 4889 rig with VT 4880 subs, which cover the main hall. While the line array covers the orchestra and balcony seating, the crew brought in a pair of Sound Image 1160s and a pair of Sound Image CF boxes to cover the premium seats upfront. “I use those down front on every tour that I do,” Schimke says. “The 1160s have a 160-degree horn and an 8-inch speaker. The CF boxes are single 12s with two inches. I also have sidefills onstage, which helps fill out the stage and gives it more beef.” The sidefills came in handy, as the entire band is on personal monitors and there are only two speakers onstage: a double 12-inch sub behind Browne and an 18-inch sub and a Thumper behind Lewak.
For the most part, the crew places four subs per side, although there is the possibility of using five. “We use four because of the sight lines,” Schimke explains. “Being the production manager, I lean into Dan for that reason. I know what [the subs] can do and I won’t put [Dan] in a bad spot, but you gotta look at the whole picture.” Wise answers that he isn’t missing the extra sub. Crown I-Tech 8000 amplifiers power the P.A.
For checking system performance during the show, Wise uses Metric Halo’s SpectraFoo for reference. “I don’t rely on it too much when I’m tuning the P.A., but I do have it sitting there in case anything pops out during the show,” he explains.
At FOH, Wise is using a Midas Heritage 2000. “When this tour came around, I was looking for small, easy and simple,” he explains. “I’m happy with it.” In terms of outboard gear, Wise carries an ADL 1500 tube compressor on Etheridge’s vocals and dbx 160A compressor/limiters on the guitars and bass to keep things even. The goal, he says, is to keep Etheridge’s vocal on top. “That’s pretty much the whole thing,” Wise says with a smile. “Her band is really good, so it’s pretty easy to mix. They mix themselves for the most part. As long as her vocal is on top, I’m happy.”
Miking the band is straightforward, although Lewak’s drum kit came in bigger than they anticipated. “We were expecting three toms, but he came in with four and he added a bunch of overhead stuff,” Schimke says. “I laughed at some of that stuff when I saw it, but it sounds good, so I can’t complain.” The kick drum is miked with a Beyer M88 and a Shure Beta 91, the snare gets a Shure 57, Sennheiser 421s are used on the toms and hi-hat, and Shure KSM 32s mike the overheads.
“We went with the 421s because they sounded good,” Schimke reports. “I had been working with Dennis DeYoung and getting [Shure] 98s every day. One day, they didn’t have enough of them, so I asked if they had anything else. They had [421s] and I thought, ‘This is what drums sound like.’ So I called [Dan] up and asked if he had a problem if we tried 421s, and he didn’t. Then I called up the drummer to check with him, but he could care less. It just sounds good.”
Browne’s bass rig is taken DI with a 160A on top with slight compression. Sayce’s 4×12 guitar cabinet and Etheridge’s Bad Cat 2×12 amplifier are miked with Sennheiser 409s.
In terms of vocals, the band sings through Shure 58s and Etheridge uses a Crown CM-311 headset mic run through a Shure wireless. “We went to it four or five years ago because she runs around [onstage] so much,” Schimke says. “She liked it, so it stuck.”
Lewak and his drum tech trigger a handful of drum loops from Ableton Live running on an Apple PowerBook G4.
As for monitors, Schimke mixes through a Ramsa SX-1 console. “It’s been my favorite console the last 10 years. It sounds as good as the Midas stuff and it works better,” he says. “I use all the outputs — the bottom four are set up in stereo, which is perfect because I have four stereo in-ear mixes. The rest are sidefill sends, the wedge send and four reverb sends, so it adds up pretty fast. It’s got 22 outputs and I use 19 of them.”
The band went to personal monitors about 10 years ago, although Sayce pulls the right ear out to listen to the sidefills. Schimke upgraded to Shure PSM 700s for this tour. “So far, so good,” he says of the new additions. “I kept the 600s in the rack just in case [the PSM 700s] sounded different, but they sound exactly the same. There are just more frequency choices. We started having trouble on the last tour with just two frequency choices — sometimes it would be a little dirty, so we have the option of more and it’s nice.”
Schimke gives Etheridge a full mix, while Browne receives a lot of overheads and the drummer gets most of the rest of the band. “The guitar player is mostly guitar,” Schimke says with a laugh. “Imagine that.”
At monitor central, Schimke has an AMS Neve RMX 16 reverb for drums, a pair of Yamaha SPX-990s for vocals and acoustic guitar, 10 channels of Amek CL01 compressor/limiters and a Yamaha PRO R3 reverb on Etheridge’s voice. “It fattens up her voice,” Schimke says. “As soon as I turn it off, it distracts her, so I leave all the effects on all the time.
“I won the Ameks in a coin flip against Gary Hartung, who was mixing Pat Benatar,” Schimke continues with a laugh. “I was doing a Los Lonely Boys show and the owner of the company [Sound Image’s Dave Shadoan] called me up and asked if I really needed ’em. I said I’d like to have them; it was on my list. He said, ‘Gary wants ’em, too.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s flip for ’em.’ They went outside, and I won two out of three.”
Schimke says the job is pretty straight-ahead. “She comes out and plays, and that’s really the extent of it. She’s as easy as it gets as far as mixing monitors. She doesn’t even look at me. Her wife sits behind me sometimes and she looks at her, so I try to get in between ’em. It’s become the running gag on our side of the stage.”
David John Farinella is a San Francisco — based writer.