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Capturing Chris Young’s Live Sound On Tour

Chris Young is hitting the road hard in advance of his next album, with Erik Rogers tackling FOH engineer duties for the country star.

Country star Chris Young kicked off the year with a sold-out run that included the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. PHOTO: Paris Visone
Country star Chris Young kicked off the year with a sold-out run that included the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. PHOTO: Paris Visone.

Nashville, TN (March 20, 2023)—Chris Young has never been one to sit still; since bursting onto the charts in 2006, the singer/songwriter has amassed a truckload of number-one Country singles and a fervid following that catches him every time he goes on tour. In January this year, the Grand Ole Opry member dropped two new singles, “Looking For You” and “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” to tease his upcoming ninth album, and to underline their release, he headed out on the road for four shows as well—a preamble to a big year ahead that will include a string of spring dates, festivals over the summer and then a full-on arena tour in the fall.

The concerts also served as an opportunity to shake things up a little bit. While the country star and his band still knocked out the hits, they also road-tested a new setlist, the new songs—and a new house engineer, too, with Erik Rogers taking over the FOH mix position. While Rogers spent the last few years mixing heavy acts like Godsmack, Avatar, Breaking Benjamin and Falling in Reverse, he welcomed the chance to dive into country again: “I mixed a country artist, Dustin Lynch, for quite a while, and back in 2017, one of the acts we opened for was Chris Young. The tour manager, Bill Cracknell, remembered me; we had a phone call a few weeks ago and here I am.”

The short Winter run of sold-out casino arenas gave everyone on and off-stage time to work together and ensure everything was on-target before the bigger treks later in the year. “The band has been together for a long time, but it’s a predominantly new crew,” Rogers explained. “Everybody knows what they’re doing, but now we have to do it together and present it to a roomful of strangers every night as if we’ve been doing it together for 20 years! We did a week of rehearsals in Nashville, had four shows to dial it in and we’re already a well-oiled machine.”

The shows weren’t a warm-up, however—they ran red hot from the start, with both the artist and audiences leaning into it. “Even the new songs that were just released, the audience already knows every word,” Rogers marveled, “and then you have the big hits where not only do they know every word, but they scream them! It’s cool to have an audience that engaged.”

While some mixers might pound the volume to get the mix over the crowd, Rogers prefers to keep the SPLs civil. “I let the fans get it out of their system,” he chuckled. “Our show stays right around 100 dBA averaged over 90 minutes. Of course, there are louder and quieter spots, and they contribute to that—I measured the audience the other day at 106!”

Hitting the road with Chris Young, FOH engineer Erik Rogers has been mixing on a Yamaha Rivage PM10 console for the first time. PHOTO: Paris Visone
Hitting the road with Chris Young, FOH engineer Erik Rogers has been mixing on a Yamaha Rivage PM10 console for the first time. PHOTO: Paris Visone.

Both the house and monitor positions are centered around Yamaha Rivage PM10 consoles, provided by Young’s longtime audio company of choice, Sound Image Nashville. Rogers and John Weaver—Young’s monitor engineer since March, 2020—each get 56 inputs coming from the stage; while the two PM10s are independent systems, they’re also networked together with one taking the other’s outputs, and all talkback and chat loops run through fiber only.

Joining the Chris Young camp marks the first time Rogers has worked with a Rivage desk, barring one night filling in on a Bush tour five years ago. “While there’s a learning curve, that’s the case with any console,” he pointed out. “My experience so far is that it sounds great, operates well, and once you wrap your head around how you patch, assign DSP for plug-ins and things like that, it’s just like any other desk, except that it sounds really, really good. I know colleagues that take the Rivage out with Shinedown, Luke Bryan and Garth Brooks, and they all swear by these desks; after using it for four shows, I can see why.

“One thing I’ve learned about the Yamaha is to trust the desk,” Rogers added. “I tried to use some outboard plug-ins, and they don’t sound as good. To me, time-aligning everything to go out of the console and back in wasn’t worth the work to make it sound right, because everything on the desk—the Rupert Neve Designs SILK processing, the Portico plug-ins and the other Yamaha features in there? You can’t beat ’em. They sound really good, so I’m just using the desk.”

That said, there were a handful of Waves plug-ins used for mix buss processing, hosted externally on a Mac Studio running Audioström Live Professor software and Audinate’s Dante Virtual Soundcard. “The cool thing about Live Professor is that it can run any plug-in native without a server,” he explained, “so you can have Sonnox, Brainworx, Waves, all of these multiple manufacturers’ plug-ins on the same platform.”

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With the crew changing but the band staying the same, the miking for the seven musicians onstage and their guitars’ ISO cabinets has remained the same as well. “Chris owns all of his mics, and it’s a smorgasbord—Beyerdynamic, Telefunken, Sennheiser; there’s a little something off the buffet for everybody up there right now,” said Rogers. “I’ve started working on mic placement and doing some fine-tuning, but I’m keeping in mind that these guys are very happy with their in-ear mixes. Any changes have to be done in concert with John, our monitor engineer, because things that I might move for nuance at front-of-house could cause drastic changes for in-ears and make life very difficult for the people onstage.”

In the past, the band’s monitor mixes were handled with a mix of sidefills and JH Audio JH11 in-ear monitors, but that’s changing for 2023, said Weaver: “Chris Young is moving from using sidefills and only one in-ear monitor, to using both in-ears all through the show, with no sidefills in sight. The Rivage PM10’s EQ and the Portico 5043 compressor with the dynamic EQ really helped with getting the clarity we needed in their in-ears to achieve this massive change.”

While the fall tour will carry full production, the quick casino arena run picked up local stacks and racks, so audiences were treated to line arrays from L-Acoustics, Meyer Sound, RCF and Electro-Voice. Regardless of the P.A., at every stop, fans heard Young and his band freshen up his setlist staples while also adding some new soon-to-be favorites, resulting in concerts that kept things feeling new but also familiar. With that in mind, Rogers kept the mixes true to what was coming off the stage—not replicating the record, but not heading into the great unknown either.

“In conversation with the artist and management, they wanted something that felt live and raw,” said Rogers, “but when you’re mixing an artist that’s got dozens of plaques on their wall for massive hits, you’ve got to keep the tonality of the song relatively close to the original intent, so that all these hits sound like what people have been hearing for 17 years. When you have a fan base that loyal, you don’t want to suddenly change everything. There are elements and melodies that are crucial, and we pay attention to those things. But then there’s also the big closer, ‘Aw Naw,’ which starts off as a country song and ends up with a big rock’n’roll jam for the end of the night. That’s nowhere on the record—that’s the sound of a band having a lot of fun!”