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Keeping the Crowd in a Billy Joel State of Mind

With 160 million albums sold, these days Billy Joel focuses on live performances, all of which are mixed by longtime FOH engineer Brian Ruggles on a DiGiCo SD5 console.

Billy Joel in concert at Madison Square Garden. Photo: Myrna Suarez.
Billy Joel in concert at Madison Square Garden. Photo: Myrna Suarez.

New York, NY (November 16, 2022)—Billy Joel may not have released an album of new music since the early Nineties, but with an estimated 160 million albums sold across his career, he doesn’t really need to—and he’s certainly kept busy in the meantime. Touring regularly and playing a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the troubadour of Long Island still packs arenas and stadiums around the world. Mixing at front-of-house every night, much as he has for essentially every Billy Joel show over the last 50 years, is Brian Ruggles, who these days mans a DiGiCo SD5 desk to bring the Piano Man to the masses.

FOH Engineer Brian Ruggles at the DiGiCo SD5 console
FOH Engineer Brian Ruggles at the DiGiCo SD5 console.

The SD5 console has been part of Ruggles’ Clair Global-supplied system for the last eight years. “I’m an old-school guy; I love the way analog sounds,” says Ruggles, “but there came a point where I knew I had to move to digital. The SD5 sounds incredible; it really has the kind of warm sound that I’ve loved my entire career, but what really sold me was how user-friendly the SD5 is. The few other digital consoles I tried were not at all easy to navigate. The SD5, on the other hand, allowed me to dive right in and make it work for me.”

Inside the ‘Billy Joel: Live at Yankee Stadium’ Atmos Mix

It’s not the only DiGiCo desk provided to the Joel camp, as Josh Weibel, Joel’s monitor engineer for the last nine years, provides mixes of the multitude of musicians onstage via a DiGiCo SD10.

“For Billy, we upgraded the consoles to 96 kHz racks a couple of years ago, and we heard an immediate and very noticeable difference in the sound quality, which had been great,” says Weibel, who regularly uses DiGiTubes on Joel’s vocals and on the background vocals, and the Dynamic EQ on just about everything. “I just don’t need a whole lot of external gear with what I have available to me on the console. Keeping it all onboard helps because there’s absolutely no latency in any of the processing. And how the console lets me lay it out the ways I want is also a huge help when we have guest artists onstage at the Madison Square Garden shows. Sometimes we don’t know if there’s going to be a guest until soundcheck, but the SD10 lets me easily set up additional input and output strips as needed and create a mix for them.”

Ruggles has his hands full at every show mixing the house, but is first to say that he tends to use the cutting-edge desk in an old-school way: “I don’t use the SD5’s features to their full extent, and I know it has some amazing features, but it gives me what I need and want. A great-sounding console that lets me mix the way I want to mix and get Billy’s music across the way it’s always sounded. That’s all I really need in a console, and DiGiCo always delivers.”