Boston Pops guitarist Jon Finn (at left) and FOH engineer Steve Colby rely on the Radial PZ-DI.
For more than 30 years front-of-house engineer Steve Colby has mixed audio for the Boston Pops Orchestra, which was founded in 1885. Colby is at the helm as FOH engineer for the year round program. During the 2011-2012 season 187,000 people took in the performances over the course of 86 concerts.
Colby mixes the music broadcast feed of the Boston Pops' annual and renowned July 4th performances, assisted by Kevin Delaney handling local P.A. FOH chores. These shows alone have drawn audiences of up to one million people.
According to Colby, "The biggest challenge over the years has been to keep up with increasing audience expectations for the sound of an amplified orchestra. With the progress of digital delivery to everyone across the board, audiences expect a very high quality and natural sound to an orchestra regardless of the acoustics of the room [arenas, outdoors, and so on]. Fortunately the technology of sound reinforcement has continued to improve."
In addition to the Pops' musicians who rely on Colby's expertise, Pops events often include guest musicians. Colby has worked with guest engineers to mix James Taylor, Bono, Jewel, Trisha Yearwood and Ricky Skaggs among others.
"I am frequently privileged to consult with other orchestras, concert halls and venues with regards to improving the presentation of orchestral music when sound reinforcement is involved," Colby says. "Over the years these clients have included the Kansas City Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony and Atlanta Symphony Orchestras." Colby was also part of the mixing team for Barbra Streisand's 2012 Back to Brooklyn tour; read Mix magazine's Tour Profile story about Streisand's Back to Brooklyn tour in the January 2013 issue.
Radial Engineering reports that Colby was an early adopter of the company's PZ-DI, which was developed by Radial as an orchestral instrument DI. "It is particularly difficult to get a convincing blend of sound between an acoustic orchestra and amplified soloists, but the PZ-DI is so clean and free of artifacts that the job becomes very straightforward," Colby says. "We dropped the PZ-DI in line to give a good listen on several of our tried and true arrangements and the result was terrific. The PZ-DI presented a dramatic sonic improvement to the pickup of acoustic guitar and bass."
Colby's choice also pleased Pops guitarist Jon Finn. "I've been playing guitar with Boston Pops since 1997," Finn says. "Most of the time, my job has been to bring a pop/rock/jazz sensibility to the orchestra. It's been a challenge to learn the best ways to blend acoustic guitars [while using piezo pickups] with an orchestra. One night Steve Colby brought in the Radial PZ-DI and right away we noticed an enormous difference in transparency, delicacy and detail in the acoustic guitar tone. It's been our go-to box ever since."
"We have a number of [Radial] units," Colby adds, "passive and active, and love them all. We also provide sound reinforcement services for special 'outside' events at Symphony Hall and notice that the Radial equipment is most often the DI requested on riders of visiting artists."
Visit the Boston Pops online at www.bso.org.