Live sound and studio mix engineering veteran Horace Ward pushes the envelope of the Digidesign VENUE live sound environment, using it in his work with R&B soul artist Mary J. Blige to record rehearsals for live sound pre-production and record and mix on-location tracks for release on the Internet.
Ward, whose 30-year career includes credits such as Beyonce, Destiny’s Child, Usher, Prince, Wyclef Jean and Steel Pulse, started working with Blige just prior to the release of her What’s the 411 in 1992. Blige’s group recently made a brief stop in Los Angeles at the Centerstaging rehearsal facility to prepare for a run of live appearances in support of her latest effort, The Breakthrough, and to record songs from the album and bonus material for Apple’s iTunes Music Store.
“I am in love with this board!” raves Ward. “It has a fantastic range of applications and flexibility: It’s not only a live console, but a recording console, as well. It’s whatever you want it to be. There’s nothing comparable out there because of its ability to interface seamlessly with Pro Tools. It’s a studio-quality, refined digital console that completely changes the way I work.”
Ward is using VENUE’s HDx interface to record rehearsals directly to Digidesign's Pro Tools system. Once done, he can switch to HDx playback mode and replace the mic pre signals with the recorded Pro Tools tracks. This process, known as “virtual soundcheck,” allows Ward to take advantage of VENUE’s D-Show snapshot automation software to prepare mixes in advance for Blige’s live shows. “I can record the rehearsals for a couple of hours if I want while the band is working out songs and doing their thing. I can then come back and do my production work, get my sounds together and remix the whole show while they’re away.”
The D-Show software allows Ward to easily create very detailed mixes, including intricate and complex changes from song to song. “I treat every song as a different scene. Not many people work like that,” Ward explains. "Every song has a completely different mix: EQ mix, atmosphere mix, drum sounds. I’m into defining each song and giving it its own character.”
After the rehearsals were complete, Ward then set up the console as a location recording studio to record bonus tracks for iTunes. With the band in one room and Ward set up in another, he was able to do an isolated recording, mix and then semi-master the material on the spot.
“I’ve been wishing for this console for years. It’s one of the best-sounding fully digital consoles out there right now," Ward concludes. "It is the whole package. The EQs are wonderful, and I like the visuals. I like the fact that VENUE has built-in plug-ins and that the gates and compressors on each channel can also be augmented by an additional four plug-ins per channel. The flexibility is marvelous, the sound is marvelous and the seamless linking of Pro Tools for recording is completely over the top. It's a tool that I cannot do without. VENUE is a console for engineers who want to expand their ideas and bring studio quality to live sound.”