Singer and guitarist Jim James stalks the stage as My Morning Jacket kicks off its first of two shows at Red Rocks with a dark and psychedelic version of “Heartbreakin’ Man.” Over the course of nearly three hours, James and the rest of MMJ—guitarist Carl Broemel, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, and keyboard player Bo Koster—keep the sold-out crowd engaged with a mix of originals and covers, including a tribute to Prince on “Purple Rain.”
Bringing the sound to the crowd and band is the tandem of front-of-house engineer Ryan Pickett and monitor engineer Brent Lind. Pickett, like many engineers, came to it through his prior work as a musician. He had banged around on a couple of major label deals before deciding to get into sound engineering, and got his gig with MMJ through a friend. His audition gig with MMJ was huge, a set at Bonnaroo. “It was during the day on a digital console, and I’d never mixed on a digital console in my life,” laughs Pickett. “I passed the audition with flying colors, but they didn’t bring me on until the It Still Moves album came out, which was about three months later.”
Lind came to sound work through a mentor when he was in a theater program in high school, and ended up with MMJ after working with Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst, and later working the Monsters of Folk tour through that connection and meeting James. “I went to college as a lighting design major and started working the clubs doing sound to make money,” Lind says. “Toward the end of college I was doing bigger weekend outings with local bands, and then I got my first real call to do a tour. I literally skipped graduation to hop on this tour bus.”
Both Pickett and Lind are mixing on Avid Venue Profile consoles. They acknowledge the desks are little older, but find they work well for what they are doing. Pickett uses Waves plug-ins, and especially relies on the C6 and the E-Channel, but supplements his rig with some outboard analog gear.
“I’ve put this 500 Series box on Jim’s signal path, starting with an IGS Alter 500, which is like an 1176 with a Carnhill output transformer,” Pickett says, “and then it goes into a Rupert Neve-designed 551 Inductor EQ. From there, I use a little Meris M7 Mercury Reverb, exclusively for Jim’s huge long reverb. On the two-bus, I hit the BAE 10DC stereo compressors, because it’s more forgiving when the band is swinging for the fences, and I don’t have to worry about my gain structure so much. The compressors go through the TK Audio TK-lizer EQ, which is their version of the Baxandall EQ, which allows me do to do a little feathering without having to grab the Lake. The Lake is so sensitive. It also allows me to fan in regardless of the mix. That way, I don’t have to constantly change the panning perspective of the guitars for a narrower EQ. From there, it goes into the heads, the 192s, and we go out AES from there.”
Echoing Pickett, Lind says the C6 is one of his favorite plug-ins. He also uses the InPhase to help with phase alignment on double-miked guitars and the dual-input kick-snare-bass. However, he has also seemed to end up in a similar place to Pickett with some outboard analog gear.
“Jim’s vocal channel for years, and my go-to chain for most vocalists I work with, had evolved to being a SSL Buss Comp into an E-Channel into a C6, and sometimes an NLS on the end of that for certain songs,” Lind explains. “We got a lot of mileage out of that, but when I swapped to the FET Comp and the Neve Inductor EQ, it was a pretty night and day difference. We’ve been doing it for a month, and just two days ago I said to Jim, ‘Let’s go back to the old way for a quick second,’ so I reengaged the plug-ins and bypassed the hardware and he was laughing. There’s a lot that digital does great, and a lot digital can do that analog cannot do, but one thing in my opinion analog still has the edge on digital is additive EQ, and with in-ear monitors, you tend to push high end a lot on vocals, and it’s hard to do that in a way that isn’t shrill. With the Neve Inductor EQ, the harder you push it, the sweeter it gets.”
At Red Rocks, Pickett was using a P.A. provided by a local company, Brown Note, but MMJ usually tours with a d&b V Rig system with B2 subs and D80 amplifiers provided by Spectrum Sound of Nashville, using an amp per box. They are also running d&b’s new AP (ArrayProcessing), which allows Pickett to throw sound a longer distance and keep it intelligible and more three-dimensional, whether near or far. System tuning is handled by Matt Pribisco.
From left: Monitor engineer Brent Lind, Systems Tech Matt Pribisco, and FOH engineer Ryan Pickett. Photo: Candace Horgan
One secret weapon in Pickett’s arsenal is the use of sE ribbon mics for miking the cabinets onstage. Pickett has also steered Broemel and James to lower-wattage boutique guitar amps from Carr and 3 Monkeys, and has moved them to using one cab onstage and one upstage. The cabs onstage get the sE R1, while the upstage cabs have a coincident pair of Sennheiser 609 and sE VR1.
Says Pickett of the sE ribbon mics, “They are game changers because it takes up that all that midrange, low-end 250 stuff that a 57 can’t do, and that’s why people do all that front and back miking, and I’ve never been a fan of the sound of the back of a speaker cab. I know that’s how people get that low end that doesn’t exist from the front with a 57, but for me I can’t go without the ribbon mics.”
Rounding out the microphone complement is the Beyerdynamic M88 on the bass cab and the Twin Reverb used for the Rhodes. The drum kit has an sE X1 D titanium kick drum mic paired with a Sennheiser e901, Shure SM57s on the top and bottom snare, plus a Granelli 90-degree 57 mic, Sennheiser 604s on the toms, and Blue Hummingbird mics for the ride and crash. All the vocal mics are Sennheiser 935s. Bass also has an RNDI, and Jim’s guitar rack has switching from Radial JX44s on the electric and a JX62 on the acoustics.
The entire band is on in-ear monitors, using Shure PSM1000 transmitters. The ear monitors themselves are Sensaphonics. The in-ears are supplemented with wedges, mostly M2s and B2s.
“I can’t say enough good things about them, because I don’t think anyone else in the business approaches it the way they do,” says Lind of Sensaphonics. “They also make a unique product, a game-changer for our drummer. For years, he was on ears, then off ears, back and forth, because he would experience vertigo at times. I tried all the usual ambience mics and ’verbs, but what finally made the difference was the Sensaphonics 3D Ambient system, where you have ear monitors with tiny ambient mics built into them, and you have a pack where you can adjust the ratio of that to the mix I am sending. Particularly for a drummer, instead of hearing this loud thing in front of you get piped up 100 feet of cable and then wirelessly transmitted back to you, you are now hearing it in real-time through these mics with almost no processing. He feels connected to his kit.”
Hallahan gets a natural drum mix supplemented by a thumper and a wedge. Broemel likes his monitor mix heavy on guitar and run in stereo, and Broemel also gets a B2 sub. Lind also runs the drums in parallel processing channels, in part because he needs to keep the drums reined in on Broemel’s mix.
“I have the regular drum kit splayed out, and then I have kick-snare-overheads parallel, and that gives me a lot of flexibility to play with the dynamics and give him something that’s solid and there, but isn’t going to get out of control,” Lind says. “The other thing is I keep the parallel channels out of the program and they are recalled safe, and are a really great tool when you go to wildly different venues each day.”
James has never given Lind much feedback on the mix, except to say he likes it. Lind goes for something like the record on James’ monitor mix. Blankenship gets a very heavy drum and bass mix, with a little guitar and vocals, while Koster gets a mix with a lot of panning, depending on the song.
“On some songs, his synth part is the lead instrument and will be close to the middle, and on another part he’s playing Rhodes most of the song but has a little two-note synth thing on the bridge, and that’s a good thing to move off to the side.”