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Outboard Gear: Who Uses What, and Why?

OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS NAME THEIR FAVORITE OUTBOARD PROCESSORS Every month, Mix devotes a large portion of its editorial pages to new product announcements

OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS NAME THEIR FAVORITE OUTBOARD PROCESSORSEvery month, Mix devotes a large portion of its editorial pages to new product announcements and equipment reviews. But however impressive the specs or laudatory the Field Test review, the final test of a product’s usefulness is market acceptance. Who is using the new Alpha-Beta Scrutinizer Mk. III and on which instruments? To get a feel for who’s using what – and why – we interviewed six live sound engineers. Our sincere thanks to Billy Hawley, Ian Kuhn, David Morgan, Lee Popa, Scott Scherban and Bill Sheppel.

We spoke to monitor engineer Billy Hawley during preparations for a large-scale Faith Hill/Tim McGraw tour. “It’s a pretty massive thing,” says Hawley of the production package being put together for the first 50-city leg of the tour. “There’s more stuff going in [to the production] than I’ve seen in a long time.”

Set up for playing in the round, the stage features two under-the-stage spaces for “monitorworld,” one for each act. Hawley mixes monitors for McGraw on an ATI Paragon which, he says, “is saving my life.” A long-term employee in the McGraw/Hill camp, Hawley has also had a long association with MD Systems/Clair Bros. Audio, which is supplying a 56-cabinet I4 system for the tour. “I get turned on to new gear all the time through MD/Clair,” says Hawley, “but now that I’ve got the Paragon, the need for a whole lot of outboard gear has gone away – the gating and limiting work great on the console. I’m using a UREI 7110 compressor on Tim’s vocal because the Paragon is just a little bit slow for me there – the UREI’s a really simple little single-space device that one of the old-time Clair guys told me to try when I was looking at all the fancy new stuff. He said `for what you’re wanting in leveling, try this.’ I put it on there, and it changed my world one more time! It’s just seamless.”

Monitor engineer Ian Kuhn has been with the Dave Matthews Band since 1995. Because every member of the DMB uses in-ear monitors onstage, Kuhn is solely responsible for how each bandmember hears himself and the other musicians. “I’ve got ten stereo in-ear mixes and a few mono wedge mixes, as well as a mono bass shaker for the drummer,” says Kuhn. “I also control the sax player’s effects onstage – we have a couple of Eventide units and a TC Electronic M5000.”

Kuhn’s favorite processor is strapped across the mix outputs from his ATI Paragon monitor console. “I swear by, wholeheartedly, the TC Finalizers,” he says. “I have a Finalizer per ear mix. It’s the only outboard gear I use, and it’s inserted on the stereo group. It does everything from my parametric EQs to three-band compression and three-band limiting.” Kuhn also praises the unit’s Digital Radiance Generator. “It provides even-order harmonics, and is a good little trick if used right.”

Independent FOH mixer David Morgan spoke to Mix from his home during a break in the summer 2000 Steely Dan tour schedule. Morgan, whose clients also include Paul Simon, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and Kitaro, is a confirmed Yamaha PM4000 user. “It works every day,” says Morgan. “You have a responsibility to your clients and the people buying tickets to have a desk that works every day, and I’ve never had a desk more reliable than the PM4000.”

Morgan is also something of a compressor connoisseur. “My new love is the Tube-Tech CL-2A for vocals,” he says. “I got introduced to it three years ago when I saw Clive Franks using it on Elton John. Elton’s voice sounded wonderful, and I was looking at the compressor hitting about four or five dB of compression and couldn’t hear it at all. What it added to a vocal mic was exactly what we want in live music, so I tried it on Lionel Richie. I’ve been using it on lead vocals ever since. So that’s the combination – the Neve into the Tube-Tech and then I come back into the insert.”

For effects, Morgan is specific. “I must have one AMS RMX 16 reverb,” he laughs. “That’s an oldie, but there’s no better tom-tom reverb in the world. It’s AMS’s original, digital reverb. For vocal reverb, people used to use the ambience program all the time, but I use it on toms. Also, I’ve gotta have an old, original version PCM 70 for the snare drum. There’s nothing better than either of those two units.”

As FOH engineer for Macy Gray, Lee Popa is spending most of the year on the road. “It’s a really huge tour that started January 15, and we’ll play up to Christmas,” says Popa, who was preparing for the European festival circuit when he spoke to Mix. Until recently, Popa was a Midas XL4 fan, but he is now using a Midas Heritage 3000, supplied either by Eighth Day Sound or the band’s European sound equipment supplier, Wigwam. “I love that mixer,” says Popa. “It sounds better than all of them – and it’s purple!”

Popa describes Macy Gray’s 14-piece band as a modern R&B group and mixes them accordingly – with no reverbs whatsoever. “I leave all the mics open and the gates are only on if there’s a problem in the monitors and I’m getting too much leakage, but that’s very rare,” explains Popa. “I love all the tube compressors – for me, it’s all about the compression – and I just used a Crane Song stereo compressor, which was great. And of course, I’m using the Summit DCL-200 on the bass and on Macy’s vocal. For the guitar, I use an AKG-414 and a dbx 160 compressor – and just slam it. On this tour, Showco will be supplying the gear and I have a Manley Vocal Box coming for Macy’s vocal. I’ve used that in the studio and it’s awesome.”

Scott Scherban has mixed monitors for Natalie Merchant, Natalie Cole and PJ Harvey, among others, and is now on tour with Tracy Chapman. For the current Chapman tour, Scherban is working with both standard wedges and in-ear monitors – a combination that often dictates a more nuanced approach to gear selection.

“Focusrite compressors seem to be the main compressors that I really like to use,” says Scherban. “The BSS stuff also is really good. I don’t really like to run a compressor on the lead vocalist, because then it becomes an illusion when they dig into their vocal; it’s dipping down and their dynamic range is falsely represented. I do an even split to a second channel for everyone else [onstage] and I’ll run a compressor on that just because of the dynamic. I can also EQ it separately because she’s using wedges and the rest of the band on in-ears. Some artists will do everything from a whisper to a scream, and if I don’t have a compressor on that, then I’m reaching for the knob. It’s just another thing that I’ve to go to, which I don’t mind, but how many times can you predict what someone is going to do onstage?

“With Natalie Cole, for example, she just uses sidefills, no downstage mix at all. There is an exception where I will run a compressor on her and it’s been usually like a Summit GLA-100 or even a Focusrite Red, depending on what the FOH guy likes to use – to keep it consistent onstage because she listens to the house. We’ve gone through it where I’ve not had one and she’s said `It sounds weird out at front of house. It just gets really loud for some reason.’ So if I run the same compressor in-line on my rig as what he’s running out front and get it dialed as close as possible, because the environments are different they’re not going to be the same setting; it does seem to make it a consistent balance between what you hear down stage-center and the house.”

A constant fixture in the Korn camp, FOH Engineer Bill Sheppel has mixed FOH on a number of the band’s outings, including The Family Values tour and this year’s Summer Sanitarium tour. In working with harder-edge bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Ministry, Sheppel has assembled a fairly versatile collection of gear that has remained essentially unchanged for several tours.

“Every tour I use the [Eventide] H3000; it’s just a great vocal processor. I mean, I really use the same shit basically on every tour. I use SPX because they’ve got a nasty sounding little snare reverb that works good. I mean, I’m not mixing Lyle Lovett right now. It’s loud and noisy stuff. Everything I use is MIDI’d together. For years, I just used a guitar pedal that was MIDI, and now I’m using a computer with a program called MIDI Show Controller that Showco wrote for MIDI control, which is really flexible. So I have my rack with my essential stuff. I tend to use TLA 100s [compressors] on all vocals. My FX rack is basically the same every tour; I own a bunch of it. I use a TC M2000 for delay because there is two modes of delay, both 14ms, which is great.

“Jonathan [Davis, lead singer for Korn] tends to stand right in front of the drum kit, and what I use is a Shure DFR11 digital-feedback reducer. So the notch filter catches the frequency and knocks it down; it’s very narrow. On an arena tour, I usually spend about five minutes a day just ringing the mic out with that. On a festival-type thing, I just start with it flat and just let the show go. I use the TLA 100 and the output of that goes into the DFR 100, because I do gain it up and then with a little H3000, it’s right there up front.”