On any given night, Chris Rabold, front-of-house mixer for Widespread Panic, handles anywhere from 60 to 80 inputs, including specialized inputs such as trigger lines that serve as sidechain key inputs to open some drum and percussion gates. Rabold recently switched to Digidesign’s VENUE live sound environment primarily because of the system’s comprehensive TDM plug-in architecture, which allows him to replace all of his analog gear. A surprise bonus was the system’s automatic delay compensation and low plug-in latency (usually under two samples). Rabold also makes extensive use of the VENUE system’s direct busing to Pro Tools for multitrack archiving and creating downloadable mixes for fans.
Rabold discovered VENUE after a call from Eighth Day Audio account exec Owen Orzack. “Owen called me up on his way home from a VENUE demo and more or less told me he had just seen the perfect console for me. The desk could handle a lot of inputs and the creative potential of the board was huge due to its compatibility with hundreds of TDM plug-ins. He also knew I had become frustrated in the past with overcoming conversion latency problems inherent with other digital desks when having to use additional outboard gear.
“With my previous digital desk,” Rabold continues, “I was still sending certain inputs out of the console just to get certain specific sounds from some of my trusted analog pieces. Bringing those inputs back into the board created a whole slew of timing issues if you tried to blend those newly affected sounds with the same unaffected inputs. Owen saw that VENUE had the ability to alleviate these types of timing issues that had plagued me in the past, and that it could provide me more than enough sonic diversity via the available plug-ins. He was right! I had a rack of outboard gear nearby for comfort’s sake for two whole shows. They haven’t seen the light of day since.”
Some of Rabold’s preferred plug-ins include Digidesign’s Smack!, the Bomb Factory Joemeek SC2 compressor and the Focusrite Forte. “Smack! can be whatever you want it to be, mean or subtle,” says Rabold. “I use it primarily for the latter on bass, vocals and snare drums, so that should show how highly I think of its performance. The Joemeek can produce some really cool sounds: If you want your drums to pop, give this guy a try. I use it as a drums subgroup compressor and on a toms subgroup.
“The ISA stuff is just so transparent. It’s hard to hear any of the usual artifacts that result from compression. It finds a home on guitars, a few vocals and on some keys inputs. I also need to mention the Phoenix plug-in from Cranesong. I think ‘holy s***’ sums up my feelings on this one. I’ll be honest, the last time I hit any analog tape really hard was in college and I probably didn’t mean to then. The resulting effect produced by Phoenix is intended to mimic that tape saturation sound, and it is sweet! Things get fatter, punchier, bigger. I use it on drums, vocals, acoustic guitars, Leslies and the overall stereo bus. Amazing.”
Rabold also makes daily use of VENUE’s Virtual Soundcheck. “Often times, I’ll listen back during the day to the previous night’s show through a pair of near-field monitors. I’ll work on this or critique that. The ability to work on the mix without the band even in the building is a dream. It hones your skills and challenges you to go back and look closely at what you’re doing as an engineer. It’s a pretty big statement, but I truly feel that VENUE has helped make me a better engineer.”
The band tracks their shows nightly on a Pro Tools rig, with systems engineer CW Alkire overseeing all of the recording aspects. The mix is straight off the stereo bus with a bit of audience blended in. These recordings are saved as WAV files, burned to DVD and sent to the company that handles the Website for posting. To hear the dynamic duo of VENUE and Widespread Panic together, check out www.livewidespreadpanic.com.