Photo above: Social Distortion monitor engineer Bill Black at the DiGiCo SD12 96 desk
Social Distortion have been die-hard analog aficionados since day one. Back as far as 1997 the punk-rooted but rock- and country-influenced band told the Washington Post they “used all analog equipment until the very last moment” on a recording that year; and in 2010 they talked to Mix about tracking on tape even as they mixed on Pro Tools. It wasn’t just music: founder/guitarist/vocalist Mike Ness told a reporter, “I was one of the last to get a cell phone… I made it 50 years without having to have a password for anything.” Out on the road, they took analog with them at front of house and monitors. But that changed on the band’s most recent string of dates late last year, their first North American shows since 2019.
“The band is set up for all rock & roll—no computers, not even any wireless except for their in-ears, which are kind of recent,” says Bill Black, Social Distortion’s monitor engineer, who says that he “inherited” the band’s analog gear when he came aboard. “I was cool with it. It’s the nature of the band and I love analog’s sound.”
What he didn’t love, however, was analog equipment’s often temperamental nature and high maintenance requirements on the road. So when Black, who is also a staffer at RAT Sound, had the opportunity to work on a DiGiCo SD12 console at last year’s Coachella festival, he immediately saw the benefits. “That was my first extended exposure to DiGiCo consoles and it was a game-changer,” he says. “The ability to configure the work surface any way I wanted it, the reliability, not wondering every night what was going to fail and how I would work around it… The reliability and flexibility changed everything.”
A DiGiCo SD12 96 and an SD-Rack accompanied Black on the road for Social Distortion’s November to January run, provided by the tour’s SR provider, Eighth Day Sound/Clair Global, and it’ll be there as the band heads to Australia and New Zealand in February, co-headlining with Bad Religion.
One of the ways the SD12 has made a unique difference is how Black has used it to bridge the gap between analog and digital. The relatively recent addition of in-ears—JH IEMs over a Shure PSM 1000 wireless system—have significantly helped the band’s onstage monitoring but have changed their aural environment, attenuating the excitement of the crowd noise onstage. To compensate, Black is able to assign particular ambient microphones into Ness’ and other band members’ in-ears, using the SD12’s flexible routing and savable snapshots, to reliably give them a specific tonality for each song.
“I have one bank for Mike and I can give him the crunch and sustain he wants to hear onstage as an insert in his monitor channel, along with some great room sound,” says Black. In particular, he says, the DiGiTube emulator on the Channel Setup panel, which allows for the emulation of the non-linearities of a tube guitar amplifier, has been spectacular. “I got into this about halfway through the tour and it’s changed my whole approach,” he says. “I can put those on the guitar and bass channels and color the sound any way they want it. We’re doing big rooms and smaller rooms, plus some outdoor shows, but I can give them the analog sound they want in the monitors consistently in any environment.”
But Black says what truly sets the DiGiCo experience apart is not on the console itself—it’s the support infrastructure behind it. “DiGiCo’s customer support is unmatched; Matt Larson has become my best friend,” he says with a laugh, referring to the Vice President of Professional Audio for Group One Limited, DiGiCo’s US distributor, who he says not only returns calls anywhere in the world but has been known to show up on gigs just to check in. “DiGiCo’s customer response is the single biggest reason why I admire them,” he says. “I feel that they’re the only console manufacturer that truly listens to what audio engineers have to say and then makes real changes based on that. And I absolutely love everything that their desks let me do.”
For details on Social Distortion’s upcoming tour stops, visit www.socialdistortion.com. Eighth Day Sound and Clair Global can be found online at www.8thdaysound.com and www.clairglobal.com.