HOPEWELL JUNCTION, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 2011: There is much to admire in a band that forms for the love of music and then, because of the members' talent, inspiration, and joyful willingness to play tour after tireless tour, achieves well-deserved success. A bluegrass band that elegantly draws inspiration from tradition, The Infamous Stringdusters recently earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Magic #9," the fourth track on the band's third album, Things That Fly. The Infamous Stringdusters are rather famous - despite the appellation - on the bluegrass-friendly stages of the nation for both their quality (see above) and their quantity (the band plays approximately 150 shows a year!). FOH engineer Drew Becker was fresh off a degree from Full Sail and still rather green when he went to work full-time for the band three years ago. Since then he has logged over 500 shows, some
with audiences in excess of 40,000, and has quickly established himself as a prodigious talent behind the board. Metric Halo's SpectraFoo sound analysis software played a critical role in his rapid ascension.
Becker has a traditionalist's view: the best sound reinforcement is the sound reinforcement that no one notices. For that reason, he spent a long time simply listening to the acoustic instruments of The Infamous Stringdusters during rehearsals. "It has been my experience that a lot of folks don't really know what a mandolin sounds like from a few feet away," he said. "We've become accustomed to the thinned-out sound that the typical DI delivers. But I found that it wasn't always straightforward to transfer the lessons I learned during rehearsals to the stage. More experienced engineers kept telling me that I just needed to trust my ears, but the truth is that, although I could sweep an EQ and find a particular frequency, I couldn't name the frequency by listening alone. Because of that, the whole process of mixing was more opaque than I felt it should be."
Becker started using Metric Halo's SpectraFoo software with an Earthworks M30 microphone to provide a quantitative framework on which to hang the sounds he was hearing and the FOH tools he was using. "Although SpectraFoo contains a wealth of analysis tools, I primarily relied (and rely) on the spectrograph," he said. "I started using SpectraFoo during rehearsals to provide a visual for what I was hearing. Then I would use SpectraFoo during soundcheck, and the patterns started crystallizing. It became much easier for me to dial in each instrument and, even more impressively, dial up the whole mix with a graphic EQ."
Over the years, and thanks in part to SpectraFoo, Becker has become a remarkably efficient engineer, which is a real asset in the high-pressure situations in which he often finds himself. "These days, I typically pull up SpectraFoo after everything else is in place," he said. "It serves as a final check and ensures that the band's sound is consistent from venue to venue." Recently, the band started multi-tracking every show, including a stereo mix track, for use on an eventual live compilation release. Becker attributes the sonic uniformity of those recordings to SpectraFoo. "It's going to be very easy to collect the best takes and turn them into one seamless product," he said.
Now, years after first watching the colors dance on the spectrograph for the first time, Becker claims to see the same image in his head whenever he concentrates on analyzing sounds. Having since had occasion to use other analysis software, he claims the flexibility of the SpectraFoo interface played an important role in drawing him into, what turned out to be, a very successful experiment. "A lot of other software is a riot of graphs," he said. "SpectraFoo can be that too, but I like the intuitive interface that allows me to look at as much or as little as I care to. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. Now, as I have become comfortable with the sound spectrum, I can start to explore other options and other aspects of sound with the SpectraFoo software."
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based in New York's Hudson Valley, Metric Halo provides the world with high-resolution metering, analysis, recording and processing solutions with award-winning software and future-proof hardware. www.mhlabs.com
PHOTO CAPTION Grammy nominated The Infamous Stringdusters performing at The Festy Experience.