Having been inducted in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, received a Doctorate of Music from L.A.’s Occidental College, and spent over fifty years writing and performing some of the world’s most beloved songs—including many of them recorded by other artists like Gregg Allman, Joan Baez, Nico, The Byrds, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Third World, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Glen Campbell—Jackson Browne certainly has a rich and diverse musical legacy.
Alternating his touring between acoustic shows and performing with his eight-piece band, Browne has been on the road almost continuously in recent years. He kicked off 2018 with a January acoustic tour of the southeastern US accompanied onstage by his friend, longtime bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz, before resuming with his full group in Australia and, starting in early April, heading out on another US run through the spring and summer months.
On the January acoustic leg, the two musicians were joined by a couple of other familiar faces: FOH engineer Paul Dieter, who has dually served as Browne’s studio engineer and co-producer for the past 25 years, and Mark “Iggy” Niewiarowski, who has manned the artist’s monitor mix for half a dozen years now.
New to the tour, however, was the presence of two new DiGiCo consoles—an SD12 on monitors, and an SD9 for FOH—supplied along with the touring PA by North Hollywood-based Schubert Systems Group, which has worked with Browne since 2000.
“We have typically toured with another British manufacturer’s desks since I started in 2012,” Niewiarowski recalls. “This past October, however, we switched to SD10s prior to our Japan run. With our recent solo run being a single truck tour, truck real estate was crucial, so condensing our footprint was imperative. With the SD12 and SD9, the entire control package was reduced to a mere three rows of space, which is incredible.”
As the engineer operating “Project Vulcan,” which the SD12 was codenamed prior to its official debut as an SD-Series console, Niewiarowski is thrilled not only with its compact size but also its visibility and versatility. “Project Vulcan is as if an SD7 and an SD9 had a child—a perfect mutation of a compact body with a two-screened head,” he laughs. “The compact size and two touch screens is what initially intrigued me about the SD12. With the acoustic tour having a low input count, plus having an additional screen, I could visually see all key inputs without digging through layers and taking my eyes off the stage. Also having two cue faders made transitioning from my IEM pack and wedge seamless. Now I am getting into using more onboard effects to really polish the mix and building creative macros to make certain changes even easier.”
Despite being billed as an acoustic tour, Niewiarowski’s input list for the January run still capped off at 32. As far as outputs went, he fed signals out to a mix of Sennheiser 2050s—for Browne, his stage techs, and a spare guest mix—and d&b M4s for Leisz, supplemental piano reinforcement, and another spare guest mix.
Browne’s acoustic show typically comprised a three-hour evening with no openers and no strict set list, allowing for an entirely different experience from show to show. Bassist Mai Again, on leave from David Crosby’s band, occasionally joined them on this run, and Jimmy Fadden from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band joined them in Sarasota, Florida, where he lives. “In preparation of knowing whom Jackson will invite on any given night, we designated at least six guest inputs and two additional RF mics ready to go at any show,” Niewiarowski describes.
Dieter and Niewiarowski ran an Optocore loop between the SD9 and SD12 consoles, which shared a single SD-Rack. “This helped me achieve my goal to create the smallest footprint possible, which is only a 16-space, double-wide rack with the SD12 on top,” the monitor engineer says, adding that his rack contained the shared SD-Rack, one D80 amp, four Sennheiser 2050s, one Shure UR4D, comm power supply, PSU and an IEM pack charging drawer.
Aside from the SD12’s compact size and dual touch screens, he appreciates the new desk’s precision processing and clarity. “Those are key necessities for providing my artist with a naturally full and organic sounding mix. The SD12 allows me this, and with its intuitive control and superb sonic sound, I am able to reproduce a consistently crystal clear mix night after night.”
And although a big fuss has not been made over the new desks, they have not gone unnoticed. “All I have heard back from the artists is ‘everything sounds so clear.’ But, as we all know in monitor world, no news is good news, so I got that goin’ for me, which is nice,” he adds with a smile.