Desert Island Mixing Tools

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra



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Frank Marchand III carries a Phonic PAA3 to get a feel for what the room is doing and be able to make adjustments.

Frank Marchand III carries a Phonic PAA3 to get a feel for what the room is doing and be able to make adjustments.

While Czaykowski is particular in his mic selections, he's not as picky about certain pieces of outboard gear, noting that most modern digital desks have the comps, gates and effects he requires. “Though if I am in a situation where I can spec the tour, I'd like a mixing desk that suits the needs of the act — maybe a Digidesign with a Waves [plug-in] package or a well-maintained Midas, etc.”

Frank Marchand III, whose credits include Calexico and Bob Mould, says, “The thing that single-handedly has solved more problems for me than anything else has been showing up with my own microphones. I have a bag of 15 or 20 mics that I drag out, mics that I know that will generally work in all situations and aren't horribly expensive, so if the bag gets stolen or something breaks, I am not heartbroken. Having a few SM58s that are in good shape that I know work all the time helps me evaluate the monitor response relative to what I expect from the sound of those microphones. I have been in some clubs where you look at the microphone and it has rust on the grille. Why would I put someone in a position that they need to have a tetanus shot just to go sing on that thing? If all of a sudden you lose a channel or something goes wrong with a line, you can eliminate one variable in the chain. Even if we are on a festival circuit, I'll replace the vocal mics with mine because the artist will know that they are singing on the same mic every night — which brings consistency to the monitor mix.”

When I ask Jacob Feinberg (currently on tour mixing FOH with Monsters of Folk) about his “go-to” gear, he laughs and quips, “There are a lot of one things I'd like to have. If I could only carry one thing, it'd be the vocal mic, probably a Sennheiser e 935. I have a long-standing history with many of the artists I work with, and I've been able to introduce that mic to them early on so they are familiar with it. If they don't like it, then I'll use whatever they want, because ultimately they have to be comfortable onstage with the sound they are getting back. Having said that, most of the artists I work with have embraced the e 935 because the mic speaks for itself when I get it in front of them. It has a ton of gain and a lot of presence and articulation, which is important when you are working with a singer/songwriter. It's also very tight in the low-mids so I don't need much EQ.

“When I work with Gillian Welch,” he continues, “we have five microphone inputs. They have been using 58s and 57s for a decade now, and I've never recommended anything else. We carry the mics, they are comfortable with them and that's their sound. It is a different scenario from other artists I mix. On this tour, Jim James from My Morning Jacket has gone through a lot of vocal mics. He is not someone I normally mix and he had been using other mics. I put up the e 935 and asked him to give it a shot. If everyone is consistent [i.e., if all the vocal mics are the same], I think it's easier to dial in the monitors. He loved it and it has not been an issue since.”

Working With House Racks and Stacks

All of the engineers we spoke with agree that their choices of prime-time gear depend upon the type of tour. Feinberg says that if he has a “bit of luxury, if I am carrying a console — which I try to do as often as possible — I like to have a Dolby Lake Processor to drive the system and a tablet PC with a wireless router to run it. If I have that, I can walk the room and make adjustments. Even if I am using it only for the EQ and not crossover, I can go into any room and no matter what the P.A., I have the flexibility to turn anything I get into being usable. If the venue has a faulty crossover or a noisy house EQ, I can take it out of line and go straight into the Dolby Processor, adjust EQ and create crossover points if needed. If I am not carrying a console, having a DLP doesn't make much sense because I can't take advantage, and the consistency doesn't matter as much. If I'm working on the house console, I'm pulling my mix out of nowhere anyway, so to a certain degree the [house] zero is equivalent to anything I might create. Most of the time, I'll go from the Dolby Lake Processor right into the house crossover and I'll run subs off an aux. If the house system is not set up to drive a sub from an aux [send from the console], I might have to create that crossover and that output, and go directly to their amps.”

Adam Robinson (whose recent tours include They Might Be Giants, Plain White T's, Duncan Sheik and Mike Snow) concurs with Feinberg, adding, “I've used all of the Lake processors: the Dolby Lake, Lake Contour, Lake Mesa. If I'm on a tour and I don't need all the I/O, the Lake Mesa is a great EQ unit. I've come across a lot of ailing systems, and having powerful EQ has always been helpful. On tours where I've had a 4×12 DLP, I've used it as a full system crossover in place of older or analog units [where venues have agreed to let us] and not just using the EQ functions.

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