Digital on the Road

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Sarah Benzuly



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Digital Console FixIts

You’d be hard-pressed to not find a digital console on tour. Whether it’s employing snapshots, bringing in plug-ins to re-create an album’s sound, leaving behind racks of outboard or any other number of reasons, many touring engineers prefer to mix digitally. And each engineer has his/her techniques for creating a great-sounding mix. With this in mind, Mix asked some top live sound engineers to give us their tips on working with digital boards.

Chris Madden

Chris Madden

With Sade, I have set up the Avid VENUE in three layers of 24 faders. The first layer has all my drums and percussion: the acoustic kit on channels 1 through 14, then five channels for the drummer’s electronics and five more for the percussion. The second layer is where I’m focused for most of the show. Those faders control Sade’s vocal, the background vocals, saxophone and multiple channels for bass, guitars and keyboards—all the stuff that I tend to want my hands on all the time. The third layer is assigned to the eight channels of playback, spares, ambient mics for recording and other stuff I don’t need to touch very often.

I do use snapshots but in a very subtle way; I build the snapshots gradually. I bring in a few faders, then I bring in some effects, like my reverb, and then I set things in a sort of ballpark range. Then, when I recall a scene, I’ll fine-tune it very gently from there as the band plays. I don’t set everything to an exact setting or level, but over the course of a few shows, there are certain moves I just anticipate. For example, with some tunes we know that the crowd will react a certain way to some parts. With some songs they will get excited at the beginning, so I’ll have the levels set a bit higher, then back them off a bit once the crowd calms down. So I might create a snapshot that’s a bit louder to start the song off, then a second one that backs the level off a few dB.

I also use the VENUE’s virtual soundcheck quite extensively. I honestly haven’t done a live soundcheck for pretty much the entire tour. It’s not just the logistics of getting the band together to do a soundcheck, it’s also the fact that, in truth, musicians will never play with exactly the same energy and intensity during a soundcheck as they will during an actual show. Using virtual soundcheck, I can loop a short section of a song if I want to and experiment with different plug-ins and EQ settings, in an empty hall with a minimum of distractions. It enables me to try out things I’d never have an opportunity to do live, and gives me the opportunity to be far more creative and take chances without the potential of ruining the show.

Craig Brittain

Craig Brittain

I am lucky in that Solotech is our audio vendor for the Bublé tours and they have put together one very slick touring package. The setup comprises the DiGiCo SD7 console running at 48 kHz with two stage racks, all tied together using Opticore. Both of the stage racks and the FOH racks are housed in a 2x40 double-wide/double-high rack with UPS, etc. The console sits atop a double-wide rack that contains all of our stereo transmitters and receivers.

One interesting thing we initiated with the SD7 early on in our touring cycle was using the AES I/O in the back of the console to route the solo bus (in-ear/solo bus 1) to a pair of matrixes. One physical patch cable in the back routing an AES output to an AES input, along with some soft patching. With the solo bus then coming into 1 and 2 of the matrix, all onstage and offstage talkback mics were then dialed into the matrix. This allowed for myself or my technician to hear any of the talkback mics in our ears whenever they were pushed to talk. One other item of note with the SD7 is that it finally gave me the confidence to rely on the use of snapshots. Never before had I fully trusted the “fire-next” button until the SD7.

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