Tour Profile: Seal

Feb 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson


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Save for a red light emanating from his wireless mic and the white glow of a Macintosh's Apple logo, Seal and band seemed nearly invisible as they stepped onto the dark stage at the sold-out Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Hands raised — some in celebration, others reaching for the singer's black cargo pants — the audience warmed up on one of the chilliest nights of the year by listening to a lengthy set from Seal's four-album catalog, including his latest release, Seal IV. Released last September on Warner Bros., the album earned a Grammy nomination this year for Best Remixed Recording for the single “Get It Together.”

Though the England-bred vocalist/songwriter emerged from the house music scene of the early 1990s, Seal's music elegantly blends jazz, soul, pop, rock and dance, as evidenced on “Crazy,” his first Top 10 U.S. single. His self-titled, multi-Platinum follow-up, released in 1994, yielded the Number One single “Kiss From a Rose” and a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Human Being, released in 1998, fared reasonably well, almost reaching the Top 20 with yet another batch of gently grooving melodies and lush production. But with the funk- and Stax-era soul — informed Seal IV, however, the chiseled performer with the warm, sensual voice makes a welcome return by delivering one of his most accessible and danceable albums to date.

Veteran engineer Orris Henry began working with Seal as monitor engineer in 1994, the year the artist first wowed the U.S. with his sophisticated pop. When an offer came to work front of house for the soulful 40-year-old singer, Henry promptly quit working on a tour with KISS and accompanied Seal to Europe last fall for select promotional dates (to Henry's delight, hitting both Paris and Milan's Fashion Week), where he ran both monitors and FOH. When the U.S. tour kicked off in November, Clair Bros. engineer Blake Suib, ruler of monitor world for star acts such as Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys, Madonna and Prince, assumed backline duties.

For the Warfield date, both Henry and Suib mixed on Midas Heritage 3000 consoles. “We're using it as a front-of-house board mainly because there weren't any XL4s available,” Henry says during a pre-soundcheck break. “And I'm such an adaptable kind of guy I can make it work!” he adds, laughing.

Opening act Wilshire occupied 12 of the console's 64 inputs, with another 12 reserved for Seal, keyboardist Dave Palmer, keyboardist/programmer Tim Weidner, bassist Chris Bruce, guitarist Eric Schermerhorn and drummer Earl Harvin.

Henry's sparse array of outboard gear includes a Lexicon 480L, an Eventide Orville — “the latest and greatest Harmonizer,” he says — and a TC Electronic D2 digital delay. Henry uses the Lexicon and the Eventide for both vocals and drums, and leaves the TC unit open. “With those effects, I can re-create all of the sounds that are on the records,” Henry says. “Sometimes I hit 'em, sometimes I don't. When you're doing them live, your next chance is the next show.”

Appearing as uncluttered as Henry's FOH area, Seal's stage contains no wedge monitors and very few microphones. “Except for the cymbals, everything onstage is electronic,” Henry says. “We want to keep a dead-quiet stage so that the vocal mic has nothing feeding into it, which gives you optimum sound. He's got such a spectacular voice that you don't want to mess it up.” Production manager Tom Mayhue, who, like Henry, has worked with Seal for nearly a decade, says that they haven't experienced any problems with this setup, though it is a bit “more technical” than previous tours. “It's historically been a computer-oriented kind of music,” Henry adds of Seal's work. “From his first single, ‘Killer,’ there were computers involved.”

Electronic drums — specifically, kick, snare, rack and floor — run through a Roland TD10 VDrum Module, cymbals get miked with Audio-Technica 4050s and the hi-hat is miked with an AKG C 535 EB. Bass and keyboards are run through SansAmp DIs. Henry also uses Audio-Technica 4050s on the two electric guitars, although the amplifiers remain isolated in a small box to the side of the stage. “The guitarists can get the tone they need by playing as loud as they want, but it doesn't affect the stage sound because it's not too loud,” adds Suib.

Seal's silken vocals are miked with a Neumann/Sennheiser hybrid wireless mic, which combines the Neumann KMS 105 capsule with the Sennheiser 5000 wireless transmitter. Henry also uses a Focusrite ISA 430 Producer Pack and the BSS 901 compressor for “some serious de-essing,” Henry says. “He really empha-sss-izes his ‘s-s-s-s-s's’ a lot.” Acoustic guitar and bass receive treatment from a dbx 120 subharmonic processor.

The glowing white Apple icon that greeted the crowd resides on a Pro Tools-equipped Macintosh G4 laptop. Keyboardist/programmer Weidner uses the computer to fly loops in and out during the show. “It's no secret we use Pro Tools,” Henry admits, noting Seal's interest in new technology. “The music doesn't rely upon it, it just enhances it.” Seal, who also uses Pro Tools in the studio, requested the unencumbered, computer-enhanced stage setup. “There's only one guy's name on the marquis, so we make him happy,” Henry says, laughing. “He's a really great guy; very easy to deal with. And he knows what he's talking about. He's a real tech-head — into toys and gadgets and whatnot.”

Although Seal's sound crew regularly travels with Clair Bros., for the artist's North American tour, they rented racks 'n' stacks from local production companies. Bay Area-based Sound on Stage provided an L-Acoustics line array P.A. system for the Warfield date, which included 20 L-Acoustics V-DOSC cabinets: two clusters of five flown and two clusters of five on the deck. L-Acoustics SB 218 subwoofers were stacked four on the floor per side, with three more flown at the center of the stage. Four Sound on Stage Power Physics 222 Proprietary speakers rounded out the system. Crown Macro 5000 IS-8 amplifiers powered the P.A., with support from three XTA DP226 loudspeaker-management systems and three XTA GQ600 dual/stereo gates.

Seal and band used Ultimate Ears UE7 in-ear monitors with Sennheiser EW 300 IEM wireless systems. Suib also wears the Sennheiser beltpack and sets it to the same volume as Seal's, “so we're hearing the exact same thing. I'm wearing the same ears as him, and I just do a front-of-house-style mix with full effects.”

Those effects include a TC Electronic 2290 delay unit, a Lexicon PCM90 digital reverb and a Yamaha SPX 990 used only as a chorus/flange during the “Bring It On” intro. “That's a specialty effect,” Suib says. “Seal's voice is affected with that sound. I reproduce the same effect that's on the record. For Seal, I mostly use the reverb and delay, but ‘Bring It On’ has to have [the SPX 990].”

The rest of the band is set up with pre-fader mixes, “so their mixes are just sort of ‘set it and forget it,’” Suib says. That said, he still aims to “nail” the mixes for each song, which obviously benefits the band but is crucially important to the vocalist: “On a particular song, if he's pitching off a keyboard and I don't have it up at the right level, that can mess him up,” Suib explains. “You've got to be on it 100 percent of the time. You've got to be listening. For example, if I have to take my ears out to troubleshoot a problem, his mix would cease to be happening, which might screw up his pitch; he's reliant on [that mix], because there's no other sound. If I don't make sure the mix is right for every song, if I miss a cue with in-ear monitors, it's pretty easily noticed because it's right in their ears.” Suib sends bass and kick through the subs, allowing the musicians to hear their natural rhythm. Everything else is fed through the ears.

The crowd erupted as Seal launched into his two-song encore, which included “Bring It On,” complemented by standout lighting and, of course, top-notch sound. Henry says that he's wanted to work front of house for Seal for years, and, apparently, it's a gig worth waiting for. “This tour is a mixer's dream,” he says. “You've got a great band, great songs and a world-class singer. You'd have to be a real bozo to screw this up.”

Heather Johnson is Mix's editorial assistant.

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