Metallica Mixes It Up

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Sarah Benzuly



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In-the-Round Problem Solving

Although this is not the first tour where the band has performed in the round, it is the first time the engineers have varied from their usual system setup. “We've done in-the-round for many years, and anybody that's done in-the-round will always tell you how difficult it is; it's just miserable because you have so many different places for boxes that you get so many arrival times; bass cabinets you can never put in one place to get them to couple together to give you extra summation and good low end; phasing places; lobing,” Big Mick says. “And when the band wanted to do it in the round, I said, ‘Here we go again!’ So I said, ‘We're going to try something a bit different.’ So we proposed the problem to Meyer Sound and went through a few different scenarios.”

The result? A setup that provides clear, controlled sound: Eight equally spaced arrays, each comprising 12 MILO loudspeakers and four MICA loudspeakers. Forty self-powered 700-HP subs are arranged in what Big Mick is calling the “TM” system (named after Meyer Sound's Thomas Mundorf, who created the system); subs are arranged in four columns of 10, with all the boxes turned so that the drivers are sitting together right in the middle. “So the drivers are as close as possible without any interference between them,” Big Mick explains. “It also creates a much more controlled bass pattern. So directly below the system, there's no bass. The band doesn't have any problems onstage with any big sub-bass things going on, because James doesn't actually like it; it modulates his voice too much.

Front-of-house engineer Big Mick Hughes at his FOH “traveling” rig, based around the new Midas XL8

Front-of-house engineer Big Mick Hughes at his FOH “traveling” rig, based around the new Midas XL8

“Because the pattern is so controlled, when you make it that tall in an array, we've had to delay the lower columns to steer the bass down because otherwise it creates this parallel flashlight beam all around the center of the arena and you don't get as much punch on the floor,” he continues. “We bring it down so it just touches the edge of the stage. When Paul starts moaning about the amount of bass onstage, then we know we've gone just a little too far!” [Laughs]

With this setup, “We were able to steer it down so we are literally steering the sub down now from being blasted at the tops so that it just catches the top of the barricade and misses the stage,” Owen adds. “Underneath the column, there is absolutely no bass under there. We have a choice now; we don't have to try and turn the bass down. We have to study each day according to the trim margin of the sub and of the arena. I walk around the stage, walk around the barricade and see if we need to have a sub steered down. I've done Metallica for nearly 23 years and this is the first time we're doing it this way,” Owen continues. “We've actually been able to achieve equal sub-bass from upper and lower frequencies to the floor and equally all the way around, so it's quite a feat but it looks totally bizarre because there's four columns of 10 subs pointing at each other.”

The in-the-round setup creates a bit of a “where is Big Mick sitting tonight?” puzzle. Depending on the venue, the engineer can find his XL8 at either the side of the stage or on the floor at one end in the corner. “I kind of move around a little bit; I'm kind of a variable,” Big Mick says. “I'm usually up on the sides,” he says. “If you stay in one place all the time, you'd only have an impression of the sound in one area. I'm really busy during the show so I don't have the time to stealthily sneak up in the seats and walk all over the venue. I'm not going to be leaping about like a gazelle in the stands when I should be mixing the show. So the problem is you can only rely on what people tell you what it sounds like.”

Thinking of his traveling FOH compound in a positive light, Big Mick says that this setup allows him to get a broader picture of what's occurring around the venue, something most stationary FOH engineers are not able to fully achieve.

What's even more interesting is what you can't see: There are no analog cables as everything is digital — including controlling the zones. From FOH, Big Mick uses LightViper optical snake systems into Apogee converters, “and then we break out up in the system all the different zones from the Galileo [loudspeaker-management software that is controlling the processing], so we actually have two fiber optics that run from the driver that control all the zones,” he explains. “There are 120 MILO boxes in the round, so that restricted using analog — all the analog patches that would have to be done going between the different zones and all the confusion of that; it's made it really slick.”

Owen adds: “And the whole system runs on fiber optic up to the grid. Four Apogee D-to-A converters and there's four Apogee A-to-D converters in the control rack with five Galileos, so we've got about as high tech as you possibly can go on this.” [Laughs]

Sarah Benzuly is the managing editor of Mix, EM and Remix.

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