Mumford & Sons Tour Profile

Jun 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Sarah Benzuly



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Marcus Mumford of 
Mumford & Sons

Marcus Mumford of 
Mumford & Sons

With the exception of opening night, front-of-house engineers Chris Pollard (Mumford & Sons), Sckotch Ralston (Edward Sharpe) and Mark Richards (Old Crow Medicine Show) literally get off an old-timey train, set up FOH compound and start the show. No soundchecks. No line checks. Just 20 minutes between each act. For the 6-date Railroad Revival tour, these engineers are sharing a common board—an Avid Profile 48-channel—with scenes set for each of their bands. No outboard pieces are to be seen; the engineers rely on onboard effects—just one less thing to patch in with such a limited time frame. The majority of the gear—mics, wedges, etc.—is provided by Sound Image.

But little else is common from day to day; P.A. is hired locally. (At the Oakland, Calif., show, where Mix caught up with the start of the tour, a Martin Audio system was brought in by Delicate Productions, South San Francisco.) In addition to the Martin system, d&B J Line, L-Acoustics V-DOSC and Adamson rigs are seen on the rider.

From left: Mark Richards, 
Chris Pollard and Sckotch Ralson

From left: Mark Richards, Chris Pollard and Sckotch Ralson

“Due to the nature of touring on a train and late arrivals, we have been setting up the show as if it were a festival,” says Pollard. “We load in the desk, line check and then we go straight into the gig. The first song is your soundcheck! Of course, we have the added power of using a digital desk: Each band has snapshots that allow us to control chosen parameters of channels and desk configurations. This gives us a lot of flexibility within the fixed patch. We put a lot of faith in the local P.A. providers who would set up the P.A. prior to our arrival; this experience has demonstrated just how this can make or break a gig.”

“It was a little crazy not having soundchecks, but we got lucky in that we would usually get a few minutes to line check and hear maybe one or two things before we started,” adds Richards. “For the most part, the biggest challenge was using a different P.A. most days. It was really up to the Mumford guys to check the P.A. before we got it there. I just dealt with what was handed to me, but for the most part it was pretty close to what I would do. I work with our monitor engineer, Chris Davis, to make sure it’s good on both sides of the speakers. We do a lot of work with polarity/phase and time alignment to help make that happen.”

Fortunately, both engineers are working with true musicians and professionals. The bands’ sets are tight and clean, with numerous performers onstage. Mumford & Sons’ four main members are sporadically accompanied by guest musicians. The sets are infused with a folk-rock sensibility, lending an air of inspired creativity as each band takes more of a jam and groove direction. Headliners Mumford & Sons played the majority of their hits from their recent release, Sigh No More, as well as treated fans to a few songs from their upcoming album. And if the concertgoers’ reactions are any barometer to an album’s success, we’ll be seeing Mumford & Sons accepting a Grammy next year.

Pollard says he attacks Mumford’s mix as if it were a rock gig, even though it may appear as a bluegrass show. “The instruments are compressed to give them more bite, the kick drum and bass need to be big and powerful to get the crowd going,” he says. “The vocal harmonies need to be kept in line as they are such a big part of the sound. For this, I mix down to subgroups and use a stereo reverb to achieve an added sense of space.”

Old Crow Medicine Show’s music has more of an old-timey feel, complete with fiddle, harmonica and banjo. Richards’ challenge comes in getting these instruments heard in loud situations. “Typically, our shows have really rowdy and loud crowds. I ride my VCA/DCA to bring the vocals down between verses, to keep not only the mix cleaner, but it also helps keep the front row of fans’ yelling out of the mix, too. I also use EQ and HPFs to keep things out of the instrument mics that shouldn’t be there while keeping it tonally correct for the music.” A Shure Beta 98 mikes the fiddle as he’s not a fan of the sound of fiddle pickups. The open-back banjo has an SM57 in the back. “I’ve found over the years that it’s the absolute best way to get the old-time sound,” says Richards. “Since it’s inside the back of the banjo, it keeps it isolated from the other instruments, so at loud stage volumes it’s clean.”

During each show, the engineers record their sets to Pro Tools and send those off to a mix engineer; at press time, it is unknown what will become of these mixes, but perhaps we’ll see a live CD come to market.

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