By: Karrie Keyes
Stupid Wonderful Digital.
I have to second Michelle’s thoughts on digital consoles – “Oh digital console, how do I dislike you? Let me count the ways”. I could make a very long list and I have, every time I go to put a spec together. I prefer to use an analog console. I have gone to great lengths to use analog, specing a Midas Venice or even using a Mackie Onyx mixer. Of course these boards do not work for the majority of work I do, but they were the right tools for the shows I was working.
I choose to use an analog over a digital for several reasons –
- Sound Quality
- My artist prefers the sound of analog
- Being able to mix with both hands
- Being able to do more than one thing at a time
- Not having to continually look at the console
- The mind numbing programming
- Having to be smarter than the computer
That being said I do believe in picking the right tools for the gig. There are many situations where digital just makes more sense. If I lived in an analog free world – it would make it easier and I would not be left doing endless testing between analog and digital or second guessing how much better it could be with analog.
Picking the right tool for the gig
Back in 2010 Pearl Jam was once again ready to move to digital – we had attempted it back in 2006 and I did not pick the right tool for the gig – settling on a console for the amount I could get on the surface – I overlooked the importance of sound quality and the experiment fell a part almost immediately. I dealt with latency issues with Ed’s ear mix, lack of warmth to all mixes, and the console constantly in the red. We did one promo tour using it and my level of frustration increased gig to gig. Finally at SNL I said that’s it – we are going back to analog. The band cheered. The Road Manager said nothing. We continued to lug around a Midas Heritage for the next four years and then one day it was full – there were no available outputs or inputs left. I was doubling up on channels and charting them – the same with outputs. I was losing the ability to keep everything straight, telling the band I could not do that, and the show was suffering. On top of it inputs were be added at an alarming rate. Horns, strings, more acoustic instruments, and even a basketball.
The band had also changed their tour cycle opting to play several weeks over the course of several months, each year. Our rig was in constant state of being prepped, being torn a part, sitting on a boat for months, and flying around thousands of pounds of racks, cabling, and Heritage. It was time to go digital.
This time I was armed with a greater sense of what we needed in the console and had solved the latency issues by keeping Ed’s ear mix on a small Mackie Onyx. (He uses one ear and only takes his vocal, reverb, and acoustic guitar and uke channels). I narrowed my choices at that point to a Midas Pro 6 and Digico SD7. I did demo testing and classes with both Digico and Midas. Jay Easley and Matt Larson were patient, accommodating, and provided a great support system. I liked both platforms and both systems sounded great. My decision to go with Midas ultimately came down to the sound being the closest to what the band was use to and ease of operation. With the pop groups I was able to set my console up as close to analog as possible. The band took to it and I was even able to get Ed ear’s mix on it. We quickly outgrew it and moved to a Pro 9.
We have been using the Pro 9 for a few years now and have never had any issues with it. We are able to get them for the most part world wide, saving on shipping. I don’t have to start from scratch each time we do shows. The mixes have gotten better each tour as I can build and improve on them. Then this last run of shows complete melt down. Ended up rebuilding the show file overnight with the sound crew. Thankfully we were able to tag team it on each side of the console – reading the file on two computers (the file was either corrupted or not) or we had complete hardware meltdown. We got it running again – completed rehearsals the next day on no sleep, got a back up Pro 9 sent to us, and did the show. We then went to Wrigley Field and had the same issues – somehow we got thru the show and did not rebuild the file again. We also had overheating issues, which were truly amazing to watch, not so fun getting it cooled down. In the end Midas checked out my files – they were not corrupted and I got a very long email about what the issues were. Needless to say I could not make heads or tails of the list of issues, others were able too and have assured me it will not happen again. (This was a sub hired console – which Rat will not be providing me again – Rat by the way was awesome in getting us a back up console etc)
This experience has left me a bit wobbly on confidence of the digital as it came close to ruining the show. I had two awesome techs Peter Baigent and Derek Van Ord who worked long hours in heat to make sure the show went on. After the show I was faced with making a choice between analog and digital. My first reaction was fuck it – we are going back to analog – even if we have to carry around two of them. No one from production would have said anything. I could go back to analog.
Then I thought about it – I needed the right tool for the job – would the analog be the right tool? I came to the conclusion that it would not – I would have two consoles that would not fit in monitor world, that I could probably figure out how to make work – but it would not be easy. I would have everything on the surface – but I would not be able to reach things I needed – I could imagine the mess of spaghetti in the back of the console. I would have to rebuild 40 mixes each time we did something – never got far enough to figure how I would accommodate six tech mixes. The list against analog was getting longer.
In the end I decided to stay with the Pro9 and make sure I had back up. I upgraded the Tech/Support board (Pro2) to a Pro9 that would be back up, tech mixes, and support board. Gear will fail and you gotta make sure you have back up, but you also must pick the right tools for the job.
But I still would rather have an analog – will be using one next week.