By: Karrie Keyes
I am currently on tour with Pearl Jam as they support their critically acclaimed 10th studio album Lighting Bolt. Just a few months after a successful launch of the redesigned monitor system, it has crashed and burned just a few shows into the tour. Needless to say, it has been an incredibly stressful experience for me and no doubt for the band.
I will finish documenting the process of the redesign as I believe it may generate ideas, provided useful information, or offer a glimpse into the logistics and issues that surround sound reinforcement onstage. I will continue to document the entire experience, one that hopefully ends on stable ground.
Eddie Vedder Solo Tour.
Life on the solo tour is just a bit easier, but it is not a piece of cake or vacation by any means. It is extremely challenging and demanding, yet easier as all energy is focused on one. The venues are theaters and the sound characteristics are a bit nicer than loud, steel and cement arenas. I am not fighting volume from other band members, as the show mainly consists of acoustic instruments and one incredibly talented human.
The monitor system is fairly simple – yet it is complex for a solo artist. I am running a Midas Heritage and eight mixes, made up of wedges, side fills, and Shure Vocal Masters. There are two IEM mixes, one mix is provided to Ed for the performance of the song Arc, which is a vocal loop and one for guitar tech extraordinaire, George Webb.
You might be wondering at this point if there was a typo – surely she did not mean Shure Vocal Masters? Yes, I meant Shure Vocal Masters. We are running all of the acoustic instruments into the Vocal Master. The acoustic guitars are run directly into the vocal masters, while the ukes, mandolin, and banjo I send to the vocal master from the monitor board. Ed has owned a couple vocal masters for years, and I always knew they would end up in the monitor system somehow. At any rate the instruments have a nice warm sound coming off the Vocal Master and I add the instruments to the side fills for some high end definition and clarity.
The Vocal Master and wedges are set up behind Ed – This helps to achieve a loud – full sound that does not vibrate the acoustic instruments and helps to reduce feedback. I wish I had been the genius who thought of this, but Ed is responsible for the design. You are probably asking, really, the monitors are that loud to vibrate the instruments? This is not a low volume acoustic show onstage. I believe the monitors do a decent job of covering certain areas of the venue (balconies), much to the dismay of our FOH engineer. The other mixes are for the pump organ and Hard Sun positions and a guest mix.
I truly love mixing and being a part of the solo tour, but most of this tour I am pondering how to solve the PJ dilemma. How to get the overall volume onstage down – while increasing the volume of certain inputs.
What I do know is that we will be flying side fills to increase vocal coverage and volume. This poses problems as I have five other musicians onstage that do not necessarily desire louder vocals. The vocal mic is not just the vocal mic – it is the sound of the center of stage – you don’t necessarily hear the guitar rig or the monitors but they are a part of the sound, so essentially every time I send the vocal input to a mix – I am sending the center of the stage sound as well. The vocal mic is the loudest thing in everyone’s mix, so much so that if I turn it off it sounds like we have lost power. The goal will be to find PA boxes that will cover the center of the stage and not the entire stage. I am not currently sold on the flown side fills – but currently cannot nix it.
1) Reducing the overall stage volume is going to be tricky as I can’t destroy the sound of each of the rigs.
2) Ed’s cabinets are open back and just blow underneath the drum riser into bass and drum world – this needs to be resolved.
3) And that old sound trick of angling the rigs offstage is not working for Stone and Mike, depending on where they are standing the rigs are either too loud, too quiet, or perfect. I am guessing it is too late for them to adapt easily to a new stage position.
So I start collecting ideas and suggestions – they range from good ideas, warrants further research, to not going to happen – but everything is on the table.
Fly lots of big loud PA boxes
Neil Young Surround Sound Side Fills
New Louder Wedges
The band should just go to in ears and put the amps offstage – sure they will have to do at least a month of production rehearsals to get it dialed.
Turn down the amps turn up their ear mixes
They can monitor their amps from their ear mixes
Put power soaks on all the rigs
New vocal mic
Someone suggests to me that maybe microphone technology has improved and we should see whats out there.
New In Ears
Get Springsteen set up
Well on Marilyn Manson they do
Go back to analog
Open the stage – spread everyone out
Cover the stage in wedges
Go see Springsteen
Before the tour ends I meet with Ed to discuss the direction he wants to go. What I believe is that he wants to get off his ear mix and go back to wedges and I ask him this. He tells me no and tells me he will probably never be able to lose the ear mix. This is key – so remember this – we will come back to it. We discuss the flown sides, possible new wedges, and opening up the stage five feet on either side and pushing amp lines upstage by five feet. We also discuss the possibility of trying a new vocal mic.
This all sounds reasonable and feasible – so I plan to get to work and make plans to go visit Springsteen.
Oh – and can this be ready for South America. The tour is in March – but the gear has to ship mid January. It is now Dec. 7th….
For more on the Shure Vocal Master system click here: shurevocalmaster.com