By: Karrie Keyes
With the mandate of Turn It Up – Turn It Down, I headed to see Springsteen. Monty Carlo (Springsteen’s ME) was a perfect host, and we spent time discussing the politics of our bands, new gear, and the challenges of doing monitors. Springsteen has a unique set up that is designed and works for them. There was not “aha” moment, I am both relieved and depressed. Relieved that I do in fact actually know how to mix monitors and depressed because I have not learned a trick that will solve my stage issues. I take what I can back with me. Flown side fills, opening up the stage to get some space and air between the band guys, and trying to get the rig volumes down a bit. Of course Monty shares with me that he does not really struggle with getting a vocal level as he gets plenty of input from Bruce. I love my boss, but plenty of vocal input is not a luxury I have. Back when I shared my console with the support bands we would copy over the vocal channel, and the support acts would always say you can turn the vocal down, way down. We usually turned it down by half.
I get home from tour and Springsteen and start going through the list of ideas that have been generated.
Fly lots of big loud PA boxes
Neil Young Surround Sound Side Fills – This is what I would like to do
New Louder Wedges – Going to AB some d&b M2 and M4 wedges
New vocal mic – possibly – but what – will get demos
Someone suggests to me that maybe microphone technology has improved and we should see whats out there. See above…
Open the stage – spread everyone out – This will happen
Go back to analog – possibly for Ed’s ear mix
Put power soaks on all the rigs – possibly – needs more research
Cover the stage in wedges – This could happen – but I am not advocating for it
Baffles – Interesting – needs more research
Not gonna happen:
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 – Well, what are they monitor mixes or a way to hear their rigs? Maybe works for another band – but not mine. Not Gonna Happen.
Plexiglass Not gonna happen. This will cause an entirely new set up problems – plus the band is not keen on this concept and Matt Cameron behind plexiglass is just plain wrong.
New In Ears This is not really the issue and I would rather not introduce another brand that we are constantly switching back and forth with. I am already dealing with Future Sonics, JH Audio , and soon Clear Tunes. I am going to demo the Shure PSM1000 system though.
Get Springsteen set up – I have used the wedges he uses and feel they will not work for Ed.
Well on Marilyn Manson they do That was helpful – not
I start by trying to determine what boxes I will use for side fills. V-dosc or K1 makes sense as Rat Sound is our system provider and we can get them worldwide. Carting around side fills, amps and the rigging is going to make the shipping costs on a Heritage look like peanuts. Might there be smaller and lighter boxes – Arcs, Dvs, Kara, Kudos? Where are the boxes going to fly – production and lighting will dictate that and put them too far away to be really effective. It’s going to create a wash – which would be fine if I was trying to reinforce the sound of the house coming back to stage, which I am not.
What I would really like to do is have Neil Young Surround Sound Side fills. When I did the Mirrorball Tour – Neil had four huge Maryland Sound boxes that were aimed at the center of the stage. Two were used downstage on the sides of stage L and R and two were upstage behind the backline L and R. These boxes were warm sounding and had a loud and clear high end. They had TAD 2” drivers for the high end and they were nice. (I had Rat put these drivers in Ed’s wedges years ago and they are loud, clear, and do not mush out in the middle of the show). I feel the surround sound idea is our best bet – but I also know that the chances of this happening are slim to none. Just the mention of it sends FOH into a panic and lighting is a bit more polite – but less than thrilled. I decide that battle is not worth fighting.
Not sure you can see the Neil’s side fills, but The Mirror Ball Tour.
In the midst of this – I am told that we will not have a production day in South America, and the band is planning on sound checking the morning of the first festival. That ups the stress level – six hours to set up gear that has been on a boat and we have not used. The band will not be in a head space to deal with such drastic changes – I decide we should not attempt a new rig until later and let the band be comfortable playing for 50 thousand enthusiastic South Americans. This will give me more time to put this together. It is a good thing we did not attempt it as the band did not sound check at all.
In the mean time – I decide with our FOH engineer that we will fly 4 – 6 cabinets per side, flown directly behind the PA. Height will have to be worked out with lights. We discuss wedges and agree on trying the d&b M2 – M4 wedges. He loves the ideas of incorporating baffles into the stage and as far as mics we both draw a blank. Ed would like to use the same vocal mic as Neil Young – which I believe is a modified KM84 – if he is not using it anymore – he is using some type of Neuman and it is a condenser. This is not going to happen for PJ – maybe for the solo tour – but I don’t think anyone is ready for artillery fire when the vocal mic hits the stage. We come up with a few ideas from Heil, Sennheiser, and Electro Voice to demo. We also discuss trying out d&b boxes for the side fills a J or K rig? Heard good things about them and the engineers that love them really love them. Ultimately we rule them out due to the unknown variables.
I go round and round with what boxes to use for side fills – it seems I can either wash the stage with vocal or direct the sound to a certain area – but I don’t have the ability to do both – I don’t really know what I want to do – I like to have options. I finally give up and decide we are going to use exactly what Springsteen uses, which are four Vertec 4888’s per side. The decision is mainly based on not wanting to hear “Well, you should of got what Bruce uses”.
With those decisions made – Peter Baigent (monitor tech) and I arrange to have two production days at the Ventura Theater to test side fills, wedges, microphones, IEMS, and digital and analog consoles.
We test side fills first one side of Vertec and one side of Kudos – We decide on Vertec because the high end on the Kudos is not prominent enough, although they sound great. We move on to the wedges first up the M2’s, I have never been a fan of double 12” wedges and I am still not – that being said I understand why these wedges are the rage for guitar player/singers – they will get the job done, Next up the M4’s – I like them, not sure if I would replace the wedges we are currently using – but decide to take them with us for pre production and we can play with them.
The microphones, we blow through pretty fast – there are a few things that we are looking for – sound and how loud we can get it in the wedges and feel -weight –shape of the microphone. The Sennheiser 835 is the only one that makes it. We will take it and play with it more during pre-production and see what Ed thinks.
We move on to testing the Shure PSM1000’s and they sound great- we won’t switch our Sennheisers out (as we own them) but I need a good back up – not only because RF is jammed – but some of our units are older Sennheisers and who knows when those will break.
Last bit, moving Ed’s ear mix back to an analog console – just his ear mix – we a/b back and forth between the Pro9 and a Venice. The difference is slight and nowhere near as noticeable as when we were using 5D and had to put his ear mix on a little analog Mackie with external pre amps, but I decide to move his ear mix to the Venice. Anything that will make it a bit warmer and open.
With that our testing is done and I believe we have a good game plan. We now just have to do some research on baffles, power soaks, and determine how much to open the stage.
Determining how much to open the stage is fairly easy. The current width of the stage is 52” and we set up inside of 38”, we have talked about opening it 5 feet on each side – so that is done. We have also talked about moving the back line upstage by 5 feet. Looking at the stage plot, five feet is too far, our equipment manager/bass tech and I decide that three feet should be good and decide to pull the band’s wedges upstage by a foot. This will keep them closer to their rigs and pull them off Ed’s position just a bit – so they don’t get blasted by the side fills.
Baffles – I do not have experience with baffles and I am not sure where to begin when Agent Baigent runs into the Black Crowes at Bottle Rocks – they are using baffles onstage and he puts me in touch with Drew Consalvo there ME. I explain the stage issues to him; rigs that can’t be turned down, no space, and bleed to the center of stage. Drew confirms that they were having the same issues and the baffles have helped reduce bleed to the center of the stage and into the vocal mic, as well as creating pockets for each of the guys. They were able to keep their rigs at the volumes they needed. Drew sends me some pictures and hooks me up with Groovy (John Pantesco ) who built the baffles. Bingo – this is great news and the pictures help me visualize what the baffles will/can look like onstage.
The discussions about baffles with the back line department makes any bureaucratic agency look efficient. Everyone weighs in, has a thought, a theory, or tells me why they won’t work. The baffles alone are not going to solve the stage issues – they are one piece of a puzzle that will help. My main concern is how many, where should they go, and making sure they are unobtrusive as possible. I also do not want the band to feel isolated from each other. Ideally I want to baffle around the drum riser, the back of Ed’s rig, a baffle between Stone’s rig and the drums, and a baffle between Mike and Jeff’s rigs. I do not want to spend a fortune at this point until we know if they will help and they need to be easily moveable. We are also attempting to design and build a new drum riser which poses a different set of parameters for baffling. After much discussion, we go with these baffles to try out
– if they don’t work we can use them in the rehearsal space for recording etc. I feel they are too big, bulky, and we have ordered too many. But they are ordered.
Power Soaks – I don’t do a lot of research on this – my gut feeling is the guys are not gonna like it and even if they do work the guys will always be second guessing their tones. I talk to one of our back line guys about them, he is using a power soak on Soundgarden, he says it works for Kim’s rig but he agrees with me that they probably won’t won’t fly with our guys. So those are out.
We are almost ready to put this rig together – but I heed the advice of Dave Rat and go outside the bubble to make sure we are on the right track and not doing anything really bizarre. I put in a call to much respected and good friend Bill Chrysler. Bill was a tech on Lollapoolza in 92, so he is familiar with Pearl Jam, he listens to the current issues and then goes through a check list with me. In Ear Set Up – Fine, wedges for vocals only, wedges for instruments only, console, processing etc.
He likes the idea of the baffles and explains they are using them on John Mayer, although for their set up it is because all of their cabinets are open back. Bill does feel that I am heading in the wrong direction with the side fills, I agree with him. My good friend Feelie who is on John Mayer sends me pictures of the baffles they are using.
Okay let’s put this rig together.