In this episode, I am excited to share that Bowery Ballroom is now offering the Avid S6L 24D as our new front-of-house audio console. For over a decade we maintained a legendary sound and reputation with our analog Midas Heritage H3000 and racks and stacks of outboard gear. I will talk you through why we made the change, how we chose a desk to lead us into the next era of shows, and how we managed the installation.
When Bowery opened in 1998, then Production manager Matthew Kasha utilized a Yamaha PM3000 and came to define the room with great ears and trusted gear. At that time the Midas Heritage series had just launched and was quick to become the industry standard for concert touring. Acts like Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Metallica, Alicia Keys, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all utilized the Heritage series desks. It won over our hearts and ears, and in 2010 Kenny Leinhardt swapped it into our front-of-house position. Another decade later and we reflected on how the industry continues to change. Audio engineers are faced with incredibly detailed and competitive choices for gear. Loudspeaker technology allows for pristine sound control and headroom, and wireless systems have revolutionized personal monitoring on stage.
Our sister venue The Teragram Ballroom in LA would also be upgrading their desk, so the console decision was a partnership. For me it needed to sound as good or better than the Heritage; offer more in terms of mixing and processing; tick all the boxes on the artist riders; impress the showcase shows, underplays, and the private events; excite my engineers, and have incredible user support. Ultimately, while I love analog, and love the Midas, I found myself racing to keep up with maintenance, and feeling never quite sure that everything would work as it is intended. The amount of use and abuse the desk took, outweighed the amount of time I had for its upkeep, and trusted touring engineers were getting to the point of needing more signal processing than an analog desk is capable of.
The engineers in LA and myself were on the same page. The top two contenders were DigiCo or Avid. Ultimately, Avid won out for their ease of session formatting, years in the business and engineer familiarity with ProTools recording/Profile consoles, plug-in capabilities, and most important- It would be something new for my engineers. We are lucky enough to have a DiGiCo as a monitor console, and complementing that with an Avid desk allows me to hire and retain amazing engineers that are willing to trade their skill for a little time building show files and getting comfortable with industry-standard desks.
This past month was equal parts fun and terrifying, as I disassembled the Heritage, and reconfigured front of house for a new desk, as well as a new lighting setup, and video control.
With the console weighing 500 lbs, and being over 7ft long, each module of the console needed to be removed, to reduce weight, so the desk could slide onto a forklift. 44 channel strips and 6 banks of faders were removed, and placed into cardboard boxes. From there, my partner and I rotated the desk onto a hand-crank forklift, me pushing off the balcony, and he guiding while standing on a ladder on the other side.
The next day we dismantled the patch bays. 25 years of cabling, 2 desks, and 3 managers’ worth of modifications, there were plenty of rats’ nests to dig through, and cables to cut out. Once organized, the cables added about another 100 pounds of weight. With the console gone, we moved to take apart lighting control. The whole booth would be reconfigured to create more space and improved workflow. The racks that housed all of the outboard gear needed to be physically cut out of the space and the table platform was sawed down to add depth inside the booth. The prized pieces of outboard gear will be kept and patched in as hardware inserts
A week later, the Avid desk was brought up to our balcony booth in sections. The engine, stage box, and waves server could be managed by a couple of engineers and were all racked at front of house. Both the stage box and the engine needed to be modified with additional cards. The control surface used 3 of us to tip it, move it upstairs and get down into our recessed booth.
Cabling and activation were another day’s project. Avid’s redundant ring system of shielded Cat6e cable made that part relatively painless. Avid rep Robert Miller was brought in to check all components were properly registered, working as they should, and give my staff an overview of the desk. Throughout the process, Avid has been a great ally. Making sure we have everything we need to get going, and talking us through their support channels, should we ever have a need to contact them during a show. Our vendor was a long-time friend, and an important part of Bowery’s history Jeff DelBello of dbAudio. FOH friends Harley Zinker and Scott Adamson also provided much-needed support and guidance through the whole process. Harley worked hand in hand with Robert to show practical knowledge and provided a session file we could all talk through. Session playback through ProTools really highlighted the desks’ features and was a nice treat for our room which was used to system adjustments using 2-track recorded media.
From here on out we will be working to build a house start show file, and template to share with visiting engineers. We will be moving to drive our speaker amplifiers via AES, rather than analog, and working with D&B on any room tuning adjustments.
My engineers are encouraged to come in and build their own files and get comfortable with the desk, and I am sure I will be doing the same.
The response has been positive from staff, engineers, artists, and managers alike, and I am excited for the opportunity to mix a show on our new setup.
Tune in for the next episode for a look at our rigging upgrades. We will dive into adding a motorized truss in the ballroom and redesigning our lighting plot.