Back to home page
Other MIX articles
by David (Rudy) Trubitt, Sound Reinforcemnt Editor
This article originally appeared in Mix Magazine, © June 1993 It also appears in Concert Sound: Tours, Techniques and Technology.
"I had been wanting to try something larger for a while," explains guitarist/singer/songwriter Lindsay Buckingham. "Something that went beyond what people normally would try to do. On records (including his latest, Out of the Cradle), there are a lot of levels of orchestration that most people would opt to pare down on stage."
But rather than trim parts, Buckingham chose to use ten musicians, including four additional guitarists (two male, two female). "The challenge is to keep it from sounding like mush," he cautions. "On a lot of [songs] you have people waiting to come in for something very specific, and then dropping out again. A lot of people said that it wouldn't work, but this is great. The parts can be realized by a band of this size, which never would have been done in a million years in Fleetwood Mac, where you'd have had to paraphrase all over the place, or maybe not have done the tune at all.
"The other reason for having this many people," continues Buckingham, "is that you can double up on three- or four-part [vocal] harmonies. When you've got seven people singing at once, you get a lot of strength. And it's a concept which nobody's really doing, and that in itself appeals to me."
Front-of-house duties fall to Rob Mailman of Sound Image of San Marcos, CA. (Mailman has been with the company since 1985, his last major tour was with the Indigo Girls) "It's been working pretty well," Mailman explains, "but it's quite a chore keeping up with 5 guitar players. With all that material in the same bandwidth there's a lot of separation and placement problems, especially when two people are playing the same part.
"Originally," he continues, "everybody was going direct, with no amplification on stage. It was a great place to start but it wasn't working well for them, particularly on the Fleetwood Mac material that was more rock-and-roll oriented. We're using fairly small amps, but they pack a lot of punch. Even though we went with amps, everybody still is DI'd. On people who are playing leads, I mix the DI and mic. Lindsay in particular, I blend the whole night.
"The DIs are all Countryman," adds Mailman, "which is very standard and reliable, although not necessarily the best in the world. We use a stand-up bass [on two tunes], and on one of those, Lindsay uses a Ukulele and one of the girls plays a mandolin. With that in mind, I needed a good, reliable active DI."
In addition to the wall of guitars, the band includes three percussionists. Originally, no trap set was planned, although a basic kick/snare/hat set evolved in rehearsals. The "percussion community's" close proximity to guitar amps created the potential for leakage problems. "We do baffle (with clear Plexiglas) right behind the guitar line," says Mailman, "because we have so many open percussion mics and open-back guitar amplifiers up there."
The tour is carrying a 24-box Phase Loc rig, Sound Image's active 5-way, JBL and TAD-loaded loudspeaker system. A modified BSS unit is used as the system crossover. Sound Image uses QSC amps exclusively, although the company is presently engaged in development of new cabinet, crossover and processing configurations. As a result, they are also evaluating amps from other manufacturers, using their existing QSC amps as the benchmark.
"I haven't worked in most of these venues before," explains Mailman. "So, when I walk in, I generally take a look around, see what's available to me in the in-house PA. That plus seating and sight-lines dictate how much [of my own] PA I'm going to bring in. I try and make the best call possible without getting too overbearing, but without leaving myself short. We do play at quite an appreciable SPL level. He's a little bit adamant--he really wants you to feel it."
At the Bimbo's gig, the club's system included 6 Meyer UPAs in left-center-right pairs, 650 subs and two EAW 3-ways as delay fills in the back of the room, overseen by Bimbo's in-house sound man, Kirk Schreio. A vocal-only feed was sent to this system. Mailman brought in one Phase Loc stack per side, each comprised of 2 hi-mid and two bass cabinets, although in larger venues the ratio of high to low boxes is somewhat higher.
When it comes to mixing, "we are recreating [the records] pretty close," says Mailman. "As far as the processing and ambiance goes, I have a pretty free hand. A lot of times, [room] environments dictate how much you can [do there]. But as far as the placement of things in the mix, it's real close to the record, because he's very specific about where he wants little pieces placed and how it's knitted together."
Buckingham spends some sound-check time at the FOH. "We have a couple of tunes that seem to be our focal points," explains Buckingham. "Ones that are so conceptual that they tend to be the most problematic, as well varying the most from room to room. Don't Look Down is one of those. It's fits together like a jigsaw, and its impact hinges on the level of things in relationship to each other, [such as] the vocals coming in loud enough. Certain things have to be really close to being right, at least in my mind, for it to come off."
"One of the great things about Rob," adds Buckingham "is that, in a sense, he's totally ego-less. He's very willing to say 'OK, lets' try that.' He'll let me rant and rave once in a while, and work though a mini-catharsis. And he's had more experience at this than I have, so in some ways he may be, I wouldn't say indulging me, but at least he knows that [what I'm hearing at soundcheck] will be different when the people come in."
Mailman follows a very specific set of cues throughout the show. "I work with cue cards all night long," Mailman adds, "because of all the different instrumentation. The set builds and falls [twice]. It starts out with Lindsey doing a couple of solo acoustic things. Then the band comes out and it builds through some Fleetwood stuff. After it gets really hot and heavy, it drops off again for another couple of acoustic things [before coming up for the finale]. Through all that there's a lot of fader moves going on."
The tour is carrying a Midas XL-3, although Mailman admits to mixed feelings about the board. "On the last leg," he explains, "I started out with a PM-4000, which is a real nice, friendly board. As far as routing, user-friendliness and terminology, the XL-3 has shortcomings, although I've been able to work around [most of them]. I've had contact with Midas, and they're hopefully going send me a modified master module [to address] the things that I wasn't able to get around." High on his request list was the ability to preview the main stereo mix in the phones with automatic solo override."
"Processing wise," he continues, "I'm using typical stuff, REV-5, SPX 900, the new Sony R-7, which is a real nice sounding unit. I don't do a lot of gating or compressing. I use compression on Lindsay's vocal, the bass and the keys, but none of the backup vocals. I come from the school where the less processing, the better. It keeps things cleaner, and I don't really need it with this particular act."
At the controls of the Ramsa WRS-840 monitor desk is John Oster, another long-time Sound Image staffer. Oster runs ten mixes, one for each player. The frontline players get most of the instruments off the stage, relying on wedges primarily for their vocals. "Most of the stage sound is shaped around their own volume and where they are placed on stage," Oster explains. "When they're sound-checking, I'll stand in Lindsay's spot and listen. There's an incredible separation up there, especially in this large of a band. It can be hell, having seven vocals and that many mixes up there--it's a challenge, but it's a fun gig."
Most of the band uses Sound Image's latest wedge design, a two-12 / TAD 2 inch. Buckingham started with that wedge in rehearsals, but at the last moment switched to an older Sound Image single 15 wedge. "I can get the two12s a lot louder," says Oster, "and they sound a lot better, but the single 15 sounds more like a rock wedge and that's what Lindsey wants to hear. So I'm running two cue wedges--one of each."
"I give Lindsey vocal, a little percussion, keys and a sizable amount of guitar," continues Oster, "because he likes to be surrounded up there. When he goes into a solo I pump it up about a notch and a half." On the other hand, "Lindsay also likes to hear the house, especially when he does his solo [acoustic]stuff. I pull his vocal way down in those numbers." Whatever the requirements, communication seems to be very open on this tour. "You can talk frankly with him and work things out," says Oster. "He's probably the most reasonable artist I've ever done monitors for."
Sound at the Bimbo's gig was loud and clear, with an emphasis on both. Diverse musical arrangements were complemented by equally varied mixes, both in relative level placement and ambient treatment. Some of the sparser material, often mixed with extended depth of field, showed off the Sound Image system exceptionally well, which is not to say that the system was any less punchy on the louder tunes, just that stage level became more of a factor on those numbers. Among the most tricky tunes was a faithful rendition of Tusk with the entire ten-piece band playing full out, lacking only the original's full marching band (somebody double-check my memory here--this is true, isn't it?). Overall, the show's dynamics were quite effective, which allowed the loud points to be exciting while the quieter numbers gave one's ears a chance to bounce back.
Most enjoyable was the energy traded between Buckingham, band and the audience. Buckingham summed it up nicely during the sold out show when he told the audience that on this tour he was "probably having the best time I've ever had!" And it showed.