Setting Up FOH for Machine Head

2013 Rockstar Mayhem Festival

The following is the first in a five part series from guest contribution from Steve Lagudi. Steve has been a touring live sound and studio recording engineer for over 15 years. He has worked with Testament, Exodus, Ill Nino, God Forbid, Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse, Sepultura, Shadows Fall, and many many more.

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Welcome everyone from around the world. My name is Steve Lagudi and I am a touring live sound engineer as well as a studio engineer. I am currently mixing the Oakland, California-based metal band Machine Head, and will be bringing you a five segment blog series  from the 2013 Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour across the United States and Canada. My mixing and recording system for this tour consists of an Avid Mix Rack System complete with a VENUE HDx option card for recording to Pro Tools 10 using an HD Native Thunderbolt interface and laptop computer. These blogs will offer an in-depth look inside my daily workflow, with this blog being the first. The remaining segments are as follows:

Upon receiving the phone call to do FOH for Machine Head, I was very honored to be called upon by such a notable and influential band in today’s metal scene, plus being a part of the Mayhem Festival—a very successful and well know festival tour. I knew right away I would be faced with a few small challenges, including mixing a band that I’ve never worked with before, not having any previous console show files, and most of all, having only 1 hour for set up and sound check on the morning of the first show of the tour (unlike the other bands who were on site for rehearsal days). Due to three headlining warm up shows, we were not able to attend the rehearsal days, but fortunately for me, Machine Head is the headlining band for the second stage, enabling me to have my own choice of console. As a long time user of the VENUE line of consoles, and with all my years in the studio working with Pro Tools, the decision to go with the Mix Rack system was a no brainer.

There is a ton of awesome features as to why I picked the VENUE console, I will not go into all of them because we would be here all day, however, I will discuss the key reasons why I needed it. First, its sound quality, at the end of the day the mix needs to sound over the top. Second, reliability, the console needs to be able to perform day in and day out in some of the toughest touring elements, as this tour is traveling to a lot of cities where the temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius). Third, it’s ease of use. The VENUE console is very intuitive, easy to use and navigate on. The control surface is laid out to give me all the visual aspects of metering, gating and compression, along with rotary encoders to control all the parameters while mixing. Fourth reason would be the stand-alone VENUE software. This allowed me to build my show file ahead of time and deliver it via email to my system technician Anthoney Vanarsdall and monitor engineer Zach Teesdale from Miller Pro Audio. Fifth and final reason, streamlined connection to Pro Tools for multitrack recording. This benefit alone is so powerful, from show archiving to virtual sound check and reviewing performances. Machine Head recently had a member change and being able to go back and isolate each performers tracks to clearly hear what is being played is invaluable.

Ten days before the tour started I launched the stand-alone software on my laptop. Starting with my input list, I named all the tracks and assigned all my channels in the patchbay, effects, and the layout of the console. Having the ability to move specific channels around to be in specific locations on the control surface, I was able to put all my vocals together as well as the vocal effects for easy access instead of having to flip back and forth between console layers, which helps my work flow significantly. Another really great benefit of the stand-alone software that made my life so much easier for the initial set up was that I was able to go back into old show files from other artists I mixed and was able to save presets for specific channels. It helps that I always carry my own microphone package from Audio-Technica—I pretty much use the same set up for consistency, and in this situation I knew what I was going to be using. Even if I was to change any or all the microphones, loading these presets on each and every channel will still give me a significant head start. That is exactly what happened. With all the EQ, gating, compression, filtering, effects, and routing already set up, my mix was 90% complete, all without having the actual console in front of me. Now all I needed was the band and console to make the remaining tweaks. This type of set up will work in any situation, not just a festival, and anyone can benefit from this. If you are a first time VENUE user and do not have any presets, you can still quickly and easily build a show from scratch in no time at all.

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One thing I want to point is that when I chose to set up the console, I decided to use the desk in its basic “right-out-of-the-box” set up, using only the standard plug-ins that come with the console. So for all you mixers out there who do not own any plug-ins, you will still be able to harness the power of the console and quickly use all of the onboard features of the console with spectacular results. Even in cases where you do own plug-ins for the console, there will often be times when you are not carrying your own console and you walk into front of house and go to load your show file and plug ins that you have assigned to your mix are not installed on the console. So in the case of a festival, standing in the middle of a muddy field, with no internet access, you will not have the time to install your plug-ins (if you actually have the install disks with you, and if you do, its not a good idea to try install them right before a show). Plus, it becomes annoying when you build up your show file and get it right where you want it and only to load it up on a new console and find out that the plug ins are not available, than have to rebuild and rebalance your entire mix. So that is why I choose to run all the stock items on the console so I know no matter where I go, everything will always be there.

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The VENUE HDx option card is the only option that I added, simply because my recording channel count to Pro Tools exceeds 32 channels—if my channel count was below 32, I would just use the standard FWx firewire card. I will go into further detail in my Week 3 blog focusing solely on recording direct to Pro Tools.

Day one of the festival, our load in time was scheduled for 7AM with sound check for front of house and monitors 8AM – 9AM. As luck would have it, we arrived late at about 8AM, giving my crew and myself even less time to set up and sound check.  I have to say, without having my console show file almost complete, I would never have been able to dial the mix in the way I really wanted it to be. I do have to add, when I started the line check, aside from adjusting the channel gain and a few slight tweaks to threshold levels for gates and compressors, I was more than pleased with the results. So if I did not have any time at all to sound check, I still could have started the first show with the mix sounding awesome. Thankfully, we did have a little bit of time, which allowed me to help out on stage with getting the monitors to sound exactly how the band members wanted them to sound.

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Heading back out to front of house, I was able to load up Pro Tools and quickly build a session to all the corresponding channels from the console. The entire set up time for connecting two DigiLink mini cables with two DigiLink adaptors to the HDx card to my Pro Tools HD Native Thunderbolt interface, assigning all the I/O (input and output), labeling the tracks and seeing signal, took less than 3 minutes. I could never in a million years ever get that kind of fast set up in a studio situation.

Several hours later, the guys took to the stage and rocked through the first set to kick off the tour. From the first note till the last note, everything went off smoothly. It was nice to breath a sigh of relief and enjoy a great feeling of accomplishment that all the groundwork that was put in paid off. The first week of shows included a hometown date, and the band’s management was present at front of house and immediately when the band started playing, the manager turned his head to me and instantly gave me his approval. I guess I get to keep my job!!!!

Next week I will discuss what plug-ins I am using in my mix, as well as building and using snapshots. Thanks for reading!