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Mixing Muse—Marc Carolan talks with Robb Allan

Getting the Gig

Working with the Band

The Move from Analog to Digital

Signal Path and I/O Sharing

S6L Surface Workflows

Outboard Racks

S6L Plugins

S6L Snapshots

S6L Events

Marc Carolan on Mixing Muse

by Robb Allan

Ok, So I’ve been at a gig or two over the years and scribbled the odd thought down on the back of a ciggie packet. You’ll find the early albums here.

 

As T.S. Eliot almost said:

In the gig the roadies come and go.

Talking of all-things audio

 

So, all and all, I must have watched hundreds of engineers mix thousands of bands. Can’t say I remember all of it, or even most of it, but it seems to me the best FOH mixers break down into two camps. Some engineers are very technical and bring a lot of deep domain knowledge, understand the physics and bring a clear analytical head to the job. Other engineers have a natural talent, come from a musical background, and are full of musical empathy for the artist they work with. Rarely do engineers combine both traits.

I first met Marc Carolan, or “MC” as everyone calls him, twenty something years ago. At the time we worked for different bands with the same management company. It was obvious to me from the beginning that he was the rarest of roadies that had both the musical talent and the technical ability. The life of touring engineers is such, that you may do a couple of tours with someone, spending 24 hours a day together, then not see each other for a while. Usually though—and I think this is one of the best things in a rock and roll life—when you do reconnect, it’s like you’ve just seen each other five minutes ago rather than a year or a decade or however long the while is. MC and I, obsessive audiophiles both, have always zoomed straight back into all things audio when we’ve bumped into each other over the years.

Robb Allan with Marc Carolan

The videos above are the result of just one of these types of catch-ups. No script or set questions—just two audio friends catching up and having a typical back-lounge chat on all things live sound. My colleague Chris Lambrechts and I turned up at a huge Muse open air show in Nijmegen, Netherlands, where Chris set up the cameras with our padawan Michael and filmed us ranging freestyle over a huge range of audio topics. We sat in the FOH position late into the night the evening before the show. It was a little creepy, to be honest, as we were the only people in this outdoor enormodome. We get all over the desk and MC was very generous in sharing everything about his complex and original set up. We were, of course, very interested in his thoughts on the Avid S6L he is using on the tour, but we also talked of many other things that are hopefully of interest to the general audio citizenry. The future of our industry, moving between analogue and digital, plugins, DAW recording, and effects units. We also touched on the pressures of being responsible for the audience enjoyment of large shows, and how as an industry we can improve the experience for our clients and their audience. MC also shows us around his show file, snapshots, events, gainsharing and all of his external kit. There are lots of cool tips and tricks included in the conversation.

We filmed for four hours, and because there is so much content we’ve split the session up into the nine videos above.

As I said earlier, I’ve known MC man and boy, he’s way younger than me. We’ve had adventures mixing different bands on the same tour, we’ve even mixed a couple of bands in common over the years, sharing FOH duties whilst covering for each other. Before the cameras started rolling and after we’d caught up on each other’s families, we were reminiscing about some of those bands and tours. In particular we both spent a lot of time mixing a great Dublin band whose first album is still one of my favourites. We both had some mad stories with them fellas. They love a laugh and were always playing pranks on each other and everyone around them, even random people they’d pull into the madness. They had a really surreal sense of humour. I have so many roadie stories about those tours, I’ve been known to share after a small dry sherry, often apparently. Ask me sometime about the time they met a very famous ambient songstress backstage at a festival, or the mystery of Risteard’s eyebrow!

I remember them once going into a pet shop somewhere in the US and asking to buy a dog. The guy behind the counter asked them what kind of dog they’d like. They answered, “It doesn’t matter, any dog will do.” The guy said, “Well we have all kinds of dogs—what do you need a dog for?”

“Spare parts” they answered.

This was said with great seriousness as they secretly filmed the encounter. The storekeeper is now horrified, “What do you mean spare parts? You can’t buy a dog for spare parts. I must have misheard you.”

“No, spare parts are what we need it for, so if you’d just get us your cheapest dog we’ll be on our way.”

The tears were streaming down my cheeks it was so hard not to laugh.

“You can’t buy a dog for spare parts!”

“Why not, is it because we’re Irish? Are you saying our money is no good here?” This went on and on and eventually he just exploded and threw us out and asked us never to cross his door again. “Crazy Irish maniacs!” Genius.

Sorry, got a bit side-tracked, back to the vids. Hope you enjoy this video series as much as we did in making it. It’s very rare to be able to speak to one of the worlds top engineers, mixing arguably the biggest rock band in the world, right at his desk, candidly sharing all his audio secrets. More blogs and videos soon.

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The next stage in live sound is here—with the award-winning VENUE | S6L system, you can take on the world’s most demanding productions with ease.




Behind the Scenes of ‘Bat Out of Hell The Musical’ with Gareth Owen

Award-winning sound designer Gareth Owen had three of the biggest musical productions running concurrently in London’s West End in the Summer of 2017—Bat Out of Hell, Wind in the Willows, and 42nd Street. His live system of choice? Avid VENUE | S6L for all three.

Watch the video series below and discover Gareth’s secrets to delivering the impactful and immersive sound that makes Bat Out of Hell such a raucous and epic production.

Production Overview

S6L Workflow & Layouts

Gareth discusses the differences between concert sound and musical theatre, the roles of operator and designer, and his philosophy and approach to sound design.

Gareth shares with us how he lays out his channels and VCA’s to enable programming remotely with VNC and operation on the console—his ingenious use of S6L’s layouts and bank safes are a revelation.

S6L Snapshots

S6L Events

Gareth explains how he uses Snapshots to build his shows, the use of VCA’s assignments, momentary snapshots, and how he copes with alternate actors.

Gareth talks about how he exploits the radical new Events capabilities introduced with VENUE 5.4 software in his shows.

S6L Plug-ins

S6L Hardware

Gareth shares the plug-ins he uses, why he uses them, and the settings to achieve specific effects.

Matt Peploe, Junior Associate Sound Designer at Gareth Owen Sound, describes the hardware set up for Bat Out of Hell production at The Coliseum Theatre in London.

Backstory to the Bat Out of Hell Videos

By Robb Allan

I first met Gareth back at the height of Britpop when we were both on an a fairly wild Oasis tour. I was mixing the Manic Street Preachers and he was sub-mixing a string section for our mutual friend, gentleman-scholar and legendary noise boy, Huw Richards. Huw was mixing FOH for the Gallagher brothers at the time, one of the loudest shows I’ve ever heard! We’ve bumped into each other often over the years since then—at tradeshows catching up on audio trends, gigs, even appearing together on talk panels—and have remained friends while having taken different paths. I stayed in the rock and roll world and mixed various fellas with guitars and whatnot, eventually ending up, (long story) working for Avid and helping design mixing consoles. Gareth has spent the subsequent years conquering the world of musical theatre. He’s now a veritable “Prince of Sound Design” on Broadway, the West End, and all across the world. He’s won Tony and Olivier awards and his eponymous company, Gareth Owen Sound, at any one time will have numerous high budget productions spread across the world’s most prestigious theatres.

Gareth and I have spent a lot of time recently talking about theatre workflows and how we can best harness S6L’s open architecture to enable advanced workflows for theatre design and mixing. He had massive input into our VENUE 5.4 software release earlier in the year, generously sharing his ideas and experience with the team.

It seemed like a good idea to get some of these conversations with Gareth into a video, as he is so erudite and articulate on the nature and philosophy of theatre sound design. To share his thoughts with the audio community at large I headed down to the Coliseum Theatre in London’s West End, home to Bat Out of Hell, with a video crew in tow to have a chat. The ambience is a little different from the febrile back stage at a Britpop concert where we used to hang out, but congenial none the less. Although some of the workflows he describes are specific to musical theatre, many of the ideas behind them can be used in concert mixing, corporate, or indeed any of the audio disciplines.

I hope you enjoy watching them as much as we enjoyed making them.

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S6L Events and Momentary Snapshots for the Real World

With the recent VENUE 5.4 software update for VENUE | S6L, the Avid team has opened the desk up to a whole world of new possibilities. With the inclusion of a new non-sequential Snapshots and massive additions to the Events list triggers and actions, we’ve enabled the S6L to be customised to fit your workflow like a well-tailored suit. The Events list triggers and actions have been extended to cover virtually any change made to the desk, whether from a fader, an encoder, a switch, any parameter value—even a meter level! The only limit is your imagination, and as Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

My friend and colleague Chris Lambrechts and I have made a few short videos of some Events and momentary Snapshots that we’ve dreamed up. Our idea for making these videos wasn’t to have everybody use these specific Events in their shows, but to show the kind of things that are possible. Once you’ve watched a couple, you’ll hopefully come up with workflow ideas that you can tailor to your own show. Once you’ve had a chance to create some of your own, we’d love to hear about them or see quick videos shot in situ, even with your phone. It would be great for the S6L community to share a list of cool Events and how to use them in support of various workflows. I strongly believe in the ‘Roadie Hive Mind’!

 

If you have a custom Event that you’d like to share, please send send an image or video of the Events page plus a short text description here.

 

Here are the videos so far with brief descriptions:

End-stop Mute

AUX Auto ON

This a way for faders to mute the channel (inputs, outputs, VCAs) automatically when they get to the end stop. This is important for post mute, pre-fade sends. It also works well if you have mute and crossfades in snapshots. Channels will automatically mute after a fade down and unmute before a fade up.

I don’t know about you but I sometimes forget to turn an aux send on before turning it up, maybe its old age! These events turn on an aux send automatically as you turn it up from inf. and turn it off as you turn it down to infinite. This works especially well in Sends on Faders workflows.

AUX Pre / Post

Vocal EQ Cut

This is a slightly geeky one. When I fade up a fader on the aux send to an infill or sound effect speaker in a theatre or kick drum in a wedge, which are in post fade, it enables the main PA and other smaller speakers to fade in together. When the fader passes 0dB, the aux send changes to pre. This means the send doesn’t get any louder even if the channel is pushed harder in the main hang.

This is one for my show. I noticed at festivals over the summer that sometimes the PA could be really onstage depending on the structure of the staging. As we have no wedges, the singers could often be in line or even in front of the hangs. I was aware that if I pushed a quiet vocal it could get hot in the high frequencies, say 8 to 10K with reflections from the plastic sides to the staging. This event means that if I really push a vocal hard—in my case above +3dB on the fader—it will auto cut 8 to 10K by a couple of dBs with a smooth fade, and then when I pull it back into the “safe zone”, it’ll flatten it back out again.

Guitar Solo EQ

Sends on Faders

When pushing the guitar up for the guitar solo, the EQ doesn’t change unless I hold down the colour switch. If I do it, then the event gives a little boost in the high mid to help it cut through the mix. This is an example of using two triggers (in `and’ mode) and needing them both to trigger the action.

In this event, I’m enabling SOF from any Aux using the colour switch at the bottom of the fader. As you can see in the video, this enables us to listen to an Aux mix and mix a different Aux on the faders in SOF mode. I also explain how using Aux spill allows us to filter sends by on whilst in SOF.

Clip Gain / Guess

In this event, I’m enabling SOF from any Aux using the colour switch at the bottom of the fader. As you can see in the video, this enables us to listen to an Aux mix and mix a different Aux on the faders in SOF mode. I also explain how using Aux spill allows us to filter sends by on whilst in SOF.

Momentary snapshots in conjunction with events

A momentary snapshot or non-sequential snapshot is a snapshot without a number. When we recall a snapshot of this type it doesn’t change the normal sequence of snapshots as in previous/next. We can use this type of snapshot to set up changes on the desk that we may need at any moment in the show. For example, switching to a back-up mic. We have made two videos explaining a couple of ideas for using momentary snapshots with events.

Talking Between Songs

Backup Mics

In this event/momentary snapshot combo we show how to trigger two channels to unmute and fade up using a function switch, that may or may not be used, depending on the moment, to talk to the crowd between songs.

We can use several momentary snapshots and a couple of events to automatically change the soft-patch in the system to instantaneously patch the backup mic to whichever of the five vocalists needs it, and patch it back to the original if its recovered.

Head over the ball

All this trigger and action stuff got me thinking about a time the action of our drum tech had a massive consequence for the whole crew. We were on tour in Germany way back in the early days of Britpop. It was a Sunday, a bit quiet, we’d finished our soundcheck and were sitting around in the dressing room wondering what to do with ourselves until catering was ready with the evening meal. You know how it is. This was before the internet and stuff. Nobody had mobile phones to stare at, how many likes or funny kittens or whatever.

For some reason, there was a football in the room and we decided to have a kick about. Outside the dressing room window there was a small courtyard. There were a few beer barrels and bits of old truss but plenty room for a quick three a side. We climbed out the window and dropped into the courtyard. We didn’t look very athletic, half a dozen sweaty roadies dressed in black with beer bellies, tattoos and big boots scrambling around and bumping into each other. There was a lot of falling down and swearing but we were having fun. Finally, it came to the decider—a penalty to win the match. The courtyard had a wall with a fence on top of it maybe seven or eight feet high. The goal, that we’d made from a couple of beer barrels was against a wall, and behind there was a very sleek looking modern bank. It had a huge glass side to it, maybe four stories high. Deptford Andy stepped up to take the spot kick. Andy’s a big guy, not tall but solid and strong as you like. He took a couple of steps back from the ball. Deptford John was on his team and admonished him, “Fatty, keep your head over the ball don’t lean back, keep the ball low.” “Yeh, yeh, yeh” Andy answered , focused on his vital penalty. He ran up and kicked the ball with all his might and his considerable weight. The ball shot off like a cannonball, and unfortunately he’d ignored John’s advice. It went straight over Davo’s head in the goal, over the wall and smacked into the wall of glass behind it and bounced back into the courtyard. In slow motion the glass cracked and then a whole slab of it crashed to the ground. It was a mighty, terrifying noise.

Andy went to pick up the ball and when he turned around, we were all gone. He said afterwards it was like we had all just disappeared. Actually, we’d all ran and jumped through the window in an un-gamely scrum. We didn’t stop until we were sat in a bar having a little something to calm the nerves. Eventually we started feeling guilty about running away from the scene of the crime. “We better go back and fess up,” somebody suggested, and we all more or less agreed.

We trooped into the promoter’s office, Helmut I think he was called. We explained that Andy had been taking a penalty and had not kept his head over the ball, contrary to John’s advice, and had hoofed it over the bar against the building next door causing considerable damage. Helmut looked up at us shaking his head and said, “You ‘Englishers’ never could take penalties!”

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Tour Blog: On the Road with Massive Attack and S6L

Hello chums, been a while. If you happen to have read any of my earlier roadie blogs (rogs? bloadies??), then you’ll know this will probably not be a dialectical treatise on the proto-social relevance of minor Shakespearean characters in the History plays. The last blog series was about my colleague Chris Lambrechts and I driving two Prototype Avid S6L’s 10,000km around Europe, asking everyone we knew and a few people we met for the first time what they thought about it and how we could make it better. My first ‘bloadie’ was about the 2014 Massive Attack World tour that I mixed on the small but exquisitely formed Avid S3L. If this is your first perusal, you’ll soon catch up. As you’ll see its mainly old back lounge stories and a sprinkling of my thoughts on mixing live sound. I wear two related, but different, hats in my work life. I’m part of a team that designs consoles for Avid and I also mix FOH for various bands, or as my oldest boy said when asked by his teacher, I “make bands louder for a job.” I don’t think there’s a better one.

On the road again

This effort aims to pull the last two set’s themes together: a trilogy of rogs if you like. I’m currently on tour with Massive Attack mixing on the new and fabulous S6L. As previously stated I am biased. I sat in a room a few years ago surrounded by white boards, felt pens in hand, with my old mucker and superstar roadie Robert Scovill, and the large brains of Sheldon Radford and Al McKinna. We bandied the fanciful, the unlikely, and the Platonic ideal of a desk around. Late last year, the fruit of that brain splurge, and a huge team effort involving several hundred people in the US and Europe, became a reality. I can safely say that if you are involved in the Live Sound industry in any way you will have probably heard about this. In the hectic days since launch we’ve been run off our feet, zipping about to trade shows and the like, making sure early adopters were good to go and dealing with the overwhelming demand and interest our community has had in this desk. The desk has won awards and plaudits everywhere.

Now though, I’m having a cheeky break from my Avid gig to go and use the bad-boy in anger, mixing the extraordinary Massive Attack. I’m so excited to be to mixing my favorite band using a desk I’ve seen grow from scribbles on a whiteboard to its fully realized wonderfulness. All our research and testing have suggested that the desk sounds amazing, but until the crowd roars, the band walks on stage and the first vocal line sits just so in the mix, it’s only words and diagrams on a bit of paper. On the last tour I used the S3L for its compact size and weight but awesome sound. I could fly it everywhere and I stretched it to the max, using every physical input and output on the system. I used every last ounce of calculating power in every DSP chip as well, as M.A. is not a simple show. On this tour I can luxuriate in the amazing environment that is the S6L. I am barely tickling its enormous power. Although I’m using eighty or ninety input channels, the S6L has 192. There are 96 busses and 24 Matrix. I think I’m using 17 and 9, respectively. It can have up to four HDX DSP cards for processing the 200 plug-in slots available; I have two in my engine and I’m currently running about 50 or 60 plug-ins on the show. I still have space on the first HDX card even with all the reverbs and delays, Eleven Racks, etc. I really can’t imagine needing four cards ever. There you go, a challenge for some of my plug-in obsessive mates—you know who you are. I want photographic evidence though, at a show, running four full cards for a prize. BTW, I’m loving the new versions of the Sonnox plugins running at 96K (more on this later).

New preamps

It’s my first chance to record the band using our new 96K preamps and work on my show. I’d already loaded my old S3L show file straight onto the S6L without any issues. I up-sampled my old S3L recordings to use as a “virtual soundcheck” with the S6L at home to have a start position. I just saved myself at least a day of programming at least versus starting again from scratch. Thank the Universe for show file compatibility! However the difference to the quality of my recordings with the S6L preamps was startling. The sound was somehow more three dimensional, with stunning clarity. I had a foolish smile on my face all day I was so happy.

 

Serious bizniz

So we loaded out and headed off to the production rehearsals. It’s a lovely space and I brought in a little PA to mix on. Horace Andy, who is an absolute legend and lovely guy wandered up to my desk and started taking some photos of it. He pointed at it and said, “Serious bizniz” in his fabulous Jamaican reggae legend voice. I asked him why he was taking photos of the desk. “So the people at home see I’m about some serious bizniz.” Later, when I let the hardware designer Matthaeus know that the last of the Studio One greats liked his industrial design he was pretty chuffed. Production rehearsals were a blast; we had a great time and used the LTC workflow I described in an earlier blog to do our “virtual production rehearsal”. Basically the band can sit at front of house to see and hear the whole production. Because I record the LTC to a Pro Tools track as part of my virtual soundcheck, I can feed that code from a direct out on my desk to the visual department who run their show from the same code.

I have to say that hearing the band mixed on S6L through a PA for the first time was an extraordinary feeling. I’d been very happy with the way the S3L had sounded a year or so earlier, but this was a whole different level. As an engineer I was delighted and as a designer I was proud as hell. Happy days.

EQ’s, dynamics, and plug-ins

So what did I change in my show? The first thing I did was to flatten all the EQ’s and start again. I’m a firm believer in getting out of the way of the signal flow. If you have a good source, the right microphone in the correct position, a good preamp and convertor feeding a good PA system, it should be really close to perfect without having to “mess” with the sound. Oh my days did it sound good just flat all the way from mic to PA. Of course a little HPF here and LPF there are always needed, but without using any EQ or dynamics I could get a really solid starting mix. I then started to process individual channels a little. For the kick drum mics, I boosted the low end and scooped a little low mid out, added a little top end shelf boost on hats and overheads, but most of the channels were pretty flat—definitely flatter than I’d ever had them before. I used only the onboard gates; they are so clear and responsive I didn’t even think about using an external device or plug-in. I also used the channel compressors for the drums—again lightning-fast and transparent. Using a little gate and comp and EQ, all from the desk’s channel processing, the kick drum was thumping me in the chest in a way I haven’t felt since analogue desks through point source speakers. Welcome back old friend, I’ve missed you—pity you didn’t bring back all the thick dark hair I had in those days as well.

I then started to add a few plug-ins. I’m not a huge fan of the trend to put multiband compressors on everything. It seems that some people use them to give singers speech impediments. “Wad id somedin dey ‘(s)aid?” However, I did use the new Avid Pro Multiband on the two bass channels (Pre and post effects), and was really pleased with the result. I split the bands so that they crossed over where the PA split between the subs and the flown lows, then again at around 300Hz, and finally at 800. The bottom end in MA is very important and needs to be strong and forceful but under control. With the Pro Multiband inserted I could gently control the way the bass was being sent to different parts of the PA allowing it to be musical and deep without ever overloading any part of the system. There are also a couple of vintage synths delivering venue shaking sub tones at certain points in the set. I use the channel comp with a high ratio to keep those hounds on the leash. Analogue is said to be warm, original, and real, or alternatively, never sounds the same twice, open to pilot error, disaster waiting to happen. You choose.

We have a lot of other synths and sampled keyboard lines. I use the Sonnox Oxford Dynamics plug-in to keep those tidy and sitting comfortably in the mix. I also often use the “warm” option just to analogue them up a bit depending on the sound and the song. All the settings are stored with my snapshots and change on a per song or even part of song basis. For reverbs I use the Revibe that comes with the desk and the Sonnox Oxford verb. I love the difference in detail in the new version of these plug-ins. The Oxford reverb tails fade out so naturally. It places the instrument or voice in a natural, three-dimensional space. I love that there’s a fader to balance the early reflections against the reverb. Try messing around until you have only the ER. It’s a great tool. I’ve always used the Revibe on vocals: from The Manics to Coldplay to Alt J and everyone in between. Now it sounds even grander and more detailed. Studio A is the preset I start from if you’re curious. I’ve had the same headphones for the last twenty years as well. I’m a great believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

First shows

We had a couple of warm up shows in Dublin at the lovely Olympia Theatre. If you’ve never mixed there, it has the worst mix position in the world, under a balcony that curves down in front of you. I seemed to be surrounded by hundreds of very chatty people who couldn’t wait to tell each other all the gossip at the top of their voices even during the quiet bits. So I didn’t really get to enjoy the subtleties of the band/mix/desk until the first proper shows in the UK. We had a K2 rig from Ad Lib Audio on the tour with my good friend Tony Szabo designing and tuning the system every day. It’s a great feeling knowing that the rig will sound as good as it possibly can each day with someone you trust making it sing and fill every corner of the room. It freed me up to get on with the job of mixing the band. I’d set up my desk and get out of the way, making catering look untidy, whilst Tony worked his voodoo with pink noise and lasers. When I got the nod that all was ready I’d play “Paradise Circus” on the PT rig in virtual soundcheck mode and have a walk around with Tony. Sometimes we’d make little adjustments here and there but usually I didn’t have much to add. I would send LR and sub to Tony from my Matrixes and a further mix or two of infills and outfills depending on the shape of the room. There are five mic positions across the front of the MA stage used by nine different vocalists during the show. One of the challenges is to make sure that none of the PA or infills are behind or in line with any of those mics. Some of our vocalists are pretty quiet and to get them above the sometimes loud and challenging music I have to have them pretty open. Some of the hang points in some of the venues meant we had to move the front line a little further upstage than originally planned. Hunter the LD was very relaxed about front line position as most of the show is backlit. The only issue would be if the overhead lights were actually in front of the vocalist so you could see their faces. The design was to be all light from behind with strong silhouettes in front of a huge video wall that moved and changed throughout the show. The odd occasion I looked up from my desk the visuals were spectacular.

Brixton Academy

I don’t know if you’ve ever worked at Brixton Academy, but its one of my favourite gigs anywhere. It was built as a cinema in the 1920’s and became a gig in the seventies. It has a crazy Italian village Proscenium Arch surrounding the stage as if it’s a set for Romeo and Juliet—nobody’s ever explained to me why. Some legendary shows have happened there; the Clash and the Pistols played there, Madonna, Iron Maiden, The Police, Clapton, Dire Straits, and some Reggae giants too. I remember seeing Peter Tosh there when I was a teenager. My favourite gigs there have been mixing The Manics, but also I’ve had awesome shows with The Vines, Findlay Quaye, The Thrills, and many others. In fact I found out my wife was pregnant with our first boy when I was standing on that stage! (He’s at University now). I’m not sure how many artists I’ve mixed there, let alone shows, but it feels like a home from home to me. It holds five thousand people standing, and because of the sloping floor and high stage, everyone can see really well. It’s not the greatest sounding room, but when it rocks it really ROCKS! A lovely little quirk of the place which I always love to show to people new to the venue is that, just in front of the stage, there is a hidden cupola above the false ceiling. If you stand in just the right spot you can get an amazing flutter echo that’s lasts for five or six seconds. It’s in triplets, so when you clap you get “Didudu Didudu Didudu” over and over and the pitch modulates. Awesome. We were there for three nights and had the best time.

We’d upgraded to K1 for the biggest gig of the UK leg of the tour and had enough sub-bass to rattle the old rock and roll ghosts. It was the first time I’d mixed there for maybe a decade, and my goodness technology has moved on. I remember stacking up huge S4 cabs at the side of the stage back in the day until we had a huge wall of sound. It was deafening at the front and had run out of steam half way up the room. Now with my S6L and Tony’s modern line array the sound was right in my face. I had to check my local monitors were switched off, the sound was so close to me. The S6L in combination with a great line array seems to give a really three-dimensional sound. We have a really wide and accurate stereo, but also a sense of depth in the other plain—the top end seems to fly around the top of your head and the sub in your guts and the bass thumping your chest. I’ve even had people ask me if we had speakers at the back of the room. There’s a kind of psycho acoustic surround sound going on. I haven’t ever had so much fun spinning in delays and losing myself in the mix. I love mixing and never felt so confident that the sound I was hearing in my head and wanted to communicate to the audience was what they are hearing. The genius thing is that I can get it from the desk with such ease and simplicity. I’m having pure adventures in audio not fighting my way through some torturous workflow. Time of my life.

 

This summer I’ll be touring with Massive Attack at loads of Euro festivals. Pass by and say hello if we’re on the same bill. I’ll be happy to spend some time with you showing off my pride and joy if you have a few minutes to spare. If not, check out some of videos I’ve made with my colleague Chris Lambrechts, including an S6L system overview, instructions of how to install and activate S6L’s VENUE software, and how to create a system restore key. You can also check out a video interview that I did with EventElevator from the MA tour here.

 

All the best audio chums

VENUE | S6L Now Available

The next stage in live sound is here—with the award-winning VENUE | S6L system, you can take on the world’s most demanding productions with ease.

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VENUE | S6L 10K Tour Comes to Southern Europe

After a couple of weeks in Berlin having fun showing off our pride and joy in the sumptuous S6L and picking the brains of our genius German and Swiss audio chums, we had to pack it all in the van again. Next stop Paris. I got time off for bad behavior and skedaddled to the flughafen whilst Chris and Ansgar shared the driving duties. Parking the van for the weekend at Chris’s roadie retreat in Belgium, Ansgar flew home and Chris put on his weekend clogs. If you’ve just stumbled on this and have no clue what the frequency I’m going on about; the back-story starts here.

Presenting to French Roadie Société

Chris and I reconvened bright and early the next Monday in the plush warehouse/office/rehearsal facility of DuShow quite close to CDG. We were joined for our Paris sojourn by our suave Avid audio colleague Joffrey, Southern Euro sales colleagues Seb and Jean-Gab and our Best Audio partner—somewhat confusingly—also a Seb. I have to be really careful when I’m sending an email to one Seb gossiping about the other that I don’t get my Sebs in a twist. We were also honored by the presence of the head honcho of Avid Audio in EMEA, Tim H.—the only MBA exec I know who gets stuck in and helps load the van! Maybe (and don’t mention it in the boardroom because it’s a secret) it’s because before he got all genius with a spreadsheet and went to exec school he toured as a FOH/monitor engineer. Just shows you can take a roadie, educate him, put him in a good suit and all the rest, but one sniff of a van and some gear to be loaded, instinct kicks in and a microsecond later he’s pushing a flight case up a ramp before you can say “jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

I have to say we were really looking forward to this one. I’ve got some good friends in France and I was looking forward to their input and opinions. I wasn’t disappointed! We all had some intense conversations over the next couple of days. Not that I could understand everything. You see an interesting twist in this week’s roadie-tour hang out was the fact that we had to conduct proceedings in French. Up until this point Chris and I had been tag-teaming the demo/presentation/chat in English with occasional bits of translation by local colleagues. Now, I studied French along with everyone else my age at school, but I grew up in a pretty rough area of Scotland. Schools with windows, rather than wooden boards where there had once been windows, were considered elitist. You can imagine standing up in front of a class of riotous, hormone-crazed, radg-wee-heid-the-ba’s, jeering and baying for blood if you used even a slight French accent whilst subjugating verbs, was a little challenging. So my French extends to mumbling something about the book being on the table and asking what hour it is. Neither of those had come up much in our previous discussions, so in somewhat of a role reversal, I had to leave all the talking up to Chris. French is the second of his myriad tongues and he seemed to hit the spot. There was a lot of nodding over the next couple of days and some of the crème de la crème of French Roadie société passed by plein of interesting ideas and they all gave us a very positive réaction.

Chris flies solo in Sorbolo

Sorry I wasn’t there. I love it there so much as well. Stefano our partner is a close friend but I had a week’s holiday in the Pyrenees with my wife and kids and our close friends A and P and their kids. It was planned long before we even thought of undertaking our mad ten thousand kilometer quest, so Chris was on his own. I had a lovely time though, walking in the mountains, playing guitars with A and generally not talking about mixing desks. Meanwhile, Chris was in Italy flying solo. In an exclusive extract from his collected works he had this to say:

“Robb’s turn to take a well deserved week off from the Tour, so time to call in some help. Jeremy Rodeschini—one of our Live Sound support specialists—happily volunteered to join me for the task of driving the 1,000 km our precious desks had to cover to get to Sorbolo in Italy, the home of our Italian reseller, Audiosales. We started the Tour back in April in the UK followed by the Nordics. All in mild spring temperatures and the humidity one would expect from those regions. Ending up in the southern parts of Europe towards the summer, Jeremy and I puffed our way through the southern part of the French Alps into Italy for the upcoming 2 days of S6L 10k Tour events at Audiosales.”

“Like many other of our live sound partners throughout Europe, the people at Audiosales have become good friends over the years, as well as excellent business partners. They have one of the most beautiful (air-conditioned!) demo rooms out there and the crew is a delight to work with. Alice makes sure that everything runs smoothly from the admin side. Davide is their live sound expert and Stefano manages the place, as one would expect from an Italian Godfather!”

 

“Since the beginning of the tour I’ve had my road(ie) bike in the back of the van. Granted, so far it had not seen a lot of use except for a couple of short pre-breakfast rides in the Nordics, but when Stefano (owner of Audiosales) saw the bike he suggested we go for a ride after day 1. And so we did …. The plan was to go out for a “short”, “quick” ride while everybody else—the Audiosales and Avid teams—would wait for us to finish before going out to dinner that evening.

“I was soon to find out that Stefano had a 20+ years active competition experience of mountain biking in his legs. I have 20+ years of occasional snooker and darts in the local pub in my legs! We did 60 km, including a climb in the Apennines—needless to say it ended up being a LONG ride. I hereby apologize to everybody who had to wait for us for over 3 hours. And yes, I would definitely do it again because it was one of the nicest rides I have ever done—thanks Stefano!”

Bringing the tour home to Spain

After my vacation in the Pyrenees, I rejoined the 10K Tour for the next stop. After getting out of bed at stupid o’clock and flying to Milan, Chris and I met up with Stefano. He had got out of bed at a ridiculous hour and left his beautiful, sleeping family to bring us the van from Sorbolo and save us a couple of hours driving— thanks again Stefano! So off we set to cross the Alps, a bit of southern France and down into my homeland, Spain. Like Hannibal, but in the opposite direction. Instead of elephants we had two audio beasts with us! One small point of order I have to mention: It seems that van hire companies in Belgium don’t feel the need to put air conditioning in their vans. This I can understand—Chris swears there are a couple of days there when it stops raining and a pale and infirm sun timidly pops its head from behind a cloud just long enough to have you momentarily remove your jumper. Van rental companies seem not to believe him though, so A/C is surplus to requirements in the land that gave us Rene Magritte, Adolphe Sax, Rubens and Audrey Hepburn (no, I didn’t know that one either).

Fortunately we were now in my part of the world. The sun drenched, Mediterranean fringed, beating heart of Europe. Unfortunately it was 30 degrees centigrade in a van built for Belgian weather conditions. It would be like giving a van to my Finnish brethren in January without a heater. On the outside the world was beautiful: mountains, rivers, and the like—everywhere you looked a pretty postcard. On the inside the world was reduced to a sweaty roadie hell, like a sauna without the birch twigs or the possibility of exiting. I’m pretty sure I didn’t complain too much though, maybe like a T.V. presenter without a hot meal, or a pop star actually paying for something. You’d better check with Chris.

The next day we set up in the offices of SeeSound, our Spanish distributor. Alex and Nacho had everything ready and in couple of hours we were done. We had the luxury of an evening off and some fabulous food in Sitges, the little seaside town where I live. The next day it was my turn to do all the talking (honestly, when is it not?). I talked for two days solid in my comedy-accent Spanish. When things are a little dull here at Casa Roadie, one of my kids will ask me to say something in Spanish as my answer is guaranteed to get the whole household laughing. Apparently I have the worst Spanish accent ever, like Fawlty Towers’ Manuel in reverse. Still, managed to get through a couple of days of mixing-desk-chat in my roadie-Spanglish.

We had some great guys drop by, top theatre designers Roc Mateu and Fabio Amantini in Barcelona and Javier Isequilla in Madrid. The world of the theatre designer/operator is very different to the one where I learned my chops. However, over the last few years I’ve been busy quizzing everyone I know about the workflows, audio needs, and problems they face everyday. I’ve sat with all these guys and watched them work, and learned a whole new way to think about mixing and would like to thank them for their generosity in sharing their craft. I also have to mention Gareth Owen in this respect—a great friend of ours who has always been included early in our thinking and has some inspirational ideas.

We’ve already had some orders for big national theatres all over Europe for the S6L and I truly believe we have some great solutions specific to theatre workflows, born of conversations we’ve had here and in the US with our theatre colleagues. Had some absolutely wonderful freelance engineers pass by as well: Pedro Gonzalez in Barna, Michael Martin, Virgilio Fernandez, and Jose Maria Rosillo in Madrid. Guys I’ve known for years, they were full of enthusiasm and had some great feedback to give us for the project. I must mention my great friend Jose Dalama who came by to check out the S6L even though it was his birthday!! We brought along an especial S6L cake for him and after a typical lengthy, well-oiled lunch, we ate it washed down by some lovely cava and sang him compleanos feliz. Always a joy to see you Dalama, you don’t look a day over forty, like me! You’ll see him behind an S6L soon at some huge gig.

Crossing the desert

To get the desk from Barcelona to Madrid, Alex and Nacho volunteered to drive. It’s straight across the “Los Monegros” desert. Makes the drive that Chris and I just finished seem like a cool breeze. I’d told them the van had no air-conditioning but they didn’t believe me. They thought I was winding them up. Me? As if! The more I insisted I was telling the truth, the more I sounded like I was teasing them. They didn’t actually know it had no A/C until we’d finished loading the van and they jumped in the front and spent ten minutes looking for the ‘AC on’ button. Check out their photos! The next day after “Dalama’s S6L birthday party”, in a studio owned by the equivalent of the PRS, Chris and I had to do the return leg back across the plains. Blimey, can’t write any more about sweaty roadies, but oh my days!

Then we were done.

Just like that.

For the love of audio

10,000 km, 11 countries, 14 cities—and most importantly—more than 500 sound engineers came to check out our S6L tour. I’m not going to get sentimental, but thank you my Euro audio family, everyone—that was awesome. Had some of the best conversations ever, not just about desks, which reconfirmed what I’ve always known: our industry is full of lovely, witty, dedicated enthusiasts who just love sound. Chris and I do too. We get in the van after talking audio all day to talk more audio all the way to the next destination (occasionally though, Chris will talk about bikes or I’ll talk about guitars). Then we’ll get on con-calls to talk more audio with the S6L team: Robert Scovill, my American brother-from-another-mother; Ryan John, our brilliant new member; Al McKinna, product manager (and soon to be bridegroom); and Sheldon Radford, our team “captain”.

Like everyone we’ve met on this tour, audio is our obsession. Our passionate belief and design goal for the S6L is that it will be our community’s best-ever tool. It will enable us to do the thing we all get out of bed for—make the thing we all eat and breathe and discuss endlessly, better. The S6L will let us mix sound in a new way, so that the musicians and artists we work with sound better than they ever have in a live situation, so they connect with their audience in ever more powerful and meaningful ways. I’m dying to mix a show on this bad boy and I can’t wait until the next Massive Attack tour to mix my favorite band on it—I know so many of you are as well. We’re working on the final tweaks and adjustments to workflows with lots of your ideas incorporated. First production batch will arrive in the autumn. It’s been a long journey. See you at a gig or festival soon.

Thanks!

Special thanks to our partners who organized the events locally, provided the space, the catering, and the enthusiasm.

Ingo and his team who make sure that all the random bits of video Chris and I shoot get organized and edited into something coherent. Derk and Ben for editing my roadie ramblings into something resembling sentences.

Finally, thanks to Tim H. and Tim C. who approved this roadie madness in the first place.

Our VENUE | S6L 10K Tour partners:

UK

SSE

HD Pro

Wigwam

Denmark

Cyber Farm

Sweden

Arva Trading

Norway

Benum

Finland

Soitin Laine

Estonia

Eventech

Poland

Konsbud

Germany

S.E.A.

France

Best Audio

Italy

Audiosales

Spain

SeeSound

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VENUE | S6L 10K Tour Berlin Residency

Robb at BBM

If you happened to have bumped into any of the other meandering rambles in this audio/travel series you’ll know the plot. I’m traveling round Europe with my audio partner, Chris Lambrechts, showing the delight and unbridled audio horsepower of our new mixing monster, the Avid VENUE | S6L. We will visit 11 countries, 15 cities, drive more than 10,000 km and talk to 500 audio brethren. So now after relentless travellin’, roadyin’, travellin’, roadyin’, we pitch up in Berlin for a two week residence at the uber hip Black Box Music. Chris, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, is having a week off to climb mountains on a bicycle. “Why would he want to be doing that?” I hear you all asking. I dunno, my best guess is it might be an extreme reaction to living in Belgium or something—you’ll have to ask him.

Martin Kaiser, André Rauhut (Complete Audio)

Marathon at Black Box

Anyway, as I was saying, we have two weeks in the same spot at the afore mentioned BBM (Black Box Music), my rental company of choice when I need some bits and bobs like speakers and amps to get the band a bit louder in these parts (you can see last year’s video about the Massive Attack tour filmet at Tempodrom, Berlin, PA as supplied by the BBM). Now, I’ve spent most of my audio life working with mainly UK rental companies, particularly Brit Row and Wigwam. Wouldn’t swap either of them for the world; technically superb and the loveliest people in Rock. Bryan and Mike at Brit Row and Mick, Geoff, and Alex at Wigwam I consider old and trusted friends. You wouldn’t however describe their respective warehouses as “hip”. You’ll get a lovely cup of tea but no style tips. BBM however looks like a magazine shoot in the Face circa 1990. There are matt-black cars for hire, like tattoos on wheels, outside the building next to Big Black ‘artics’ in the loading bay with the BBM skull and cross sm58 logo on the sides. Inside the repurposed post-industrial complex, it’s all white or grey walls, pale wood floors, huge windows and bits of antique audio kit as ART installation – Pretentious moi?? – but in a rock and roll kind of way. Right up my Strasse, as you can probably guess if we have even a nodding –“hello mate-how’s it goin’? -have you seen Davo recently?” type passing acquaintance. Ask Deptford Andy or JDB about the nose flute music at The Jazz Café if you need affirmation. I digress hideously, sorry.

Olsen Involtini (FOH Rammstein, Seeed, Peter Fox)

So as I was saying, cool surroundings and no Chris (busy trying for a premature heart attack in the Alps), but I did have my, also uber-hip colleague, Ansgar, helping out—the only roadie chum my kids judge as “cool”. Talking about urban hipsters; also working the room were Kai and Jonas from SEA, our German reseller partners. They look like pop stars from that well-known boy-band Eine Richtung. I felt like everyone’s Dad and they never let me forget it. Endless gags about how old/slow/out of shape/grey/forgetful I was. Ah well, it’s all paid for.

Now, some of my friends might want to sit down for this next bit (you know who you are, Mr. W, Swanny), but Ansgar has a terrible allergy—he’s allergic to alcohol, poor boy. It’s true he just needs to look at the stuff and he goes bright red and needs to sit down for a bit!! However, that doesn’t stop him being loads of fun. You might have seen his walk on part in one of our earlier videos, giving his version of street dancing. Check it out here (about 1 minute in). Don’t tell him I told you about it though, he’s quite sensitive.

Ansgar Liem (Avid)

Meeting the locals

You know what they say about German Roadies—its all true. They’re so clever and technical it’s frightening. I remember being admonished by a PA tech at an early Manic’s gig: “I do not think you have read the manual for zis piece of equipment.” Totally true mate! Just bluffing it as usual, like everyone else I knew (except maybe Dr. Nelson and M.C.). I more or less knew how to find, save, (just about), and abuse the two settings I liked on the PCM 70 he was prodding his finger at. Happy Days.

So first in the door whilst I was still setting up came two of my favorite German audio chums, Horst and Stefan. They were prepping for a tour downstairs and popped their head round the door. Horst is a fierce monitor engineer often to be found at the other end of the multicore from my great friend Madders—recommendation enough for me. Stefan is a great mixer and also a top system tech. You don’t often get that combo nowadays. Anyway we had a good laugh and caught up with each other’s stories. It took about two minutes to show these guys the workflow. In fact I think they just worked it out whilst I told some long-winded roadie tale. They were very happy with it and then spent the next ten minutes suggesting all kinds of improvements. I got out my little black moleskin notebook and took it all down. One of the great things about this tour has been showing the desk at quite an early stage, before everything is nailed down, as it were. It means we can tap into the collective roadie hive mind and tweak our concepts to fit the world we live in. I really believe you can’t sit in the proverbial ivory tower and prescribe what way people should work in a modern digital workflow. It’s been brilliant to get first hand feedback from four hundred plus audio professionals, my peer group, and feed all that knowledge and experience back to the design team. Chris and I go out of our way to ask as many questions as we answer.

Dennis Dackweiler (Feedback Show Systems), Tobias Wallraff (Friedrichstadtpalast), Serge (FOH for Kraftwerk)

Tapping the collective experience

Mr. Scovill and myself have about eighty years behind a mixing desk between us. I think and hope that that has been useful in the process of developing these consoles, but the 400 engineers we’ve spoken to have maybe 8,ooo years pushing faders, in every kind of audio situation imaginable. How powerful is that?? Avid’s credo is to connect the artist with the audience in as powerful and meaningful a way as possible. Our community has always done that. It’s what we do, right? enable the audience to hear the musical intention of the artist on the stage as honestly and clearly as we can. So let me thank you for sharing all your positive feedback and brilliant ideas. We can’t design a desk by committee, but we’d be crazy not to consult the best-qualified experts in the field. As I always say, only half jokingly, “I’ll steal your best ideas and pretend they were mine!!”

Over the next week we met some quite brilliant engineers most with a background mixing on VENUE. It is the industry standard in many ways. However, there were plenty of engineers who had mainly used other consoles and they could be quite challenging, and I really enjoyed talking to them too—maybe even more. So much knowledge passed through that room, we were absolutely buzzing at the end of each day.

Chris Lambrechts and Kai Sowka (S.E.A.)

Welcoming the Swiss

Anyway, it turns out Chris survived pedaling up the mountains and we arrived back reunited for the second week in town. First up, a whole gang of colleagues flew in on the Monday from Switzerland. I’d like to say it all went like clockwork, but that would be too easy a gag so pretend I didn’t, cos its cheesy, might threaten their neutrality, offend the Gnomes, and I could lose my secret banking rights! OK, got it out my system. Had a lovely day showing the guys round the desk. Several I knew from Montreux Jazz festival, maybe my favorite festival, over there by the lake, lovely and clean and well organized.

Wrapping it up

So well rested was Chris from his week free of roadying duties he suggested we make a couple of hardware and software updates to the two beta build consoles we had with us. We waved our Swiss chums off to the airport and got out our tools. Turned into a bit of a long night. I should explain that there is a lot of stuff going on under the hood that we make simple and user friendly by the time we release a product. Before that it’s all telnetting in and coding in the registry. I haven’t a Scooby Doo either—thank the roadie gods that Chris does. We finally typed in: shutdown –s –t 0 at stupid o’clock and went to bed. The desks, however, had several new pages and features for the edification of our audio audience. Over the next couple of days we had some great fun. Highlight for me was a session with a couple of audio guys I’ve known for a million years. Willie, who I met mixing on tour when my oldest boy was a baby (he’s now at university!). Willie always calls me “Island Monkey”. I think it’s affectionate, not too sure. There’s also the fantastic Bodo, so much energy and enthusiasm; Holgar, who is at the Hadg/Nelson end of the brainbox scale; and too many other pals to mention by name. Anyway, it was great to see them and loads of other top guys I’ve met over the years. Felt like I’d had an intensive course in the brain academy by the end. We finally packed it all up and then Klaus, Horst, Stefan, myself, and the gang, all went out for an end-of-tour dinner by a canal. Apparently Berlin has more canals than Amsterdam. Who would have thunk it.

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VENUE | S6L 10K Tour Through the Baltics

VENUE S6L 10K Tour through the Baltics

Had a great time in Sweden, land of the green. Because of enlightened tax breaks, it apparently costs the same to have a top of the range Tesla as it does a Polo for your company car. Olof at Arva Trading has one of course: 0-100kmph in 3 seconds. I was too scared to sit in it. I drive a very old Land Rover that does 0-100kmph eventually.

Saw some old friends and met some new ones too. Nordic people, it seems to me, love new technology, and our S6L was incredibly well received. A high percentage of the first models to leave the factory will be heading for Northern Europe. We had a great turn out and some insightful thoughts from our Swedish roadie chums.

“High-fives” in Finland

So, we kind of cheat on the next part of the journey—our previously mentioned guitar-totting, rock-fiend chum, Michael Bohlin, brought the van on the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki whilst Chris and I had the weekend at home to wash our socks and recover our voices. I can’t say I’m sorry I missed that one; 17 hours of mad drinking, Nordic cruisers with nothing but Scando-karaoke and a band, playing Finnish Tango for the elderly to dance to for amusement!! Apparently it’s a thing, Finnish Tango! Not really Michael’s thing though, as you’ll know if you’ve seen him strutting around Euro festival stages with his band, Pain. Though I think he had a serious bonding session with a single malt from my neck of the woods to get him through it. Thanks Mica—you took one for the team!

Mikko Salinen (Mon Sunrise Avenue), Mats 'Skuggan' Wennersten (FOH & Director of Ears & Eyes AB), Robb Allan

Finnish roadies. Man, you wouldn’t want to play poker with these dudes. If these guys played their cards any closer to their chests they’d be behind their backs. I’m a Celt; so naturally a gregarious, storytelling kind of a fella by birth. Ask anyone! By environment, by osmosis after 16 years living in Spain, I’ve absorbed the expressive, emotional way of being in the world. This puts me at the opposite end of the European cultural personality spectrum to these fellas. But hey, that’s the fun of travelling, and these guys love audio, are really clever, and have a deep dry sense of humour they let you see only when you finally bond. Chris, being Belgian and analytical by nature, is somewhere in between the two camps. We’re not exactly a laughin’-in-the-aisles rock ‘n’ roll party here, but I think the odd upward thrust of a beardy chin translates as a “YAHOOO!!” where I come from. Still, by the end of a long day’s demoing, in serious and grown up manner, we have a whole new bunch of friends and orders for ten consoles. Ossi, our sanguine partner in these parts, says he is quite satisfied and almost smiles. I say, “It feels like a high five moment dude, but I can’t tell from your face.” I force him to high five me anyway. If you can imagine Scotty coercing Spock into a high five you’ll get the picture.

Robb Allan, Jukka Hyvärinen (FOH Pariisin Kevät), Kimmo Ahola (FOH Nightwish)

I honestly think that the way we can teach any engineer the fundamental workflow of S6L in five minutes flat makes everyone want to work on the desk, whether we have a language (or sense of humour) in common or not. I mean, it looks gorgeous and you want to be seen standing behind it, but you also want to mix on it because it’s so comfortable and easy to find your way around. One of our Finnish chums says it makes him want to touch it. We had a design goal that you should be able to walk up to the console at a festival, seeing it for the first time, and five minutes later be positive that you can deliver the goods. It has to be powerful and elegant, but not intimidating. The feedback that we’ve been getting as we cross the chilly Northlands is that we’ve done exactly that.

On to Tallinn

So we tear it all down, pack the van, and head for the Helsinki ferry to Tallinn. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Tallinn but it’s a beautiful town. The centre is medieval, all cobblestones and weird little building with turrets. It looks like the kind of place in those old Hammer Horror movies, where the villagers chased Frankenstein’s monster out of town with pitchforks and flaming torches. Great spot for a weekend break. There’s a restaurant near the main square that only sells food and drink that were available in the Middle Ages. So no beer, wine, potatoes, rice, pasta, distilled spirits, any Mediterranean vegetables, or a whole bunch of stuff we take for granted. There’s also no electricity, just loads of candles and roaring open fireplaces—it’s very atmospheric. All the staff are dressed in the old Dracula/Frankenstein villagers kit. Genius! You eat trout or wild boar with root vegetables and bulgur wheat, washed down with cider or mead. Awesome.

So our man in Estonia, Kristo, and our German colleague, Ansgar, met us from the ferry around midnight at Kristo’s studio. We were stopped coming off the ferry, by the way, by the local constabulary—obviously we looked a bit shady. They had a quick look in the back of the van and let us go. I was relieved! I thought we might be locked up, chained to a dungeon wall, or put in stocks or such like. Chris told me not to be so ridiculous. Fair enough, I was just getting into the vibe. We unloaded and finally got to the hotel at two in the morning. Fortunately the bar was still open. Absolutely needed a G and T bracer after such a long day—medicinal purposes only, it goes without saying.

We only had a brief couple of hours in Tallinn making the S6L jump through hoops for the local roadie community. We actually worked out that there are more VENUE systems per capita in Estonia than any other country in the world!! So although the actual numbers were small, everyone in attendance actually owned an S3L or Profile or one or more of our other consoles. We even had a couple of guys drive over from Riga in Latvia to get a peek at the future of live sound mixing—a ten hour round trip.

Diplomatic fracas in Latvia

Speaking of Latvia, that was our next stop, just for an overnight on the way to Warsaw where we were having our next demo session. Unfortunately Angela Merkel’s people and our people had forgotten to synchronize the calendars; the result being that when we got to our Hotel, there was quite a heavy Police presence. When we pulled up outside our hotel we were instantly surrounded by the local boys in blue shouting at us in Latvian. Don’t know about you, but my Latvian is a little rusty. Chris speaks about five languages but he was no help either. However, as the gesturing and shouting and loosening of holsters became more insistent I kind of got the message they didn’t want us to stop there. So I drove off and we parked around the corner and walked back to find out what the Riga was going on. Turns out there was a bit of a get together with the aforementioned @angie_merkel and the new Greek chap, who doesn’t wear a tie, to have a friendly chat about who owes what to whom and when they’re going to pay. As it happens, most of the delegates were staying in our hotel, so the local plod saw us disreputable looking roadies rolling up in a foreign van and thought best to keep these chaps moving—could be anything in the back. When we finally managed to find a language in common and showed them we had lovely unthreatening audio kit in the back they allowed us back to park in the car park. Maybe we need to shave and put on suits, because we obviously looked very suspicious in the Baltics.

No rest in Warsaw

Estonia to Warsaw via Riga is a lovely drive—it’s a one-lane highway through a forest nearly all the way. Never seen so many wild flowers. What happened to them in the rest of Europe? Did they get banned? I must have missed that bit of news. Had a nice, five-minute break to admire the view of the dark and moody Baltic Sea as we went along, took some pictures—it’s not the Med, chaps. Finally arrived in Warsaw after a twelve-hour drive, never getting much beyond third gear. I did see a deer though, and a gazillion trees. Dropped the kit in the warehouse of our marvelous Polish partners, Konsbud, and dashed off to the airport to get home for the weekend.

Suitably refreshed and rested, we reassembled in Warsaw with our Polish pals. Agnieska and Jarek, the owners of Konsbud, had the most organized and intense line up of the tour so far. We had new groups of sound colleagues every hour on the hour from 10 until 6 with no break! They threw in the odd Scooby-snack to the demo room now and then to keep us from fainting. We showed 53 Polish engineers how the S6L does its thing over a nine-hour period. National TV, radio, major theatres, rental companies—I’m pretty sure anyone that has ever pushed a fader for a living in Poland passed by. Got some great feedback and inspired ideas. We were tired out but also really lifted by the response and interest we had there. Chris snuck off early for a week’s holiday riding his bike in the Alps with his lovely wife, while I drove the van to Berlin with Ansgar. Next week we will have to face the tremendous brainpower and attention to detail of the entire German pro-audio community. Bring it on, can’t wait!!

Robb Allan, Tomasz Lewandowski (monitors Astral Concert & Play), Jarek Denis (monitors for Bracia Figo Fagot)

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VENUE | S6L 10K Tour in Scandoland

For the next leg of the S6L 10K tour, my cohort Chris Lambrechts picked me up in Dusseldorf and we drove the van pretty much non-stop to Copenhagen, with a bit of a ferry in the middle. We arrived in the evening and loaded in. No fork lifts this time, just a moody lift! Our partners in Denmark, Cyber Farm, have a lovely studio kitted out with loads of cool analogue stuff, preamps and compressors etc. We set up our two unabashedly digital and proud consoles—one in the live room and one in the control room. We also had three S3L-X’s in the corridor to explore our “True Gain” preamp sharing without tears and gain tracking workflow.

You can now have three desks sharing the same analogue preamps and not really notice that there are any other engineers involved. We all have 10 to 60 dB gain control and a pad (even the slaves), so everybody feels like they are controlling the head amp. Your show file just has a gain value whether you’re connected to the stage box by yourself or with one or two mates—no programming, IP addresses, or whatever. Mixing, not IT networking!!

Reminiscing about Teppanyaki

We got everything up and running with tidy cables and gleaming touchscreens and popped out for a bite. Had some lovely Teppanyaki food near our hotel. I was telling Chris about this amazing place we always used to go to in Shinjuku where a couple of chefs would sit in the middle of a horse-shoe bar cross legged on the floor and cook amazing seafood, Kobe beef, and vegetables on a wood fired grill in front of you. When it was ready they’d put it on these huge wooden paddles and stretch it out to you maybe two meters away. These fellas would be dripping in sweat and had huge muscly arms from all that lifting and stretching. They served the large bottles of beer that way as well, so they got plenty exercise when we were in town. They could do an hour shift before they were broken, at which point they’d get swapped out for another couple of chefs. This changing of the chefs was very ritualistic and involved chanting and clapping for some very good reason no one ever explained to us. Also, when you arrived the bloke at the door would shout out something at the top of his voice, then the chefs would reply at “eleven” as well, then the door bloke would reply to that and finally they’d chant a little phrase together. We had no idea what they were saying so we would amuse our selves by making up our own translations. This is one of the few fit for polite company:

“New fellas arriving, look like roadies.”

“OK, better gets loads of beer in the fridge.”

“Looks like they like their food too by the size of their bellies.”

Then in unison: “No doubt, no doubt, ha ha ha!”

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It’s a little known fact but most roadies are foodies. It’s an occupational hazard. You might be your basic meat and two veg fella when starting out on your career, but I guarantee you will be a slow food, boutique olive oil, 25 year old balsamic and artisan Parmigiano-Reggiano lover by the time you’ve been round the world a couple of times. My oldest friend, Davey C, is no exception—in fact he’s the roadie gastronomic archetype. I remember our first time together in Japan, mid 90s, mixing a punk female duet who had a one hit wonder there that went nuclear. They had the same management as the Manics so I’d got roped in and Davey also joined the circus. I’d promised Davey that we’d have the meal of our lives in the above-mentioned restaurant. The Promoter would always take you there on a sold out tour as a thank you and treat. I’d been bigging it up the whole time until everyone involved—session band and crew—was in a frenzy. Finally we were heading off to the tour’s highlight, taste buds at the ready. We all met in the lobby, eyes bulging with excitement on the way to foodie heaven, to be deflated by some really bad news. The “artists,” when told about this exceptional and mind bogglingly expensive restaurant, had told the promoters rep:

“Nagh, we don’t like that foreign food crap, can’t we go somewhere normal?” They couldn’t be moved despite our entreaties and the worst dirty looks imaginable. We ended up, and I choke to say this, in some Rock Café—McDonald’s with guitars on the walls!! Never in the history of rock and roll have a gang of food loving roadies and musos been so epicure blocked.

At Cyber Farm in Denmark

S6L Comes to Denmark and Norway

Anyway, back to the here and now of the 10K tour. The next morning we headed back to Cyber Farm with our Nordic colleague and metal guitar legend, Michael Bohlin (check out his band Pain). We met loads of really interesting Danish engineers from broadcast, theatre, and of course touring. They all loved our new beast of a desk, even the guys who’d previously been fans of another brand. They had some great ideas, too. I’ve actually pinched one of them and sent it to the team pretending it was mine—thanks clever Scando brother engineer!

Michael Bohlin posing with the S6L

Next up Oslo and my top mate Ronald the Viking who runs our distributor there, Benum. The first time I met him he asked me where I was from and I said, “Scotland.” “Aagh, that’s OK then, it means you have some Viking blood in you!” We’ve been best of friends ever since. He’s the size of a moose and twice as loud, God bless him—top chap. Again, a great turnout and some very interesting discussions on monitor workflows. This tour has been a great way to show off a prototype and get some great feedback from our audio chums and hopefully use that feedback to make the desk work the way everyone wants and needs.

Esters on the E18

Crossing Borders

After a weekend at home swapping the Nordic wind and rain for some Catalan sun and light gardening, we reassembled in Oslo to drive the kit pretty much straight East to Sweden. This of course involves a visit to the Customs with our carnet, as Norway isn’t properly in the EEU. The customs building was a cute wooden house in a pine forest, as if Hansel and Gretel had grown up and decided to check export certificates for a living. What a blast from the past, back in the day every time you crossed a border in Europe you had to have your carnet checked and stamped. This would often involve pulling all the kit out of the truck in some freezing car park so that the customs officers could see a particular box they picked at random. Much of Europe is close together and we crossed borders most days; major pain in the “backstage pass.” We would also have to get what we called “schitters” each day—spending money in local currency. You’d end the tour with pocketfuls of shrapnel all mixed up and useless. Three cheers for the common market and single currency.

Customs House

Inside Esters Café

Oslo to Stockholm took a leisurely seven hours, what a lovely drive. Beautiful scenery, lakes, mountains, pine trees, beautiful wooden farmhouses and churches. Felt like we were on a driving holiday, pity about the rain. We stopped at what must be the cutest truck stop in the world: Esters on the E18. It looked like some girl who had been in love with dollhouses opened a roadside café that was modeled on one of her childhood toys. All cute furniture and dainty cups. They made all there own cakes and chocolate too.

Showing off the new system

Even Chris who’s in training for a charity bike ride had a rhubarb tart. Don’t tell his wife!! Anyway we’re an hour out from Stockholm looking forward to seeing Olof the owner of Arva (our Swedish partners) and another old mate who, as well as being a Ferrari driving speed nut and top businessman, has the distinction of swearing in the most original fashion of anyone I know. Next week we’re in Helsinki, Tallin, and Warsaw. May the road be kind to all of us.

With Kenneth Vadset from Benum

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VENUE | S6L 10K Tour

VENUE S6L 10K Tour

OK , crikey, where to begin? Well, if you read any of my last missives on Avid Blogs, you’ll remember that I was taking time off from the day job to travel around the world mixing Massive Attack with the small and perfectly formed VENUE | S3L system. The thing I couldn’t tell you (though I wanted to really, really badly—industrial secrets and all that, you know), was that we were also working on the large, awesomely-formed and insanely powerful VENUE | S6L—the big, bad brother of the S3L. If you locked a Euphonix System 5 in a room with a VENUE | D-Show and let nature take its course, after the appropriate amount of time you’d have the genetically enhanced, super offspring that is the S6L. There are three different flavours of surface and two of the engine, any two of which can be combined with one or more I/O racks to meet your particular needs and edification (you can find details on the VENUE | S6L system here).

Chris Lambrechts with one of the S6L systems

What I’m going to write about in this series is the mad tour that me and my cohort, Chris Lambrechts, have embarked upon. We have two S6L prototypes in the back of a van, and we are going to spend the next two months driving them around Europe old school, showing their overwhelming beauty and general genius to our chums, old and new.

For roadies by roadies

I think I might have mentioned before how part of the touring life is about forming amazingly strong bonds with the people you tour with. I have rock and roll brothers that I trust (and have trusted) with my life: Davo, the two Deptfords, Cato, JDB, Davey C, and a whole bunch more. One of the great things about this tour is that it is by roadies for roadies. That’s right—how many times have I heard some wit in the back lounge remark with the loquacious authority of an Oscar Wilde that “touring would be great without the band and the audience getting in the way,” and everyone laughs, smiles, or nods sagely depending on how many times they’ve heard it before. Well chums, we’ve cracked it—this is actually that tour! We’re going to call it the “S6L 10K tour” because, well, that’s how far we have to drive and what we have in the back of the van. Original what? Chris is driving now actually. We’ve just got off the ferry in Denmark and I have my trusty lappy propped on my knee tapping away with two fingers. The best thing is I get to see as many of my comrades in black t-shirts from throughout the years as possible whilst leaning on the highly engineered armrest of the S6L.

On the ferry

UK Tour Stops

Last week we kicked off in the UK. Three days consecutively at SSE, Wigwam, and then John Henry’s for HD Pro Audio. Man, I saw so many old friends and newer ones I could scarcely believe it. Like we say, it’s a small world but I’d hate to mike it up. Rolly, who I toured with either end of the Manic’s multicore and who now runs a US company’s London wing; Madders of Pink and Sade fame; my dear friend and gentleman scholar, Huw, who helped me get my head around stadium gigs when I was still new (mixing the support while he mixed Oasis).

There was Danny from Elbow, Chicky from Prince, roadie royalty in the form of Big Mick, top West End sound designers, and a load more other chums too numerous to mention here for fear it would all get a bit lovey. I have to say though, they were all pretty blown away with the S6L’s that we brought along. I’m talking seasoned, leathery, old cynical roadies here—grinning and shaking their heads in surprise and delight. I haven’t been so proud since I played “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” in a band with my two sons on bass and drums at my 50th birthday party.

Loading S6L in for the Wigwam event

Next-gen VENUE To-do List

You see, I’ve been involved in this project since it was a just a to-do list on a whiteboard at Avid HQ San Francisco. We had ten years of feedback on the VENUE line of consoles ingrained in our minds and we were totally focused on answering every criticism, request, and romantic notion with this new generation. As ever, my colleague Robert Scovill and myself represented the wizened roadie demographic  in a small team led by Sheldon Radford, and we were joined slightly later (after he got the S3L out the door) by Al McKinna, Greg Kopchinski, and recent recruit Ryan John (who I’d first ran into at a festival in Iceland of all places). There is of course a giant team of brilliant engineers, software and hardware, who use their huge brains to make our ideas and wildest notions a reality.

We started by writing with a sharpie on huge sheets of paper. It had items such as:

  • 23 screws to get into the old FOH rack—never again—thumbscrews only! (the new engine only requires four)
  • Never want to be asked about bus count number ever again—let’s make it a huge number, even for smallest engine
  • Insane plug-in power
  • Confidence headphone amp in stage box
  • Best ever Pro Tools integration
  • Instant muscle memory so brain can mix
  • Loads of screens for visual feedback and navigation
  • Festival friendly
  • True gain sharing
  • Etc., etc.

We had really listened to everything our peer group had constructively and gently told us (honestly, roadies never whine or moan do they!!), and we wanted to incorporate it all. We wanted to take our beloved Profile and build from there to the limits of our imagination and the global Avid technological abilities.

Well brothers and sisters in audio adventures, I’ll be dropping the odd note periodically from the road to bring you up to date on our various tour stops and share more thoughts on S6L or come and check out our tour to see for yourselves how close we got to our ambitions.

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Giving a Good Slap

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

So that was that. A whirlwind of a summer spent crisscrossing Europe mixing Massive Attack on S3L (there’s about fifty earlier blogs if you’ve just tuned in).

I can’t remember having that much fun behind a mixing desk, ever. We finished our last show of the tour in Blackheath, London. Britannia Row, who I’ve worked with for 25 years, supplied a very good K2 rig that sounded great from the off, just as you’d expect. Best of all, Grace Jones opened for us. She was incredible—all 80’s glamour, costume changes, and surreal chat between songs. Wicked Jamaican band and sounded great too. Mixed on a Profile. I’ve had “Slave to the Rhythm” in my head ever since. “Heeeeeres Grace!”

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

“A Good Slap”

As ever when you finish a tour you have mixed emotions. Sad to leave your roadie comrades behind, delighted to go home to your family. No more back lounge rider, no more bus bunks. Things we might have improved, things that went well. Definitely feel that we left this tour on the positive side of the reckoning. I got a mail from a French sound engineer colleague talking about the audio, which said:

“MASSIVE ATTACK met une bonne claque partout où il passe”

Which I think literally means MA gave a good slap wherever they went. If that means we surprised, challenged, and made people reassess their preconceptions about audio, then job done. If that described the show as a whole, I think 3D, Daddy G and the band would be happy with it too. Wherever we went, audio colleagues and audience alike were astonished by how small the S3L was, its dynamic range, and the breadth of sounds it could produce. A member of the crowd at one gig said, “Does all that sound come out of that little desk?”

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

The show before Blackheath was in Paris at ‘Fete de L’Huma’, a huge celebration of life and humanity organized by France’s colourful and buoyant workers parties and trade unions. 80,000 people, biggest audience of the summer, danced, waved their flags, partied, ate amazing regional food and wine for the cost of the ingredients, and had a great time. Entrance for the whole weekend was 20 Euros! It just shows what kind of festival you can have when you work collectively. We had a huge K1 rig lovingly set up by Potar Hurlant, a major French rental house. It was great to see Madje again, their Technical Director and a famous audio enthusiast who mixes loads of cool French Artists like Air and Yael Naim. He was dying to see the S3L in action and is taking it out on his next tour.

The Video

In the middle of all this traveling, roadying and gigging, from Iceland in the North to Lebanon in the South and all stops in between we managed to make a video. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the tour. We check out what’s happening on the stage, some tech stuff: plugins, timecode etc. and generally talk about my approach to mixing Massive Attack. I should warn you that old grey roadie talking is my Dad. I’m much, much younger, thinner and my hair’s darker.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

So what have I learned on this tour?

  1. Size isn’t everything!
  2. I work in an industry full of lovely and eccentric people.
  3. Lebanon has the best tabouleh and hummus on the planet!
  4. Shellfish and dark rum don’t mix.
  5. Iceland is like nowhere else.
  6. P.A systems by d&b and L’Acoustic (and nearly everyone else) have gotten awesome.
  7. Statistically, if you play football you’re more likely to get bitten by a Suarez than a shark.

And the thing I set out to test:

How does the S3L, the object of my obsession for the last four years, perform in the real world? Man, it surprised even me, and everyone else I met by its radical reinvention of what a sound desk looks like, weighs like, operates like and sounds like. From rainy muddy fields to insanely high temperatures it just worked.

I watched local crew, even after I asked them to be careful, throw it around, drop it, bounce it hundreds of yards over cobblestones. It’s been craned over 30m medieval walls (Carcassonne castle!), flown in commercial and charter planes, cross-loaded to flatbeds to climb a mountain, on boats, trains and everything else possible (except camels, next tour)! By the end of the tour the flight-cases looked like they’d been in a war but everyday my desk just got on with its job, sounding high-end-studio sweet, recording to Pro Tools and following code.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

A new version of the operating system, VENUE 4.5, has just come out with loads of insanely good new features and a mind-boggling preamp sharing, gain tracking system. Looking forward to taking it to the next level in Mexico and US in October. Pass by the shows and say hello, leave a message here, or find me on LinkedIn.

THANKS (wiping away a manly tear)

I’d just like to thank my two audio chums on the tour. Paul (have you seen my) Hatt and Oliver (Gizmo) Twiby. Never been on such a harmonious team. Here’s a lovely photo of them.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

As I always say, “in audio it’s always about the source”, and on Massive we have three backline stars, so the source is always perfect. Nick Sizer, drums, who if they gave knighthoods for roadying would defo be Sir Nick, Gentleman and pun-master that he is; Jez, guitar wizard to the stars and the most charming man in rock; and Henry, MIDI maestro, who’s sideline in hot-sauces set my taste buds alight all summer. Check out Henry’s FOH sauce (it doesn’t mean front of house!).

I’d also like to thank Icarus, the video designer, a man who’s so smart we all consult the ‘Icapedia’ every day, Tim the LD who always had a spare ciggy for the ‘non-smoking’ audio crew and Euan, Pro Tools genius and smiler.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

Paul Hatt and Gizmo

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

Benny and David who managed the tour like a cross between an old peoples holiday and a military exercise and of course Massive Attack who remain the most amazing, talented, challenging and friendly artists I’ve ever worked for.

And thanks to you all for following my adventures with Massive over the past few months via this blog series—I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed it and I hope to hear from you!