The iconic Métropolis, located in the central part of Montréal’s downtown core, has hosted an array of memorable concerts by artists including David Bowie, Beck, Les Rita Mitsouko, Green Day, the White Stripes, Björk, and more. The club recently upgraded its live sound system with dual networked 24-fader VENUE | S6L consoles. I spoke with Reno Richard, head of sound for the 2,300 capacity venue, about the install and his experience in using the new systems.
HL: What is your experience with VENUE systems?
RR: I have been an occasional user of VENUE systems. At first I liked how you could easily tweak parameters with the mouse on the external screen, but I ironically started disliking that very feature because I always had my hand on the mouse and eyes on the screen. Now with the new surface all focus has come back to the desk. With 32 encoders with LED displays per knob module, I can basically mix a whole show without even glancing over to the external screen, except for plug-in and configuration purposes. Although the familiar ”mouse operator” feature is still there for those who prefer it.
HL: What triggered your decision and recommendation to upgrade the Métropolis mixing consoles with dual VENUE | S6L systems?
RR: We definitely needed a new up-to-date system and obviously needed to stay in the digital realm. Avid established its reliability and durability in the past with their previous systems, and their global popularity facilitates welcoming guest engineers. A huge feature is the file compatibility with previous VENUE software. Loading a file from an SC48 or Profile will translate to the S6L. This was definitely key to our decision, as most engineers will have a file of their show from when they mixed on VENUE console. It was also crucial for us to be able to rely on solid tech support while integrating a new system.
HL: What were your initial impressions of the system’s sound quality?
RR: As soon as I plugged in a microphone the major upgrade in the preamp quality was obvious. There is a warmth and crisp presence that simply wasn’t there with the older versions—it’s the first and most important step of a great sounding system. Excellent signal-to-noise ratio, extremely powerful processing with no compounded background noise syndrome. The EQ’s fine point accuracy as well as the dynamic aspects are also very sharp and efficient. I am extremely delighted that Avid focused on the audio quality of the internal processing itself, whereas the plug-ins are enhancements, not necessities.
HL: What are your biggest challenges as the head of sound at Métropolis?
RR: Front-of-house mixing challenges vary with the acts on stage. When a band sounds great from the source, it makes our job more enjoyable, but the challenge remains to transparently stay as true as possible to their sound while pushing a powerful mix adapted for a crowd in a big room. On the flipside, it gets a little tougher mixing bands with less experience, where it requires a bit more carving to grind out the rough edges. Obviously the biggest piece of the show puzzle is the artist and their performance. Although a great mix can sometimes help to uplift an unstable backbone, a bad mix can also hurt a solid performance.
Nevertheless, I’d have to say that the most important part of the job is making sure the touring parties and guest engineers feel as ready and confident as possible for their show. Properly advancing their technical needs is crucial, and then making them feel as comfortable as possible when they walk through the door. Our job is basically to cater to them and their needs by adapting their show to our stage and venue. Making sure everyone is on the same wavelength is very important. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a great team. Our crew has grown very strong throughout the years thanks to an extended family of engineers, techs, and artists from all over the world that pass through this venue. It is definitely a valued privilege and a continuous learning experience.
HL: The upgrade happened just in time for two important festivals happening at the venue (Les FrancoFolies de Montréal and Festival International de Jazz de Montréal), with multiple acts every day for a series of dates. How was the response from the guest mixing engineers?
RR: It was a real test run for us and the new system. Guests were excited to mix on it for the first time, and we were eager to validate our choice for the venue. All were impressed and very satisfied with the result. Day to day shows allowed us to experiment with different configurations and develop various workflows to run the system. It propelled us quickly to be prepared to handle a multitude of future scenarios and accommodate engineers according to their habits or preferences.
HL: Your shared I/O functionality was recently activated with the arrival of version 5.2 software. What is your impression so far about how it functions?
RR: At first I was skeptical because I have worked many times with shared I/O on various consoles and it was definitely not ideal. I have to admit that I am very impressed with this, because it is the most transparent sharing I have heard to date. This is obviously only used when we have both our FOH and monitor systems online together, but as long as you work in tandem with the other engineer, it slips from your mind that you are sharing I/O because compensation is practically seamless and instantaneous.
HL: What do you like the most about VENUE | S6L?
RR: Touch Screens! Being able to observe all aspects of multiple channels on screen means that any given parameter is literally at your fingertips in one step. As soon as you see something that needs tweaking, a simple touch of the screen spills the parameter controls onto your encoders instantly. Basically it shortens the steps between knowing what you want done, and getting it done. We’re talking seconds here, but they add up and we all know that sometimes in a live sound environment, seconds can seem to last minutes.
The all around design of displays provide you with an incredible amount of vital information. Many digital boards only allow you to view one channel’s parameters at a time on its main screen. In our case, on the 24D, we have three internal screens [to the control surface] plus one external. You can glimpse multiple channel parameters without scrolling through them one by one. Channel meters have a deep range and clear display for great visual reference. Comp gain reduction and Gate status are also displayed on module meters between the smooth sliding faders.
User Layouts is an incredible feature that simplifies the workflow brilliantly, allowing you to place any fader strip (Inputs, Aux sends, VCAs, Groups, Matrix sends, FX returns, etc.) in whichever order you desire. It only takes a few seconds to set them up and you can even modify them live since it doesn’t interrupt the audio flow. They also do not affect your patch in any way since they are completely separate from the “conventional” fader banks and layers. They are basically just another route to access your channels. This is a huge advantage for first time users, as they don’t get lost searching for what they need—it’s all laid out in front of them.
The ”Universe” on the Master Module is also a very effective tool. Home base for assignment, user layouts, sends on faders and color codes, it’s also another quick access to any channel. All of their meters are displayed here so it’s easy to spot a faulty channel and fix it quick if there’s a problem.
Pro Tools via AVB, two Flex faders, backlit keyboard, dedicated tap tempo as well as 1/4” inputs for tap pedals, etc. These are all upgrades and improvements that were made with specific purpose in mind to fulfill the needs and realities that sound engineers face today. The S6L system is a complete package that is perfectly suited for us and our guests.