Charlie Bradley is a top-rated live sound engineer who has mixed monitors for artists such as Annie Lennox, Placebo, Shakira, Snow Patrol, and Robbie Williams over the last few years. Most recently, Charlie was out again with Duran Duran on their “Paper Gods” tour in the UK behind a brand-new VENUE | S6L desk. I caught up with Charlie shortly afterwards to get his impressions of the new system before he heads out again for the band’s American tour that kicks off in March.
DH: How long have you been mixing on VENUE systems?
CB: From really early on. I had the D-Show out before the Profile was around. I mean I’ve mixed on other things when I’ve had to over the years, but Profile has always been my go-to desk. There was a particular time on Snow Patrol when we did some stadiums and the band got so large that I actually took two Profiles out MIDI’d together. We had a string section and a horn section, guests—all sorts of craziness going on.
The original decision to start using VENUE was really for the plug-ins and the way that I structure a show file. You know, mixing a successful in-ear monitor mix is all about understanding gain structure and dynamic range and maximizing both of those things into the transmitters and understanding how to make whole thing effective. Being able to use compression and all those kind of things as plug-ins, makes it a unique environment and helps to achieve a much more successful end result.
DH: Do you rely heavily on automation?
CB: Yeah. I mean as far as mix automation, I don’t think you can mix monitors successfully and certainly not with a big in-ear band without using automation, snapshot automation, fader moves. Certainly EQ’s and gate/comp settings, reverbs, delays and things like that are recalled with snapshots.
DH: You’ve worked with Duran Duran for quite awhile. Are you constantly evolving your show file, or how do you approach each new tour?
CB: The Profile show file for the promo tour we finished in October had 76 songs. The band have such an enormous back catalog of hits, you don’t really get time to start from scratch—we just tack more songs onto the evolving set list every time we go back on tour. We might add 15 songs from the new album and rehearse maybe five or ten back catalog songs that they haven’t played for a long time. So each time we go back out we can easily add 20-25 songs to the list.
DH: Explain what your process was moving over to S6L—how did you approach moving from the Profile system?
CB: Anybody who is mixing monitors on a Profile with big artists will know that there just aren’t enough outputs. In order to drive effect sends and all those kinds of things you have to use workarounds: direct outputs, PQ mixers, matrix buses—you name it. I mean it’s really refreshing and nice with S6L not to have to think about, “How am I going to get reverb for that or how am I going to do this.” It’s been really great. Anytime anybody has wanted anything the answer’s always been “yes”, and not “just give me half an hour and I’ll get back to you.” Importing the Profile show file [into S6L] works, but it doesn’t take into account any of the workarounds that you’ve had to do in the past.
On my rather bullish decision, Brit Row decided to support me and they went out and bought an S6L system for the tour—it was very good of them to support me in that manner. So I just sat with an S6L in my front room with a Pro Tools rig and decided that I was pretty much going to start from a stripped down point of view. I took 30 snapshots that I figured were going to be relevant over the next two years and then stripped all the plug-ins out because some of the ones that I have been using are only available in TDM format. I’m a big McDSP guy and use a ton of their stuff, and those guys are already all over the AAX DSP stuff, including the new AE400 Dynamic EQ that I’m using in the show file. But I had to get rid of my TC plug-ins—the CL1B compressor and VSS3 reverbs were kind of the big two casualties of the move.
[Duran Duran FOH engineer] Snake Newton has been a big fan of Sonnox for a long time, and had been badgering me to give them a “go” sometime. Since they are all AAX DSP, I figured now was the time to take a look, while I had the opportunity to re-build and reshape my showfile for S6L. And to that end the guys at Sonnox stepped up and I’ve been working with them to get their reverb into 96 kHz format, so we had that out on the tour as well as a bunch of their dynamics plug-ins as well. You can’t provide someone like Annie Lennox with a cheap sounding reverb in their in-ear mix. A nice lush reverb is part of their vocal sound. As soon as I loaded up the [Oxford Reverb] preset “48 Thin Plate”, that was it… that was the nice clean plate sound I was looking for in an AAX DSP plug-in at 96 kHz. It sounds great—you just can’t beat it!
The Oxford Dynamics plug-in gave me a whole bundle of options in one place that I generally look for on a vocal, so I’ve been using the Oxford Dynamics on Simon Le Bon’s vocal—using gentle compression, warmth control and a little EQ in the upper-mids. Compression is great for drums of course, but sometimes you do lose a bit of the front of the drive, so a plug-in like the Oxford TransMod is great for increasing the attack but leaving the rest of the sound intact. Mixing in-ears is all about dynamic range, understanding compression and how things need to fit into a mix for each individual in the band. The use of TransMod helps make things, especially drums, just pop that little bit more. Which means you get to hear and sense them in the mix better, without actually having to have them crushingly loud in the mix!
So I flattened all EQ’s out, re-gained everything, and built my mixes back up from there. When I was reasonably happy with the plug-ins and everything that I had going on in the mixes, I then moved to output processing, compression, and limiting and off we went!
DH: What was it like from a workflow perspective moving from Profile over to S6L?
CB: It’s pretty similar once you get your head around where the buttons are. I used it in the Profile-style mode, and the biggest change for me was getting used to not having the bank selectors on the left hand of the console and just remembering that everything is in the middle of the console. Once you’ve figured that out and laid it out it’s really, really simple. I mean the touchscreens—just being able to reach for things and display things in a different manner, you know, makes life a lot easier. And other than the controls on the surface, as soon as you’re looking at the VENUE overview screen and using that, it’s really easy.
DH: What were your initial impressions of the system’s sound quality?
CB: The sound is really good. The immediate two words are “depth” and “width”. It’s a lot richer and it sounds a lot deeper. As soon as we went into band rehearsals on the first day, John Taylor, the bass player, turned around and said, “It sounds incredible!” I mean they noticed straight away. You can totally tell the difference—the resolution is there straight away.
DH: How do you use VENUE’s Pro Tools recording and playback features?
CB: Snake uses it every single day because quite a lot of time the band just doesn’t sound check. I use it if I know that there’s been an issue or there are some things in the mix that I’m not happy with. I’ve got to say that being able to drop straight in and straight out of Pro Tools instantly on the S6L and being able to de-select a few channels back into live mode while you’re still in playback mode is incredible—you’ve never been able to do that with a Profile system. It gave me extra time with individual band members. I spent one afternoon with just the guitar player who wanted to work a few of his mixes with me and it meant we didn’t need anybody else, you know, to commit an extra two or three hours of their day. We essentially did a virtual sound check. We could just literally play everything back with the exception of his vocal mic and his guitar—it’s genius!