Grace Royse got her start as a studio engineer and ran her own studio in Tempe before branching out into mixing live sound. Her impressive resume of live clients includes No Use for a Name, Dirty Heads, Cypress Hill, and Fitz and the Tantrums. For the past 5+ years Royse has been FOH engineer and production manager for Sublime with Rome. A longtime VENUE user, she recently made the move to S6L, and I caught up with Royse to discuss her impressions of the new console as she was preparing to take the tour overseas for dates in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea.
DH: I know that you were a studio engineer and that you transitioned into mixing live about 11 years ago. How did you get into live sound and what were some of the milestones?
GR: I worked in a theater in Tempe, Arizona for several years and my very first tours came by way of the punk rockers, which is how I ended up with Sublime with Rome—it all comes full circle eventually. I did Fat Wreck Chords Tours with No Use for a Name and NOFX and became very good friends with Aaron Glas who was mixing Flogging Molly at the time. I didn’t get to tour with Flogging Molly while he was still with them, but our punk rock bands all toured together.
So we spent some time together, and he’s definitely in my top five as far as mentors go. The whole desk would be on fire out front and Aaron would say to the band, “Oh, you guys run another song, it’s fine.” He’s not a hot-headed guy. He’s the one who keeps his cool and makes it all look so easy. In the punk world you’ve got six, seven bands on one tour, keeping your cool is good skill to learn.
And then I went from that world to doing monitors for Sublime with Rome for several years. I transitioned into doing more front of house stuff when I started studying with a production manager friend of mine—really just shadowing him hoping I was going to learn something, and thank goodness I did. Aaron Glas and I finally got to tour together several years later doing Fitz and the Tantrums. We did three world tours and all earned gold records on that record.
I was invited back two years ago to do front of house and tour manage the Dirty Heads, and after being on the road with them for awhile, my management (who also took care of Sublime with Rome) was kind of shrugging their shoulders at me, “like when did you start running shit? You’ve got to come back and work for us.” So of course you have to—that’s the thing in this business. You never burn a bridge, because you never know when you’re going to wave across and ask for someone’s help or be welcomed back.
So everyone is a friend all the way to the end. And I was lucky enough to be invited back as their production manager and front of house engineer for the past few years. And it’s been great. Of course I like my shows better when I run them, and it’s been a lot of fun getting to pick my own gear, staff my own tours, order my own trucks. I like that aspect of it a lot. It really just flows better when I get to pick my own stage manager and my own PA and make some of the big decisions, and not let someone make them for me.
I also do artist development for Sony Music Group, and it’s really strange to have a production manager do that stuff for you. I don’t like it—I’d rather do both gigs.
DH: So how did you find out about the VENUE | S6L, and what made you want to take it out?
GR: Clearwing had taken it out on one of their country tours and my system tech, Eric Thomas, had been on it for a few weeks. We were advancing my summer package and I was picking out all my PA and putting everything together and he was the one who said, “You’ve got to try this. I’m not trying to sell you anything. This is the thing—I swear!” He definitely didn’t let me down. I walked right up to the desk and fell for it. The workflow was so easy and I was able to integrate my old files.
DH: What had you been mixing on before that?
GR: Profile has definitely become the industry standard, but prior to the last full run that I did with Sublime with Rome, I had two other big tours where I took out the Vi Series Soundcrafts, and those workflows were really appealing to me. I liked the way that the desk was laid out. I liked that you could make some decisions about what these encoders were going to do and really customize the workflow, but not as much as the DiGiCo demanded—not to where it’s like putting together an IKEA piece of furniture before I can make my show, you know?
I started my career in concert productions and mixing front of house from the perspective of a studio engineer and a mastering engineer, so my understanding of mic technique and gain structure, frequency, equalization, compression, mix of sound—all that stuff originates in the small adjustments that make a huge difference. It’s a fastidious perspective, where you spend hundreds of hours fine tuning placement and tone and protecting the character of the instruments.
So when digital became the new thing and we began to see digital desks everywhere, the thing I had the biggest problem with was compromising all that hard work. And I came from a generation where A to D conversion was really important, sample rate, bit depth—vital elements to our channel’s health. The biggest difference for me transitioning into live sound 11 years ago has always been how aggressive we have had to be about our healthy gain structure, because there’s a ton of work we’re expecting of these channels.
These instruments have to blend with the chaos of stage volume combined with unruly venue architecture. Like on my last tour, we had this piano with an RF microphone in it, out in front of the PA, on a set piece that’s going to turn and rise in the air with pyro shooting out of it… that should be easy to mix, right?! For concerts, we obviously don’t have the luxury of the quiet studio environment—there will always be some amount of corrective mixing going on in the choices that we’re making out in the concert world.
You have the ability to add these often expensive, after-market plug-ins, but in my opinion, I had to push them way to hard, (and we’re not talking about mastering quality pre-amps on these digital desks) they’re decent pre-amps, but cranking up the gain and trims at every step of the way doesn’t feel like I’m doing my channels any favors. So going back to my original education, I know what I’m doing to my instrument. I know what it takes to have a healthy channel and I know when I’m doing damage. I can hear it.
I know when I’m putting a bazillion plug-ins on a channel and they’re all making their own assessments about what’s going in and what’s coming out, I can hear when things are going wrong. And when I first met the S6L, the first thing I noticed right away was how gorgeously responsive it was to its own plug-ins. And honestly, I’m no longer willing to arm wrestle a plug-in that cost me two grand to do what it promised to do all the while I can hear it killing my channel’s integrity.
The S6L took no compromising bites out of my sound quality. I could toggle between duplicate channels with inserts on one of the channels and no inserts on the other and could hear that I was not losing the truthfulness of my channel’s original gain structure. I’m not opposed to gaining things up and making sure I have healthy pressure in my channel to do all the things we’re asking of it, but I’m not willing to gain in and out, trim in and out, every single move on my desk, you know? Because I grew up on analog desks and you don’t do that. You make the decision in the beginning. You move on. You only come back to the pre-amp if you’ve made some crazy, big moves. Other than a little gain makeup on your compressor, call it a day and mix your show.
My system tech, Eric, is a mad man of physics and acoustics and frequency response. The more I learn from him the more I discover how much I don’t know. His ability to add some consistency to our changing venues and even out the coherence across a room, like in a lawn or on the top floor of the arena, that delivered some of that studio consistency back to my world and I was able to fall in love and learn this desk. And he’s the one that pushed me knowing my complaints about other digital desks. He’s the one that pushed me to really get to know this desk—I only have good things to say about it.
Most importantly for me, I can see that after digging into it for only this tour, 3 months so far, I’m going to be able to grow into this desk for a long while. There are desks in my past that I absolutely found the threshold, where I was out of outputs, no means of expansion. I’m out of engine power. Oh you had more stuff you wanted to do with your plug-ins? Sorry. Get heavy external gear or sub mix into another mixer or whatever.
But I definitely feel like this desk could grow with me and I’m going to find uses for all those output and routing options. I’m going to find use for all that engine power and most certainly I expect over the next few years that you will be adding to the plug-ins. I definitely already have my favorites, but there are some things I’d like to see and as you continue to make those changes and our conversations continue, I have the utmost confidence that this is a desk we can grow together. I see how big the capabilities are. It has a lot of room for me to do what I need it to do.
I was on a tour several months ago where I literally was using every inch of a Profile. I literally had nothing left. I found every little corner of it. The Profile has been a solid platform, but I was so glad when Eric hit me up about the S6L.
Sublime with Rome isn’t the 150 channels that some of these other gigs are. It was really nice to work on the S6L without the pressure of those ginormous gigs with 9 departments all staring at you, the pyro techs needing another closed talkback mix, and it’s got to go to the truck, etc. It was nice being able to dig into this desk undistracted and see what it’s capable of.
DH: What was your process in setting up the desk for the tour—did you start with an existing VENUE show file or did you start from scratch?
GR: I actually did both to see which was going to work better for me. We had some basic pre-production, but I was on a Profile for that and then I didn’t get my semi-trucks and my full production for another week. I had been on tour without Eric and my gear for about two weeks when we met up, so I loaded my Profile show file and I played around on it, and of course I had to replace my after-market plug-ins and do some adjustments.
Honestly, I remember ditching it pretty fast. Starting from scratch was the way to go for me. They are two different beasts. I’ve had opening band front of house engineers walk up to the desk with their VENUE files, and after knowing what that transition looks like, I was able to help them make the transition really smoothly. They operated their shows just fine on it and were able to walk away happy. But because I knew I was going to be on the desk for three months, starting fresh felt more appropriate.
DH: Do you use Virtual Soundcheck or does the band always do a live sound check?
GR: I do use Virtual [Soundcheck] sometimes. I use it a lot more on Pop and Electronica projects. Unfortunately, with these heavy rock bands stage volume is a huge part of your show, whether you like it or not. Virtual Soundcheck is helpful, but it’s not the end of the story. My band never soundchecks anyway. They trust me to let the techs and I really do our thing. I’ll have the techs do their roadie jam because I have to hear the amps in these rooms. They’ve named their band the Mustache Ride, which I love—they’re actually one of my favorite non-bands out right now.
They’ll jam a couple of songs and that’s what I need. Unless it’s a pop act with really low stage volume, the Virtual Soundcheck really only takes me so far as to check Eric’s work and make sure that we’re both happy with the consistency across the room and the PA spread. It’s an added tool like Smaart, but it can’t be the only tool. For Fitz and the Tantrums, Aaron Glas uses Virtual Soundcheck lots. He’s great with it. The band doesn’t ever have to show up if they don’t want to.
DH: Do you record every show?
GR: Almost every show, but I don’t really feel the need to record every show with this band. I’ve had lots of bands that require it and we definitely do it when they want it. Kygo, John Legend Tour we multitracked to a Pro Tools HD rig every single night.
DH: What are your go-to plug-ins on the new console?
GR: Your [Pro] Multiband is really awesome. I do wish there were two more little variable bandwidths that we could add in there, but I’ve just been stacking them. Most punk and rap guys love to cup the mic and run into the crowd, and you want to have some control over those frequencies. No matter what you do they are going to be nasty—you can EQ them until the cows come home, but you’re going to wreck your tone and never gain control. In live sound we have all these corrective moves that have to be made, but we’re still trying to maintain sound quality and the art of it. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years on multi-band stuff trying to get it all to work the way I want it, and I love that you guys just include it—you know we’re going to use this.
For Sublime with Rome, Rome’s vocal chain in the studio includes an LA-2A, so I used your BF-2A and the multiband. I like the tape delay and I like the reverbs, but I don’t love them yet. We were able to get the sound that we wanted out of the Reverb One and the ReVibe II. The Pultec for my bass was super key and out of all the compressors that you’ve got rocking right now, that Impact went everywhere. Eric Thomas was making fun of me, “Oh, can I get you another Impact?” I have no shame; the racks were full of them. I’m really fond of the EQ you guys have—Avid Channel—is super helpful.
One of my other mentors is Bryan Cross, Production Manager of Gwen Stefani. When I was transitioning from studio life to the live sound world, it was really strange to me, the assertive moves necessary to get good sounds. In the beginning, I was timid to say the least. Bryan was the first one who said to me, “Grace, do not be afraid to be an aggressive EQ’er. Don’t let some old guy leaning over your shoulder saying, ‘Oh, that looks weird’ deter you from doing what you know sounds good and is going to benefit your channels.” I’m the mixer I am today because I learned to let my ears have the final say.