Mixing with VENUE in the Frozen North

By in Live Sound, Music Creation

I recently filled in for a friend of mine and mixed the 2-day Nunavik Regional Youth Talent Show in Salluit, Quebec. This annual talent show is organized by Youth Fusion, a Quebec-based charity that establishes partnerships between local schools, universities and private companies to lower student dropout rates, and featured special musical guests Elisapie Isaac and Beatrice Deer.

The original plan was for me to fly to the show and just mix Elisapie Isaac, a popular Inuit singer originally from Salluit who released her second album 2 years ago. Isaac has a strong following throughout Canada, and plays various style festivals throughout the country, in the US, and Europe. She tries to visit Salluit once or twice a year to visit family, and this was one of her first shows since giving birth to her new boy who was also traveling with us.


Getting there in style

We got lucky and actually flew a jet all the way from Montreal to La Grande, which is the entry to Nunavik, the northern part of Quebec. Usually it’s just dual prop planes like the Dash 8-300, which is typically what flies up there. That was the easy part, and certainly not how we came back. From there, it was two separate Dash 8-300’s. The first one brought us to Puvirnituk, and the last plane made three more stops in the villages before landing in Salluit. Long day, leaving at 6:00 in the morning and getting there at 7:00 at night. And of course not one plane was on schedule because of weather conditions—it’s really crazy flying up there.

But the trip there went pretty smoothly. There is no “regular” cargo with the airline when flying into Nunavik. There technically is, but not in any way that you can actually schedule and ensure that your cargo is going to get there by a certain time. Emergency cargo (blood, medicine, food, supplies, etc.) naturally get’s prioritized over everything else. So if you are trying to send stuff as cargo, it’ll get there when it gets there. The only way to ensure something in time is to take it with you as luggage. The VENUE | S3L-X was obviously the perfect system for this kind of gig.


Rolling with the punches

The communication with Salluit was pretty bad leading up to the event. I had sent some e-mails around, and the organizer of the event tried to put me in communication with some local people, but they didn’t really answer back so we just didn’t know what to expect. We brought a minimum kit because of the weight limitations and expected the local team to provide the basics. Even there, we were surprised.

“Thank goodness I brought my spool of dual network cable and two Stage 16 I/O boxes, as seven channels of the 24-line snake they had were dead.”

So on the night that we arrived, Thursday, I went straight to the community center to see how ready they were to receive us. Walking in the first thing I saw was an analog desk, a Soundcraft Spirit, without any outboard gear. No compressor, no gate, nothing, and a JBL rig, with four monitors. So this is what we have to start with. They were about to mix a two-day event on that console, with full bands with drums and everything. Quite a nightmare, especially with so much on stage to try and control without compressors and gates. I asked the crew, “Do you guys want to use my S3L-X system? I can assist you to dial your show, so that you have compressors and other tools.” And they were all excited. I said, “Fine, I’m gonna come back tomorrow morning and install everything early so we’re ready for your first day.” Thank goodness I brought my spool of dual network cable and two Stage 16 I/O boxes, as seven channels of the 24-line snake they had were dead.

The microphone situation was also pretty bleak. The local mics, which I thought were going to be Shure’s and Sennheiser’s, were actually cheap Chinese copies of whatever. Then Isaacs’ guitar player, great guy, realizes that he forgot to bring the Neumann that she normally travels with along with 2 Sennheiser 935’s for backing vocals. Luckily I happened to have my 40th Anniversary Shure microphone (I used to work for Shure), which I hardly ever use. So I ended up using it on the vocal.


Friday: Kickoff

I was not supposed to be mixing on Friday night—I was only really there to mix the special guests on Saturday, but I wanted to support the event. Imagine my surprise when I came in the next morning. On top of having the two other sound guys waiting for me, I had all the musicians waiting to practice and sound check—they had badly scheduled the thing. So that’s how my day started. Fortunately my package was ready, and they had passed my network cable the night before. It was pretty easy to get things going, drop the stage boxes, and I was kind of ready to go.

“Can you give me monitor? Can you give me some? Can you give me some?” So I ring the PA as I was mixing it and dialing in. When you’re dealing with this kind of situation, especially with singers that don’t necessarily have the best mic technique, you don’t have a lot of gain before feedback—you’re often just kind of on the edge. Fortunately the S3L-X gave me the tools to make it work. I was using some McDSP plug-ins along with the built-in stuff, and I was able to start dialing my way in. It was a new team of people in the audio crew there, so it was a bit overwhelming for them, so I ended up mixing the whole show. There was also a local radio station that came in with their little modem transmitter, and I gave them a media feed so they could transmit locally.


Saturday: The Main Event

Guess what I did Saturday morning? I was there very early. Fresh ears, no one in the room, coffee in hand. Played a few tracks back through the system via Virtual Soundcheck, allowing me to tune the PA and wedges to a point I was happy for my upcoming evening.

So I felt better going into mixing Day 2. I was mixing the finalists plus Elisapie Isaac. Without a good mic assortment I had to work hard to get a nice, bright top end on the vocal, whereas a Neumann mic would have given me this, but Isaac has great microphone control, so it was very easy to work with. Her two musicians, Gabriel Gratton and Manuel Gasse, are brilliant and a lot of fun. I’ve known them for some time, as they’re involved with many other Quebec artists.

For Isaac’s set, the acoustic guitar case is actually used as the bass drum. Manuel is playing, sitting down, playing electric guitar, sometimes acoustic, but he’s playing with his foot straight on the guitar case like a bass drum. Getting it to sound like a bass drum is a bit of a challenge—it just sounds kind of boomy to begin with. You have to tweak it a bit. In this case, I sent the mic source to a 2nd channel and applied a low pass filter using the S3L-X’s Moogerfooger plug-in, and that created a sub channel, giving me some real umph effect with that little guitar case. He’s playing a snare as well, but he’s playing it with a pedal. So that’s his kick/snare, plus he has hi-hat, which he plays with another pedal.

So two pedals and a “kick” with the other foot while playing guitar. And then on the other side, you’ve got Gabriel Gratton, who’s playing bass, sometimes acoustic, and has a setup of a floor tom and a floor pedal for a tambourine. That’s the real fun part, making this sound really big, although there were only three on stage. They’re just great players, and they’ve got great dynamics with their playing.


Sunday: Exit Strategy

I like to be organized and had a lot of luggage, so I said, “Let’s get there early, let’s check in our stuff so we don’t have to deal with there being no more room.” So there I am, the first one at the airport with two musicians looking at me like, “You made us wake up an hour too early!”

But then I realize that the allowance was 32 kg each. On the same reservation, between us, the organizers, the other musicians, there were 12 or 13 of us. So I was like, “Okay, let’s wait for them to come in so if we check in all together, they’ll share the weight and we don’t have to pay any extra fees—we’d save close to 500 bucks of extra cost. So we waited for all of them to get in, and as they started to check people in, we all discovered that there are six people that are not on the list and at this late point, the plane was already overweight. So a bunch of us got put on standby: basically all of the guest musicians including Beatrice, and me.

By this time it’s total panic, with about 30 people crammed in the tiny 15 by 15 foot square “airport”, with our gear crammed behind the counter. The representative from Air Inuit is about to cry, trying to call the head office in Montreal on a Sunday morning to figure out what’s going on, while everyone is putting the pressure on to get out because a storm is coming. Turns out that Air Inuit is actually a sponsor of Youth Fusion (the event organizers), and the president of Fusion, who was flying with us, called the rep he knows at Air Inuit and was able to get us out.

What ended up happening is they had a little nine seat, twin prop plane coming in for cargo delivery and pickup. So they had that plane land, emptied, and take us back—including the S3L-X and Pelican cases that were strapped to the floor! And on top of that, we were lucky enough to fly with the legendary Huguette—a woman bush pilot of Air Inuit. As you can imagine, flying up there she’s faced some of the craziest conditions in the world. But there we were, lifting off from Salluit, being ferried home by the great Huguette, with the most beautiful view of the Tundra below us.

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I started my career in production equipment rentals and studio recording then sound system mixing and operation for a variety of productions including Canadian touring companies and as a technical director for special events. Since 1998 I have been a distributor of professional audio products, and for the last 7 years the Technical Sales Manager for Avid Live Systems in Canada.