Radiohead in Concert — a Much Awaited Visit

This story is by Nizarindani Sopeña Romero, Editor of sound:check magazine. This feature originally ran in Issue 220 (December 2016) of sound:check—you can read the story in Spanish here.

After more than three decades of creating exceptional music, Radiohead’s sound is not only contemporary, but also fresh and new, as demonstrated with their new album “A Moon Shaped Pool” which they recently presented at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City. Followers of the band in Mexico were very anxious to hear the new album live. Radiohead’s typical fan is not content to listen to the material they have performed for the past three decades—they want more, and that is precisely what they got.

Jim Warren mixing front of house at the Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City on an S6L system provided by Firehouse Productions

Up to date

Not only is the sound of the iconic British band cool, so is their equipment. For their latest tour, including the concerts in Mexico City, the band took out the new Avid VENUE | S6L mixing systems, operated by Jim Warren at FOH and Michael Prowda at monitors. “I’ve been working for Radiohead for 25 years,” says Warren, who has witnessed the evolution of their sound. “Their style has evolved over the years, but it’s impressive how they can keep the old songs fresh.”

Warren and Prowda are right at home with Avid consoles, as they have been mixing on various VENUE systems for approximately eleven years. “This console I really like in general terms, but one of the features I find most useful is the consistency with which I can handle many channels on the same surface with the Layouts function, which allows me immediate access to any Group or VCA without the need to navigate between layers of faders,” Warren continues.

Mike Prowda at monitors with S6L

For Warren, Palacio de los Deportes is an acoustic challenge at around 110 Hz: “It’s a frequency that this place really likes. When we launched a sine wave to see what happened, we noticed that it simply came and went, came and went. And when it came back, it did so with greater intensity. But I think sometimes a challenging place does not necessarily make our job complicated, and I think this was the case.” From monitor engineer’s point of view, the acoustic characteristics of the venue affect the mix to a lesser extent. “I think the first thing to do is not to panic. While it is true that we are using personal [in ear] systems, we also use floor monitors,” Prowda comments.

When approaching how to mix each song, Warren likes the idea of teamwork. For him, the group’s feedback is essential in shaping the final sound that comes through the speakers. “The point is that when they get involved in the mix, it allows you to get their perspective. Otherwise, you have more than a dozen songs that may be sonically similar. This is why I like to ask the band to submit suggestions during rehearsals—that has worked extraordinarily well.”

Less is more

Using plug-ins with the S6L is also greatly simplified, eliminating the need to connect external equipment to the consoles. Warren shares, “Curiously, I’m presently not using too many plug-ins when mixing Radiohead. I find that the S6L system offers me much of what I need to do simply with its equalizers and dynamics. I prefer to use effects that are onboard the console, with the exception of third party saturation effects, which give a very nice tonal character. I have worked with analog systems in the past and I’ve had to connect a lot of equipment in order to achieve a certain effect. Today everything is done inside the console, and although you have access to more tools, I am convinced that less is more.”

Prowda has worked in live audio for about forty years, mixing such renowned artists as the Grateful Dead, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Steve Wonder, Whitney Houston, Eagles and many others. Mixing for Radiohead he comments, “It has been fascinating to work with them. There is a lot of complexity in the music and they are very intelligent in what they do. I think all the time you’re putting your skills to the test when working with this band. Working as a monitor engineer for Radiohead has brought me immense satisfaction. When you’re a monitor engineer you become a part of the band, you’re like the fifth Beatle. There is a special connection that makes the work very special. When everything goes well there is nothing better; however, when things start to go wrong, there is nothing worse! What I want to say is that the link is so close to the artists, that you are both part of the same emotional journey.”

After many years of working in the field of ​​monitors, it is evident that Prowda has experienced momentous changes in technology: the change from analog to digital, from floor monitors to personal monitors, and others. “I simply embraced technology. I tried to evolve with it. A long time ago I realized how monitoring was going to progress and I evolved with the technology. It was about making a good sound and a good mix and giving the band something nice to listen to. I feel that the floor monitors were, and in fact still are, a kind of guessing game, because although sometimes it can go very well and I can do a good mix, there are other times in which I simply have no idea how it might sound for the musicians. It’s true that one can use aids to know the balance of each instrument in general, but when you are not in the middle of the stage, it’s impossible to know exactly how everything sounds.”

Most monitor engineers working at this level emphasize the importance of the relationship they build with musicians, precisely because of the closeness of their work to one another. Prowda comments, “The relationship we have established is really great. Off the stage we rarely talk about work, it’s more about joking and talking about other things, but I’m convinced that helps a lot with what we do concert after concert. If you are not able to establish that kind of relationship, your work will probably be affected.”
For Prowda, Avid is not new. In fact, like Jim, he has been working with Avid since 2005, but he confesses to being impressed by the performance of the S6L system. “The preamplifiers are really advanced, which makes it a pleasure to listen to. On the other hand, I agree with Jim about the plug-ins. In 2005 everything was plug-ins, now I think the trend has shifted more towards what the console itself has to offer. Of course I use them, but to a lesser extent.”

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