Jim Warren, a veteran front of house engineer has been at the helm for some of rock’s most renowned artists, including Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Crowded House and Duran Duran, to name but a few, is presently on tour with recent Grammy winners Arcade Fire, manning the faders of an Avid VENUE system with D-Show console, FOH and Stage Racks.
“I’ve dabbled with a number of digital consoles over the years,” says Warren, “and they all had things about them that I found difficult to deal with in one way or another. Even the VENUE did when it first came out – there were certainly a few teething problems.
“But I was very impressed with how willing the Avid folks were to listen to people’s comments, and how quickly they responded to them,” he adds. “In many cases, they were already working on issues before people had discovered and reported them.”
Working with a number of artists whose arrangements can be lush and complex, Warren is no stranger to the demands of large channel counts.
“With many tours it had gotten to the point where, even with larger analog consoles, I’d have to have a sidecar or two to handle the number of channels I was using,” he reports. “When it gets to the point where you have to walk from one end of the console to the other, having layers with multiple channels becomes far more convenient. I think one of the most important things for me about the VENUE system was the ability to handle a large number of channels in a relatively small footprint.”
VENUE’s processing power also contributes to its small footprint, says Warren, replacing racks of outboard gear with a wide range of plug-in processing. “VENUE is the first digital console I’ve used where I don’t need to use any outboard gear,” he says. “Everything I’ve done with this console, I’ve been able to do with plug-ins. It keeps the workflow very focused. I like being able to turn up at the gig, turn the desk on and have everything there at my fingertips.”
“The other point about onboard processing is that it keeps me from compromising,” he adds. “When you start getting into higher channel counts, you get to the point where you decide, ‘well, do I really want to carry a whole rack of compressors if I’m only going to use them on one or two songs?’ But with the VENUE, you’ve got them there when you need them, without adding any additional weight or complexity.”
Snapshot automation is one of the features of VENUE that has made a tremendous difference in the way Warren works. “Having lots of channels and lots of songs, snapshots became more than a luxury,” he observes. “With an analog desk, I found myself getting to the point where I was still making changes 30 seconds or so into the next song. When you’re working with a band whose playlist is six feet long, and the order’s never the same from one show to the next, it becomes next to impossible to remember every little tweak and change. Recalling as many changes as possible with the push of a button means you only have to worry about the fine adjustments, rather than every detail of each song’s mix.”
Warren also cites VENUE’s Virtual Soundcheck as a key feature. “We’ve just gone through a whole summer of doing festivals where often it’s impractical or even impossible for the band to do a sound check,” he says. “Even when there is time, if you’ve ever tried to get a band to play the same 15 seconds of a song so you can nail the change from one section to another, it’s very difficult to do. But with Virtual Soundcheck, I can put a Pro Tools recording on a loop and accomplish in ten minutes what might be a month’s worth of trial and error during a performance. It tends to make you a little bolder about trying new stuff out, because you’re not running the risk of potentially wrecking someone’s show.”