Earlier this year, the staff of Milwaukee’s Northern Lights Theater at Potawatomi Bingo Casino decided to embark on a console upgrade in its intimate, 500-seat theater. Production manager Jamie Cobb called upon Kerry Miller and the integration team at Clearwing Productions to help.
Wanting to upgrade the sound and make the move to digital, the group collaborated on selecting a DiGiCo SD10 and SD Rack at FOH—handling the basic room feeds (L, R, balcony, and subs), hearing assist, green room feed and CD record—with a second SD10 on deck at monitor world. The payoff was an amazing-sounding system that better showcased the room’s warm, intimate acoustics.
“We wanted a console that was forward-thinking as far as digital technology,” explained Cobb, “with better A-to-D converters and an overall better sound quality than what was out there at this price point. I’d had experience working on a DiGiCo D5 in the past, and saw the SD10s deployed this summer at a local music festival, as well as noticing DiGiCo products featured in publications with the top touring artists and spec’d by leading engineers.
“For that reason, we thought it was the best choice for this install and offered a substantially better system than other theaters in this area. There was no comparison to what we’d used previously… it was like taking a blanket off the PA! DiGiCo has developed another layer of sonic quality that wasn’t there before and we are reaping the benefits.”
Once in place, the theater’s sound technicians found the SD10’s ease of use and unequivocal sound quality among the console’s most impressive features.
“A musical equalizer is a must, but ease-of-use is really the big one,” said Cobb. “If a visiting engineer is frustrated by the work surface, then all the features serve no good purpose. The SD10’s control surface has the flexibility to be laid out exactly the way a visiting engineer would want, and we’ve been able to show these engineers how to use the features of the soundboard so they’ll be able to get up and running quickly for their show.”
The first major, long-term production to employ the new system was Cheap Trick, who reprised their “Dream Police” show for a second time in 2011 at the venue—the first in January/February and more recently in October/November.
The multimedia opus featured a performance of the platinum-selling Dream Police album in its entirety, followed by hits from their extensive catalog—accompanied by the 18-piece Rhythmic Noise Philharmonic Orchestra, the 4-piece men’s Mind Choir, and state-of-the-art video. The production came to fruition through collaboration with production designer Butch Allen (Paul McCartney, Metallica, No Doubt), producer Bello Nock and world-class video and film director Jim Yukich.
For the Fall run of shows, the theater’s sound technicians operated FOH production alongside the band’s analog-driven production team—longtime engineer Bill Kozy and A2 Mark Gustafson—who teamed a Midas 3000 at FOH for mixing the band along with the new DiGiCo SD10 to handle orchestra and additional playback feeds.
With a very short setup/rehearsal schedule of only a few days—and a massive number of inputs to coordinate for the band, an 18-piece orchestra, 4-man choir, guest artists and multimedia sources—the guys were able to get in sync quickly.
“With myself quarterbacking from the analog console and Mark running the SD10, it was important that we were both on the same page right away,” Kozy explained. “We did a training seminar with Matt Larson from DiGiCo before the actual load-in and the console sounded great and was easy to get our hands-on quickly, which was very important. I was impressed with how easy it was to implement the console given the tight schedule we were on; we really didn’t have time for a steep learning curve.
“We literally were building a show, preparing the stage and basically starting rehearsals all within a couple of days of the first show. I was able to take about 40 inputs from the analog console of the band’s inputs and create 3 stereo stems and a mono vocal stem that was fed to the DiGiCo, which served as the show’s main mixing production hub with Mark at the controls.
“He would bring in my stems, all the audio/video feeds, the orchestra, the men’s chorus, and then assemble them, about 30-40 inputs in total, in the DiGiCo. The STEM sounded great and had a lot of headroom, so all the analog stuff sounded awesome and it was really easy to hit the ground running using the DiGiCo. As far as the drum compression and processing, the DiGiCo really kept the Midas sound in tact… and the sound of the SD10 was really transparent.”
“With the band being a primarily analog band, the DiGiCo had wonderfully analog user-friendly aspects that my brain could comprehend,” Gustafson added. “I’ve used other digital consoles and consider myself to be tech-savvy in that sense and the SD10 didn’t feel foreign to me; the technology didn’t get in the way, it only enhanced the experience.
“Handling nearly 40 inputs, I was able to use the local I/O, which was very handy. I thought the onboard effects were quite nice, and although we had the option to use outboard gear we didn’t need to because everything was right there and sounded great. My favorite feature was the Gain Tracking with digital trim, which seems very silly but working with two consoles sharing the new SD Rack made things incredibly fast. Working with an 18-piece orchestra, you can imagine the soundcheck for that… it was hairy!
“Bill and I were able to work together on the main gain structure and then do our own separate things without touching or restricting each other’s boundaries. Earlier in the year we did the show with another consoles and with this new setup, DiGiCo’s flexibility enabled us to cut down our setup time. Even the string players, many of whom were on the last show, were astounded at how fast we were able to get them up and running.”
After the close of ‘Dream Police’, the theater seamlessly moved on to host productions with Kenny Loggins, Air Supply, Lee Greenwood, Smokey Robinson, Jon Anderson/Rick Wakeman and the Tubes with great reviews.
“The Cheap Trick engineers loved the new DiGiCo consoles and the increased detail to the room,” summed Cobb. “I have to also say that the consoles—coupled with the L-Acoustics DV-Dosc 4-way stereo array system—offered a sound quality that was simply amazing in our intimate theater.”