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Restless Itinerary: Sonically Dialing It In For Chris Young’s Losing Sleep Tour

Going behind the scenes of a major arena tour with Sound Image Nashville's audio production crew.

By Greg DeTogne May 8, 2018

System tech Chris Demonbreun (left) and engineer Gary Lewis with the Yamaha RIVAGE PM10 at front of house. (Credit all images: Jeff Johnson)

Multi-platinum RCA Records Nashville recording artist Chris Young has taken a slow and steady pace on his way to the top, and the true apex of his career thus far just well may be Losing Sleep, his seventh album, which debuted last fall at number 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.

On the tour of the same name, which will run through the end of the year, Young’s shows are storming the arena circuit, with Sound Image Nashville providing the audio production elements for 55 headlining stops.

“I’ve had this job for almost eight years now,” front of house engineer Gary Lewis tells me while back home in Nashville for a short break that also happened to be his 42nd birthday. “I was supposed to be here for only two weeks, but, well… that sort of changed.”

Lewis is joined this time out by a seasoned crew including systems engineer Chris Demonbreun, monitor engineer Travis Briles, monitor tech Brittni Werner, and PA tech Philip Piercy. Together, the team provides audio systems management guided by Yamaha’s RIVAGE PM10 digital consoles both out front and onstage.

Chris Young, with an SM58 capsule on his Shure wireless system, performing on the current Losing Sleep tour.

“I tend to be an analog guy,” Lewis confides. “I love the way an analog desk ‘breathes’ and almost has real life to it. For me, the sonic quality between a digital and analog desk is the same as the difference between recording on Pro Tools versus on a two-inch tape machine – there’s just so much more warmth and natural feeling with analog.”

Given this inclination, it shouldn’t be surprising that Lewis was skeptical about his prospects when he stepped in front of the PM10 for the first time. Despite his well-entrenched misgivings, however, the experience proved to immediately be a positive one.

“The way it sounded caught my attention right out of the gate,” he says, still appearing somewhat surprised all these months later. “And it’s friendly, too. I don’t want to think about where I’m going during a show. I just want to reach out and do what I need to do. When you select a channel on the PM10, it automatically is moved right in front of you. You could stand in front of this board in one place all night and never move – everything comes to you.”

Rupert Neve analog transformer circuitry and SILK processing were modeled for the PM10 and made available on all input channels. When it comes to the use of SILK, which can be implemented in “Red” and “Blue” levels of saturation, both Lewis and monitor engineer Briles have come to extensively rely upon the circuitry.

“The Red brings up the upper harmonics,” Lewis explains, “while the Blue does the same for the lower harmonics. You can hear the difference in the tonality instantly simply by enabling the circuit, then you dial-in the texture according to your needs. When I first used SILK, I went to extremes just to see if it made a difference, and boy does it. It responds just like what I’ve come to expect from an analog desk.”

Aural Palette

Giving due consideration to his gain structure, microphones, and the onstage sources themselves, Lewis starts each tour stop with a rough mix. He then brings up SILK, dialing in the texture while going back and forth between Red and Blue. In sum total, both Lewis and Briles utilize SILK on virtually every one of their input channels.

A minimalist at heart, Lewis subscribes to the time-honored notion that less is more. He doesn’t use any EQ on drums or guitars, choosing instead to build his aural palette via microphone placement, microphone type, and SILK. In the same spirit, he keeps things simple in terms of EQ and compression on his vocals as well.

Lewis has applied the PM10’s Neve 773 EQ plugin on Chris Young’s vocal chain, just for the sound of the transformer, not any actual equalization. Likewise, the desk’s Portico 5043 compressor/limiter was also deployed on Young’s vocals, but very sparingly.

“I wouldn’t refer to anything I’ve done here as the product of a plugin,” Lewis adds, proffering an alternative description of his EQ/compression scheme. “It’s more like I’m using outboard/onboard gear, if that makes any sense. The way these plugins respond is just like the outboard analog devices I used to cart around.”

Neo-traditionalism raises its head again on the input side of the equation in the form of wireless Shure SM58s being the choice for all vocals, including those front and center at the star position.

A Telefunken M81 dynamic mic applied to snare top.

Drums are built from the bottom up starting at kick with a classic Shure Beta 91A in/Audix D6 out configuration, a Telefunken M81 dynamic on snare top (“it’s very 57-ish with more warmth and body,” Lewis maintains), and a Beta 57A on snare bottom. KSM137s are the selection for hi-hat and ride cymbals, while Sennheiser e 604’s make their way onto toms and Audio-Technica AT4050’s serve as overheads.

“I always bring overheads up before anything on kick,” he says, providing another burst of philosophy. “Then I start placing my kick within the overheads. I use my overheads to help capture the toms as well, they’re widely spaced and rest just slightly above the cymbals. Viewed in a broader sense, I’m essentially aligning my entire drum kit with my overheads. By taking this approach, my world up on the drum riser comes together quite nicely.”

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About Greg

Greg DeTogne
Greg DeTogne

Gregory is a writer and editor who has served the pro audio industry for the past 32 years.
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