FOH engineer Peter Keppler, who has mixed tours for some of music’s biggest icons, is using tools from Waves Audio for the Broadway production of American Utopia, the new theatrical concert from David Byrne, the former frontman for the Talking Heads and solo artist.
The production, in residency at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, is based on Byrne’s seventh solo studio album, American Utopia, released in 2018, and also features additional songs from the Talking Heads. Byrne fronts the production and shares the spotlight with 11 musical artists in the ensemble.
Keppler talks about the challenges and solutions of mixing this show: “My latest setup for this production is a DiGiCo SD10 with Waves MultiRack, Waves SoundGrid Extreme Server and a Mac mini with a Dell touchscreen. My go-to Waves plugins are the Waves PSE (Primary Source Expander), which I use on all 12 vocal channels to help control drum and percussion spill from our six drummers on stage. I place the Waves F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ on all the vocal channels as well, directly after the PSE in the rack, primarily as a dynamic EQ and on one of the electric guitars for dynamic tone-shaping.
“I have so much drum and percussion information on a relatively small stage with 12 headset vocal mics, and everybody is wireless and constantly on the move. It could be a nightmare for spill into the vocal mics,” he continues. “PSE really helps with that, especially using the filter on the side-chain allowing me to isolate the vocal frequency range and keep any high-frequency spill from cymbals and percussion and the low frequencies of the drums from triggering the soft gate on vocals. The F6 as a dynamic EQ has become a go-to for almost every live vocal I mix: it gives me so much more usable gain on the voices, especially when people are singing quietly, and it does a beautiful job of compressing only the spots in a performer’s vocal range or peaks in the mic’s response that really need it.”
He adds, “Another favorite is the Waves Abbey Road Reel ADT, both the stereo and mono versions. I utilize the J37 Tape for slap echo and also as a doubler. It has great features like saturation, wow and flutter and various tape formulations that add harmonics and a little dirt. The H-Reverb Hybrid Reverb (send/return) is great for longer reverbs on vocals, drums, and instruments and for a gated snare reverb on a handful of songs as well. I use the H-Delay Hybrid Delay (send/return) for vocal and instrument delays, stereo ping-pong style and mono delays and the NLS Non-Linear Summer Input and Buss for drums and bass. It enables me to change the sound of the drums with one click and it is great for adding harmonics and a little grit to both bass and drums.”
Keppler also is utilizing Waves MultiRack (a software host that lets FOH and monitor engineers run multiple, simultaneous instances of the same Waves plugins used in recording studios and mixing rooms), “One of the main benefits for me is the ‘portability’,” he says. “I can work on many different live consoles and carry the processing from one to the next with no more than a USB stick. I’ve also found that I can tweak reverbs and other effects while I’m in the studio and am able to listen critically, then store those as presets to use in a live situation if I want. Setting up processing chains is super-easy and changing the order within a rack is just a drag-and-drop process. Snapshot recall is possible from rack to rack and also for the individual plugins within the rack, which for this show is absolutely critical. Also, the GUI features such as mono-to-stereo and input/output are quick and save console DSP.”