Last year, Hip Hop artist and producer J Cole toured his latest Grammy Award nominated studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (titled after his childhood home), around the world in three ‘Acts’ – to venues across USA and Europe. The live album of the tour, Forest Hills Drive Live, was released in January, along with Cole’s Road to Homecoming mini documentary series and the HBO TV special Forest Hills Drive: Homecoming.
The tour’s production manager and front of house engineer was Raymond Rogers who chose a Solid State Logic L500 console for front of house duties and used an SSL Live Recorder to multitrack every show and for virtual sound check.
The stage set was based on the Forest Hills Drive home, recently re-purchased by Cole, and included a flown model of the house and an original set, with the stage modeled on the roof of the house. The main audio inputs were from J Cole himself, drums, DJ, two keyboard players, guitar, and background vocals, to give Rogers a total of 36 inputs, plus three stereo reverb sends and returns, and two delay sends and returns. The PA was an L’Acoustics K1 system.
J Coles’s delivery of the Forest Hills Drive show was unusual in that he went through every song on the album, in order, to emphasize the core premise of the project – the artist’s ‘s journey from relatively poor beginnings in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to his current status. For Rogers, it was important that he remained true to the album’s sound, but also delivered an exciting live feel to the audience, bringing both the DJ stems and the instruments together with as much energy as possible.
“I want the audience to have the experience of their life at a J Cole show,” says Rogers. “I know when I’m mixing that a great sound will make them stand and sing along for the whole show. I never want the audience to leave the venue feeling like they didn’t get their monies worth or not enjoy the artist they came to support.
“It’s a different challenge every day, per venue. At every show we try to achieve the best look and sound of all the shows, to please the fans. It’s great for my team and me to see certain fans going to multiple cities to see the same show because of the amazing production.”
Rogers first encountered the SSL L500 console at a training event sponsored by SSL and LMG Touring. “I fell in love with the console, its sound, its workflow – and recording with SSL Live Recorder. There are always other options when it comes to consoles, of course, but SSL is now my preference.”
The multi-touch, tablet-style gesture-driven screens on the L500 are a favourite with Rogers – particularly for controlling processing blocks where graphic control is a key element – but the sound of the console was the overriding factor: “I needed the sound that SSL L500 delivers. It was like having a studio on the road with me for all my live shows.
“To be able to get smooth and pleasant audio from a console without needing much EQ or dynamics is always great in my book. It’s a great console. I stand behind its sound quality and workflow. I can’t wait till the next tour I take it out on.”