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Monitor Mixing: On The Road With Jessica Simpson

Getting the call to mix monitors for Jessica Simpson earlier this year was my surprise birthday gift from FOH engineer Monty Lee Wilkes.

Following a cross-country flight early the next morning, I was programming a Yamaha PM5D at Center Staging in Burbank for the debut performance of Jessica’s country music show at Country Thunder that weekend in Wisconsin.

Jessica is as beautiful inside as out, a hard-working girl from Texas whose gift to audio is a dedication to her craft that includes a full hour of vocal warm up before every show. Any singer who wants a performance advantage would do well to “remember that” simple fundamental exercise.

Besides Jessica Simpson, there were nine musicians, for a total of 10 IEM mixes. The remaining four of the PM5D’s 24 mixes drive Jessica’s vocal effects, her downstage wedges and her mono sidefills, as well as subwoofers for drummer Gorden Campbell.

Dedicated reverbs for the backing vocals, Tomer Shtein’s Martin D-28 rhythm acoustic guitar and Kevin Arrowsmith’s fiddle are each driven from input channel insert points to conserve mix buses. Other than the micro pitch-shift on Simpson’s vocal, all the reverb effects employ the new REV-X Hall algorithm that’s included with the PM5D’s Version 2 software (as well as the M7CL and LS9), which is well worth scrolling down to the higher effect presets to recall.

Like most drummers, Campbell prefers a hardwired mix, supported with a pair of 18-inch subwoofers. With drum subs, the key is to maximize the transfer of energy between the woofers and the drummer’s body.

Think of the upper and lower torso as two distinct 18-inch diameter targets and it’s easy to see how to optimally place the subs, often one over the other, raised up to the height of the drum stool. Positioning the two woofers close to the drummer’s body also helps prevent the kick drum from feeding back.

I’m a firm believer in providing in-ear mixes in stereo, but with 10 musicians, this eats up 20 of the PM5D’s mix buses, leaving one for the lead vocal effect send, one each for the down-stage center wedge mix and side-fill mix, and the last for the send to the drum subwoofers.

Now, are wedges and sidefills really needed? Surprisingly, yes – not just for the extra confidence when a musician pops one ear out. They don’t simply fill the stage, but for louder shows, they provide a performer extra support at the front and sides of the stage, where the mains and subs cloud a singer’s ability to hear.

Everyone else enjoys the freedom of wireless packs, so the challenge is to get ten systems, two for Jessica and eight for the other musicians, to work each day. Because rental houses usually provide IEMs in groups of four or eight with a single pack per transmitter, we carried two transmitters and six packs for Jessica, using the rentals for the band.

When used as a monitor desk, the PM5D’s eight matrix outputs are most often used to provide copies of monitor mixes on extra outputs. Jessica’s mix is copied to Matrix 1 and 2, as well as Matrix 3 and 4 to send it to two different transmitters, so that a second frequency is always immediately available on a second pair of belt-packs.

Pro Tools engineer Warren Johnson gets a copy of Music Director and keyboard player extraordinaire Herman Jackson’s mix on a hard-wired pack, so the Matrix is again used to provide it on additional outputs.

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