With appearances at the summer’s biggest music festivals and sold out concerts around North America, Southern rock group Alabama Shakes is currently on tour promoting its latest album, Sound & Color.
To best feature the group’s unique sound – courtesy of lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard – front of house and production engineer Shane Haase searched for the most “natural-sounding” equipment, including a Solid State Logic Live L500 Console.
Formed in Athens, Alabama in 2009, the group has had a quick rise to fame, with three Grammy nominations for its self-produced introductory album Boys and Girls in 2010 and now Sound & Color’s number one debut on the Billboard charts. In addition to its female lead, Alabama Shakes also features Heath Fogg on guitar, Zac Cockrell on bass, Ben Tanner on keys and Steve Johnson on drums.
Inspired by the blues and soul of their Southern roots and the rock sounds of their generation, the band opts for a raw sound on stage, selecting a variety of both modern and classic audio equipment.
“We start with the microphones, which have been chosen to compliment the band’s overall dynamic and to express their voices in the most natural way,” says Haase, who has been touring professionally for the past decade.
“From the microphones, it’s simple signal processing just like anything else: microphone to pre-amp, to dynamic control, time-based processing and out to the masses. But, we play both indoor and outdoor venues so the audio design facilities and flexibility like that of the SSL Live L500 are key to making the FOH mix sit right for every occasion. Between my two racks and the onboard tools that come with the L500, I am able to handle all of my processing with ease.”
Haase selected the SSL Live L500 after looking for a solution that not only had great colour and sound, but also ample connectivity, and a variety of options.
“I’d always been after a digital console that sounds rich at ALL dynamics and that is easy to work on once set up and on the road,” he explains.
“My time at the console has been more enjoyable and inspired since I started working with the L500. It is also incredibly flexible and offers a seemingly endless amount of options for any last minute changes and additions. Having a giant touch screen that actually stays visible in direct sunlight is a huge plus for outdoor events. The local I/O is extensive, allowing all kinds of outboard routing to make your event a full-on production. Not to mention that the clock on the console is phenomenal.”
These features have enabled Haase to be more imaginative with the signal path: “I can route my channels to offer new creative options for my mix,” he explains. “I can arrange a multi-band compressor in front of a limiter or another compressor, and then have the sound flow to a tape saturation plug-in or a mastering EQ. I can split the vocal and add distortion and some filters for particular songs. I can design and shape the sound any way I imagine it, to give the artist the sound they want.”
Adapting to new challenges on tour, and on the night, is an important aspect of an engineer’s job. “The L500 is flexible during setup and in the field,” says Haase. “There are many routing and custom setup options, and useful information is displayed all the time…. The SSL even communicates with you when it thinks something isn’t arranged correctly.
“Having a large touch screen helps me identify and address my problems clearly, while the smaller screen and the knobs give me the precision necessary to fine-tune thresholds or EQs.”