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Staying Ahead Of The Game: System Optimization For A Music Festival On Wheels

The approach to addressing challenges along the way within constantly changing environments and tight timeframes
The author getting the mix together on a DiGiCo SD12 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Shifting Focus

Tuning a system in a festival scenario takes a different approach. At a normal show day, my goal is to make one or two bands sound great through the PA, but with the festival format, my focus shifts to creating more of a “blank canvas” for multiple guest engineers (and their artists) to use without having to worry about it.

However, step one in my tuning and system approach is the same no matter what: make sure that all components of the loudspeaker system are working properly. Everything else that happens downstream of this is totally irrelevant if we haven’t verified that our system is functioning properly.

It also cuts down on troubleshooting if this data has been confirmed. Using the System Check and Array Verification feature of R1 each day was such a simple yet accurate way to test and verify that all components were functioning properly, and the best part is that it takes just a few moments to acquire the data from the amplifiers.

Learning what each engineer liked, and then implementing it, was very much a part of my day-to-day tuning process. There were a few bands that remained constant throughout the tour, so having that constant information was very helpful.

The FOH drive rack with dual Lake LM 44 processors that handled system EQ and delay.

Some engineers liked a super-linear system tuning while others preferred more of a “rock ‘n’ roll” tilt on the bottom. I tend to go with a more linear approach because it provides so much more of an even canvas to mix on while also avoiding starting with a system that already has a ton of low-mid buildup.

If we think about line array theory, we know that the more boxes in an array, the more LF buildup/coupling will occur. Again, this is frequency dependent, making the longer wavelengths more problematic. Most modern systems are truly full range and go all the way down to at least 50 Hz, and sometimes lower, before the crossover starts coming into play. This can wreak havoc on headroom, not to mention having to do some serious channel EQ to counteract it.

After verifying that the system was in proper working order, my next step in tuning was to undo the coupling that happening with the arrays. After taking a few measurements and looking at the data, I’m able to get an accurate representation of how much build-up was occurring.

From that point, there a few different options of how to address the issue. The d&b rig makes it easy to undo with the CPL (coupling filter) function in the D Series amplifiers (accessible on the amps themselves or via R1 software). After removing this “LF mud” the system was usually very close to what I was going for. Another advantage of tuning this way is that what comes off of the console is exactly what comes out of the loudspeakers.

Finishing It Up

In festival scenarios, most bands don’t get much if any time with the PA unless they’re the headliner, and Outlaw Fest was no different. Due to the time constraints, the opening bands’ guest engineers would only get a maximum of 30 minutes with the system, which can be challenging even for veterans. Again, R1 remote control software facilitated fast real-time changes based on an engineer’s requests or suggestions. Whether it was changing timing to shift the image, or an EQ tweak based on the band, it was an effortless process.

Stage left/monitor world, where there are at least seven consoles staged and ready to go.

Having learned last year that FOH real estate would be at a premium, I designed this year’s rig to take up as little space as possible – DiGiCo SD12 and S21 consoles accompanied by a single drive rack. The SD12 served as a guest console and for me to mix openers that didn’t have their own engineers.

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DiGiCo SD Series consoles sound amazing; they’re really transparent and provide me with a clean slate to mix on. The SD12 is such a fast worksurface because I can set it up to visually represent my workflow. The S21 handled matrix mixer duties for the guest consoles, providing a quick, seamless way to switch between multiple desks and run pre-show without sacrificing audio quality.

Outlaw Fest provides me with a great opportunity to learn from some of the A-list engineers who’ve been in the concert touring industry for a long time. I always enjoy finding out new ways to accomplish the task at hand. I’d also like to note that the tour wouldn’t have been possible without Graham Mellor (production manager), Josh Rowe (lighting director), Tito Ladd (L2), James Burgoyne (A2, monitor engineer), and the aforementioned Casey Latter (A2, monitor engineer) and Sam LoPiccolo (A3, monitor tech).

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