Study Hall

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The Right Blend: Catching Up With Train FOH Jason Moore & Systems Engineer Chris Nichols

Talking shop on the summer 2019 tour with the Goo Goo Doll at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Train systems engineer Chris Nichols at his station prior to a recent show.

“I had a car sound system before I had a car,” says Jason Moore, front of house engineer for Train, as we stood out amid the lawn seating at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY. I’d made the drive north to visit with Jason and check out his work on Train’s summer 2019 tour (co-headlined by the Goo Goo Dolls), playing to almost 700,000 fans over the course of 48 shows. We leaned against the barricade as he told me his “audio origin story.”

“I would just sit in my room and wire stuff up. “I had so many speakers wired together, if there is such a thing as negative impedance, I found it,” he laughs.

Moore’s been at the helm of Train’s signature sound for well over six years, and since 2015 has been mixing the band on an SSL Live L500. When he showed me how he had his console configured, I remarked that he was using processing buses the same way I would in a studio DAW software, an appropriate connection given the extremely clear, studio-quality mix that Moore turns out each night.

He mixes with casual precision, relaxed but attentive. Throughout the show, he kept a close eye on (Rational Acoustics) Smaart’s SPL meter, carefully allowing the performance some dynamic contrast without tiring the audience’s ears.

Perception & Reality

Before the show, I also met Chris Nichols, the system engineer on the tour. He was similarly in command of his system – an L-Acoustics K1 / K2 rig – and a peek at his Smaart screen revealed an interesting approach: Nichols was using extremely high levels of trace smoothing, which shows measurements as general trends, similar to how the ear tends to perceive tonal balance. His ears play a large role in his process.

Jason Moore at the helm as Train takes the stage.

Moore confirms, “Oh, Chris is an amazing systems engineer. He really trusts his ear, which is great, and he’s also not afraid to really get in there and dig into an EQ when needed. We work really well together because he’ll let me know if he’s hearing something, and I want that!

“I might be listening to the snare drum for two thirds of a song, working on that, so if he’s hearing something, I want him to let me know,” Moore continues. “He might say, ‘Hey, I’m hearing a bit too much 4 kHz, what do you think? Do you want to pull it out of the mix?’ and I’ll say, well it’s everywhere, so why don’t you take it out of the system?”

While Moore has complete trust in Nichols on this tour, the two still remain vigilant when it comes to protecting the integrity of the artists’ sound. “As a system tech,” I asked as we walked through the venue’s loading docks, “one thing that I see frequently overlooked is the center coverage gap. A lot of these venues, particularly the larger ones, have the mains so far apart that no one down front is hearing a thing. What’s been your experience with that?”

Train lead vocalist Patrick Monahan in action. Credit: Mike Corrado

Moore nodded and replied, “Oh, absolutely, man. Train does a lot of corporate dates, and the mains might be eighty, a hundred feet apart. And so you have this huge center gap.”

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I followed up by asking him how he typically tries to address this issue with the powers that be. “Oh, I’ll get management, I’ll get the buyer, I’ll get everyone down front,” Moore says. “I will remind everyone how the people that really want to watch and hear the show will move to the center in front of the stage. I’ll point to the current main hangs and explain to them why no one will hear the PA, only stage volume. At that point, we’ll roll out the point source boxes I add to our corporate show rider, stack ‘em on the corners of the stage, rock club style.”

Nichols in the process of tuning the system.

Incredible Opportunities

What I didn’t expect was the wide-ranging fan demographic present at the concerts. I grew up with the music of Train and the Goo Goo Dolls, and so expected to see mostly folks my age in the crowd. However, I saw teens, young adults, folks my parents’ age, and many entire families coming out to see the show.

Moore and I spoke about how it’s so important to maintain that perspective – for example, even when I’m up far into the night, mixing in a loud, dark bar, I’m reminded of the incredible opportunity that we have to be a part of meaningful musical expression for a living. Moore and I had originally headed out to the lawn with the purpose of listening to the delay system, but as the Goo Goo Dolls set wound to a close, I realized we’d been talking out there for close to an hour.

Streamers fly during the performance. Credit: Mike Corrado

As we took a final look around the lawn before heading back to FOH, he shared his thoughts on the topic that echoed my own: “You know, I love to come out here to see all the fans and how much they’re enjoying the show. Listening to the lawn system is just a bonus.”

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