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Transcript: Talking with Rob “Cubby” Colby

Rob Colby fields questions on equipment, tour preparation, sound crews and more.

By Dave Dermont January 6, 2008

Brad Nelson: Hi Cubby, Now that you have mixed on V-DOSC, Clair I-4 and VERTEC line arrays, which do you like better and why?

Cubby Colby: Tough question, Brad. They all have their own priorities. The VERTEC seems to be the easiest to rig. The V-DOSC is everywhere in the world. The I-4 is also a good line array, also with very good rigging. But most importantly they all sound very good.

For me, technically, V-DOSC and VERTEC have their priorities – the way they go about putting the system in the room, there’s more of a technical approach to it than there is with the I-4. I like the use of the laser pointer that gives you the distances of the line array from the top seat and the closest seat, and with that information, you to put in the exact trim height, cabinet display, and pullback so as to get the best coverage from front to back. Line arrays in general, from my experience, are all getting better and better and better.

P. Tucci: Why do they sound good? (Compared to, say, a stack of S4s or a Prism rig?)

Cubby Colby: For me, the development of the low-mid horn on the V-DOSC box is what I fell in love with at first. All the line arrays seem to have a warmer and certainly more time-aligned low-mid to mid-range sound that I’ve been wanting to get from the Prism rig for a long time. Once the line arrays have been properly installed, the coverage from top to bottom, I feel, has been a very big improvement compared to the traditional old stacks.

Also, the power that comes from such a narrow line array is amazing. With touring these days, and large theatrical sets, it’s extremely hard to get in a traditionally huge left-right hang. So not only do the line arrays work really well, but they work really well within very small footprints. I still love the Prism system. It always was a great system and it always will be a great system, and I enjoyed mixing on it and will enjoy mixing on it in years to come.

Scott Fahy: Is it true one of the first times you did a rehearsal on a Prism rig you blew out a bunch of low-end speakers, or was that a rumor?

Cubby: Rumor. As a matter of fact (and you can check with Showco on this), I believe I took out less than a half a dozen drivers in the last 15 years I’ve used the system.

Chris Kathman: Wow – not bad!

Harry: What do you consider important in a touring company?

Cubby: Personnel and equipment. Personnel, to me, is the most important part, because these people are the ones who accompany the equipment. Let’s face it, all of the gear provided by sound companies is generally very good. But it’s the personnel who install the system day in and day out, do preventive maintenance and have fun doing it are what make for a great sound company.

Dave: The next question was asked by many, so it must be important to everyone. I’ll go with the guy that asked it first.

P. Tucci: What kind of relationship do you have with the systems people working for you? Are you hands on with set-up?

Cubby Colby: I believe that all system engineers are capable of getting the system up and running in its most efficient way. I feel that the system engineers that I’ve worked with (many of them) have all enjoyed being part of the set up and this hopefully gives them some sense that all the hard work they’ve put in all day leads to satisfaction by the end of the night that it was a good mix.

I truly love working with system engineers that like this type of relationship as well. I don’t want the guy just to set up the PA and then take it down without getting his head around the drive rack of the system. By doing this, he is always part of the team that achieves good sound at the end of the day. For me, once sound check starts I’m on my own. From the start of sound check until the end of the show, I am on my own.

System engineers are extremely valuable for large tours. There have been many times when I have not been able to be there (at a gig) until sound check.

Scott Fahy: Do you prefer mixing in a smaller (under 4,000) room or a larger arena/shed environment, and why?

Cubby: Hi Scott! I would have to say I love arenas. The line array systems and the Prism systems and a handful of the other systems can make bad rooms sound good. I enjoy the atmosphere of the big arena (when it’s sold out, of course ), the energy of the people and what they bring to the show. I get a lot of energy from that. I have a better sense of feeling that the audience is getting more out of the music and more out of the mix.

I also like theatres. I just finished a really great tour with a very good singer (Donny Osmond) and a nice string section, and to mix in theatres was a different challenge. And although it was such a soft mix, I still wanted to achieve the big, dry bottom end. So all venues, for me, are a challenge, but arenas are sometimes the most forgiving.

P. Tucci: Are you an old school “check one, two” guy, or are you dual-channel measurement savvy?

Cubby: Old school “check one, two”. I carry a Beyer 88, and I know my voice, and for those of you out there who know me, I can do a pretty mean kick drum with just the microphone and my mouth.

Chris Kathman: Cubby Colby, human beatbox, y’all!

Dave: The Old Soundman would be proud.

Cubby: I just recently had a system with flying sub bass. It was OK, but I must say I prefer sub bass stacked on the floor, provided it’s displayed right and there is some thought given to trying to get rid of the “power alley”. This can be done a few different ways. I believe Showco’s Prism system, within the drive rack, has corrected the center bass build up.

I know of another way of delaying one side of the low bass (in relation) to the other, and sometimes this will help get rid of power alley. I like to feel the energy on the floor, and when I go up on the sides, generally there’s good bass. Depending on how much room is left in the mix, you can use the sub bass in the air as an effect.

Raul: Can you tell us about your preparation process to mix a new tour/new artist. What is some of your homework process?

Cubby: First I get as much of the artists’ material, whether it be studio or other tour mixes (such as live videos, television footage), and spend a great deal of time getting familiar with the music. I then find out the play list – all the songs that the artist could possibly use for the tour. Then I hone in on those and determine what effects, dynamics and panning will aid me in putting out the right mix. I also like to spend time with the artist (or artists) during production rehearsals, going over the work tape that I’ve recorded that day, to make sure that I am heading in the right direction with the philosophy of their music.

Pat Scott: Do you miss playing/mixing in small venues or “surprise” local big-city bar jams?

Cubby: Yes, I miss the old days of Prince deciding in the middle of the night that he wants to do a club gig. We’d pack up from the tour, grab what we needed, put it in a van and go right to the club. And let me tell ya, as hard as it was to do those things, what Prince would bring to that two-to-three-hour private jam would be incredible. I saw many sunrises while doing the several tours with Prince.

Pat Scott: Even on major tours, what were some of your worst promoter nightmares?

Cubby: Outdoor stages. Either the load-in to the sound wings were atrocious, making it far harder for the guys to fly the huge speaker arrays, or the front-of-house canopies would leak so badly that we would build tarp roofs within the mix tower.

Pat Scott: When going out on tour, do you specify which board you want to work with? Also, do you prefer digital or analog, and why?

Cubby: For the past five years I’ve been very happy with the Amek Recall, and now with the RN version, I’m extremely happy. I have used the Showconsole and feel it is an incredible digitally controlled analog console. The (Yamaha) PM1D is also a good console, and is a great facility for multiple band shows, such as awards shows like the Grammys, Billboards, etc. Some day in the near future I would like to tour with the Showconsole, provided the tour has the budget. Until then I am very happy with the Amek RN Recall.

Scott Fahy: Of all the people you have mixed over the years, who was the most challenging to get a good handle on the mix?

Cubby: Interesting question. Perhaps Ricky Martin, most recently. I just finished a 14-month tour with Ricky (Feb. 2000- April 2001), and the challenge was in the Latin percussion. If the Latin percussion rudiments aren’t in the mix, it might as well be any rock band up there. It was so enjoyable to mix that music once I got my head around the Latin sound.

I had a lot of good help on that tour. The co-manager, Ricardo Cordora, was a great help. In the very beginning, during rehearsals, he would play traditional Latin music for me. Just finding the tamborine and pulling that out made the music make sense. All the syncopated beats that they actually danced to needed to be heard. It had nothing to do with the “two” and the “four”.

P. Tucci: Cubby, you’ve been at this a long time, and at a very successful level. Do you sometimes feel an ebb and flow to your chops? For example, was 199X so much easier than two years before? Sort of a sports analogy, if you will.

Cubby: Not really. I’ve always been blessed with really great tours. And it was always the preparation that got me started on the right foot. What’s changed the most for me over the years is the politics. I can live without the politics. That’s what’s making it more difficult.

Michael: What do you mean by “politics”? If you can say so autonomously.

Chris Kathman: Or discreetly …

Cubby: I don’t care to discuss politics.

AlanH: Who do you look up to (and why) as far as engineers?

Cubby: In terms of live sound engineers, Brian Ruggles. A French engineer, Yves Jejette. Dave Natale is the best. Studio guys: Prince, Hugh Padgham, and too many more to mention. Brian Ruggles and Dave Natale are great dynamic mixers. The others that I mentioned are more like producer engineers. I learn from everybody. Especially now with the young engineers coming up, the guys that are mixing Limp Bizcuit, Tool and a lot of the new cutting edge live bands. I don’t know their names, but these guys are just fantastic. What they’re bringing to this new sound, I don’t know if I could find it. I’m too old school. These guys create excitement

Dave: I’d like to take this time to make a “last call” for questions.

Pat Scott: If you could, pick an artist, past or present, that would make you drop everything and go out on tour with them.

Cubby: Two tours. Genesis with Peter Gabriel, and the new artist Craig David.

Cubby: Thank you all very much! I hope I brought something to this chat room. It’s kind of difficult because I would really like to expound on your questions even more. A big thanks to Danielle, who did all the typing for me.

Chris Kathman: Thanks Cubby (and Danielle)! Our moderator was Dave Dermont, “Another Dave”! Please join us in the live sound chat room now.

Dave: Thank You, Mr. Colby.

Cubby: Thanks Dave, and we can do this again whenever you want.

Cubby: You can give out my email address if you’d like – .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Chris Kathman: Unreal! That is very generous, thank you, sir. Goodnight, everyone. From Whitinsville, this is D.J. Chris K. wishing you all cheers and big ears…


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