Girl band All Saints’ comeback tour played ten dates in Academies around the UK this October. It was their first headline tour in over a decade and, with most dates being completely sold-out, space was at a premium.
Girl band All Saints’ comeback tour played ten dates in Academies around the UK this October. It was their first headline tour in over a decade and, with most dates being completely sold-out, space was at a premium. DiGiCo SD9s (supplied by Wigwam Acoustics) were the solution, with their small footprint providing the perfect choice for both Front of House engineer Jonny Williams and monitor engineer Darryl Walsh.
“DiGiCo is always my first choice for anything I mix. I’ve used them for years, know them inside out, and they sound great,” says Jonny. “With the new Stealth Core 2 software upgrades, their flexibility has been expanded to provide an even more powerful mixing facility in a frame far smaller than you’d usually expect, so the SD9 seemed like a great choice for this tour.”
“For me, DiGiCo was the only choice, as I needed the routing flexibility that the SD range offers,” Darryl adds. “I would have been happy to use any model but, with budgets being a major driving force, we went for what was both a practical and affordable option. The Stealth Core 2 upgrade means that the SD9 is really powerful and for monitors I like to work in layers, so a big surface isn’t a big requirement.”
On stage, Darryl set up inputs for four musicians, the four artists and a tech, all requiring different stereo mixes as standard.
“So that we could get the cleanest mixes for the band and the girls, I needed a lot more than just a standard desk,” he explains. “This is where a DiGiCo console really does stand out. With All Saints, we have four open mics on stage, which tend to pick up a lot of ambient noise and there’s a lot of dynamic range in there, too.”
With each singer needing to hear each other, rather than just route the singers’ vocals to everyone’s in ears, Darryl utilised four stereo vocal groups, each comprising of every other singer.
“For example, Mel’s mix would have the band, her vocal, then a stereo group of Nic, Nat and Shaznay, with the process repeated for each singer,” he explains. “I also had a vocal group of everyone for the band, so that I could process the group vocals without affecting the singers directly. This meant I could use Dynamic EQ to filter out the high spill, cymbals, etc – a bit like a noise gate – and I could compress the vocals together, so whoever was singing always sat on top of their own mix, without having to be too compressed.
“The results where fantastic. I can’t think of any other desk where this would be so easily achievable. It also meant I could do a processed drum group, guitar group and keyboard group for the girls. In total my set up used 16 stereo mixes and seven mono for FX sends and the drum sub, or 39 busses in total. Add in the various splits, the talk system FX and group returns and it was around 74 mono and stereo input channels combined.”
“On my SD9, I had 48 inputs plus some split channels, FX returns, shout mics and miscellaneous bits for testing the system each day, so a total of around 60 channels coming in over a number of layers,” says Jonny. “That provided me with enough channels and busses to do everything I would usually do on a (physically) much larger console. I use quite a lot of busses, too, but it was no problem with the new upgrade installed.
“On every SD9 I use, I always set up my left-hand bank as layers of inputs, and the right side as busses and control groups. I always like to have a dedicated master section – I guess there’s still a bit of analogue mentality that I’m trying to cling on to! – and I was running five stereo FX and three mono FX, all sent via auxiliaries, but returned to input channels. I had six stereo groups, eight matrices, and 12 control groups all in use, so although I’d already used quite a few, I still had 14 busses to spare.”
Jonny and Darryl had two D-Racks on stage running through two DiGiCo Little Red Boxes to make life even simpler. The first D-Rack was situated under the drum riser and took the inputs from all live instruments. The second was rack-mounted in monitor world and took inputs from the playback system and radio mics.
“This was all hard wired into the rack, so all we had to do every day is plug the backline looms and mics/DIs on stage and we had it nailed!” says Jonny. “The monitor console had full control, and I had gain tracking engaged at FOH.
Jonny says he chooses DiGiCo simply because they do things other manufacturers don’t do.
“Trying to keep everything in a sensible order/layout can sometimes be a challenge on an All Saints show, due to the number of stereo inputs we have,” he says. “However, it’s easy on a DiGiCo because I can just set up stereo channels and everything fits perfectly into banks of 12. The real beauty of a DiGiCo is that you can just move anything anywhere, so when someone decides to add in something extra mid-tour, you just bang it on the end and then move the channel to wherever you want it.
“If you think of a simple mix, I can get some gains set, throw the faders up and I’ll be in the ball park – I did that on an SD10 at a festival this summer and it sounded great! When I start getting into the fine tuning of the mix I’ll start looking at the routing with specific attention paid to how I use the groups. I’m a big fan of parallel drum compression when mixing pop, so I’ll get my drum sound rocking via use of that. I’ll set up two stereo groups; one for the ‘dry’ drum sound and one for the compressed sound. Both groups are then controlled by a Control Group. I have multiple guitar channels, so they go into a stereo group, too, with a compressor over the top. This is where a DiGiCo becomes extremely useful; the rest of my inputs (aside from vocals) PLUS my drum and guitar groups then get sent into a ‘Band’ group! Now I have all my ‘music’ channels in one group, with a Control Group assigned to it. My compressors don’t get altered when I move the Control Group fader, so I’m keeping consistency in terms of dynamics, but altering the level accordingly. There aren’t that many other console manufacturers allowing groups to be sent into groups.
“With my routing sorted, I start to look at compressors a bit more. I make use of DiGiTubes on a few things, such as bass – it really warms up the sound and makes it sit really nicely in the subs. I use sidechain compressors on a few bits to allow the more ‘important’ bits to sit nicely while there’s a load of other stuff going on around it.
“I also make good use of Snapshots whenever I can. It’s always good to start off simple when storing song-by-song parameters, so I just tend to get a decent mix going, as if I was going to ‘busk’ the gig, and then begin storing fader levels and channel mutes. I’ll move on from there and look at FX parameters and levels, but it doesn’t get much more complicated than that, to be honest. There have been other artists I’ve mixed where I’ve recalled certain EQs on channels but I generally try to avoid doing that if I can.
“We had a few weeks of rehearsals with All Saints so, by the time we left the studio, I had my mix pretty much locked in – in total I had 30-something Snapshots for a one-and-a-half-hour show. All I needed to do was keep my left hand on my four vocal faders, and my right hitting ‘Next’.”
Darryl has toured SD9s for both monitors and FOH and, he says, wouldn’t have any hesitation in asking for an SD9 again.
“There’s certainly enough flexibility in the DiGiCo range to pick and choose what is right for the job,” he says. “I feel that with certain consoles it’s easy to get bogged down in the functionality of the board. Whilst DiGiCo offers a very ‘open source’ way of working – you can lay the desk out to what suits and the macros are incredible – the most important thing – the sound quality – hasn’t been lost to gimmicks. Every piece of equipment in this desk works fantastically well and I’d be happy to leave the outboard racks in the warehouse!”
Both Jonny and Darryl also appreciate the exceptional backup they get from the DiGiCo team.
“The support from DiGiCo over the years has been fantastic,” says Darryl. “I needed their help with a technical issue when I was in Hong Kong. I called DiGiCo and got a call back at 7am UK time and they talked me through how to put it right. That’s service!”
“The staff are always very helpful and the tea is great,” concludes Jonny. “Mark Saunders has been extremely accommodating this year and has helped me out with various things. He also keeps appearing at all the festivals we play – I can’t work out whether he’s following me, or it’s just coincidence,” he concludes with a smile. “Both the sound and functionality of the SD9 is next level, and moving between consoles in the SD Range is really simple.
“In fact, a few days after the tour finished we flew out to Dubai for a festival where I’d requested an SD5 (because I like the layout). I just converted my SD9 file from the tour and rearranged my Snapshots. I had such an easy gig and it sounded great.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN JANUARY ISSUE OF TPi MAGAZINE
DiGiCo offers a very ‘open source’ way of working - you can lay the desk out to what suits and the macros are incredible - the most important thing - the sound quality - has not been lost to gimmicks. Every piece of equipment in this desk works fantastically well and I would be happy to leave the outboard racks in the warehouse!
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