LOS ANGELES - May 2017 - Toby Francis is one of the most respected mixers in the live production industry and he’s kept busy for four decades by staying flexible as the artists he mixes have ranged from classic rockers like ZZ Top and Matchbox 20 to the hip-hop of Kanye West and the pure pop of his most recent client, Ariana Grande.
LOS ANGELES – May 2017 – Toby Francis is one of the most respected mixers in the live production industry and he’s kept busy for four decades by staying flexible as the artists he mixes have ranged from classic rockers like ZZ Top and Matchbox 20 to the hip-hop of Kanye West and the pure pop of his most recent client, Ariana Grande. The one common thread running through all of those shows has been DiGiCo as his choice of console. Most recently out with Grande on the initial North American leg of her worldwide Dangerous Woman tour, Francis once again manned an SD7 provided by sound company Clair Global.
“The SD7 is really my favorite; I love it as long as I have the I/O,” he shares. But this tour—Francis’ second outing with the pop princess—has been a “work in progress” that required more inputs. This is Grande’s first run where she is both the artist and the producer.
“We really had no idea what to expect when we got started,” Francis says. “How big was the band going to be? How many guests would we have from show to show? And, honestly, these days it is more about MADI I/O than anything. We’ve done a lot of work to get everything [including Francis’ rack of often-rare and always-expensive outboard analog gear] into that loop.”
Other challenges include staging. “The entire show is projection mapped; there are something like 40 4K projectors, and the projection means that the PA is higher than normal. We’re looking to be at 40 feet as often as we can. There is also a thrust that’s about 65 feet long that tees at the end and she spends most of the show on that thrust. There is no way we could do this show without feedback if Ariana was not such a strong, loud and technically proficient singer.”
Far from the cliché of the old rock guy stuck and bitter about mixing pop acts at this point in his career, Francis sings Grande’s praises as loud as she sings the show, describing her as “the real deal” more than once.
“Ariana Grande is one of the finest singers I have encountered over the course of my entire career,” he says. “She’s as good as Whitney Houston was in her twenties and does it without even trying.”
When it comes to choice of consoles, the SD7 wins out not just for its greater I/O capabilities but also for its second redundant engine. “I’ve never had to use it but you just never know what’s going to happen on a live show,” Francis explains. “The audience is different from rock audiences in a lot of ways, but one of the most important is that for many, this is their first concert. The concept of technical issues is totally foreign and that actually makes for even less tolerance for any kind of failure. I know that I can count on the SD7.”
That analog rack, notwithstanding, Francis embraces digital mixing enthusiastically and says that when it comes to overall sound quality, he’s sold on DiGiCo. “They are really the only console company out there that I’ve never been mad at,” he says with a laugh. ”When the SD series came out, I put one next to the console I was using at the time and compared them side by side and immediately thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I can keep using what I’ve been using.’ In every important aspect, from ease of use to service to the all-important sound quality, they’re the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
The North American leg of Grande’s tour ran from early-February through mid-April. Francis is now taking the summer off to spend some time with his family before heading out with Katy Perry in the fall. Meanwhile, the reins to Grande’s FOH mix have been handed to Simon Thomas (Sam Smith, Tori Kelly, Jessie J, etc.) who is now traveling with the artist through Europe and the UK before heading on to additional tour legs in South America and Oceania. For details on her upcoming tour stops, visit www.arianagrande.com/tour. Clair Global can be found online at www.clairglobal.com.
When it comes to choice of consoles, the SD7 wins out not just for its greater I/O capabilities but also for its second redundant engine. I have never had to use it but you just never know what is going to happen on a live show. I know that I can count on the SD7.