To say that September was a busy month for Audio Logic Systems (ALS) would be considered an understatement. Not only did the A/V integrators celebrate a 20th anniversary milestone with a mega bash replete with music, food and drinks at their Minneapolis headquarters, but they also took on the production for a major concert event at the historic Loring Theater—in addition to a slew of smaller one-off events and installs. The show was the reuniting of four of The Family's original members—"St. Paul" Peterson, Jellybean Johnson, Susannah Melvoin and Eric Leeds—after nearly three decades apart. After debuting in 1986, The Family's self-titled, Prince-produced album received critical acclaim (and produced the single, 'Nothing Compares 2 U', famously covered by Sinead O'Connor). But after a single, sell-out show at First Avenue, they went their separate ways. The Loring concert saw the group re-emerge under the new name of fDeluxe and celebrating the release of their new CD, 'Gaslight'.
â€¨â€¨For the momentous occasion, Audio Logic owner John Markiewicz and systems tech Ed Coutu brought in a full d&b audiotechnik system comprised of J-SUBs, J Infra Subs and C7 mid-high cabs, Q10 front fills, with d&b M6 wedges, plus two DiGiCo consoles—an SD8 at FOH and an SD10—for handling the group's wedges and in-ear monitoring systems. He was confident the consoles would be up to the task of handling the sizeable production with exceptional sonics and ease. Since 2009, they've purchased a total of three DiGiCo consoles and have plans for adding a fourth in the coming year. In that short time, Markiewicz has become a DiGiCo diehard.
â€¨â€¨"At Audio Logic, we take pride in the sound systems we use in production, and the union of the DiGiCo desk, whose sound quality is second to none, into the phenomenally sounding d&b audiotechnik systems is a marriage made in heaven. We don't even use drive racks anymore, we just go straight out of the desk through AES directly into the amps—there's nothing in between—and our sound quality is just fantastic."â€¨â€¨Initially the input list was quite large with provisions for the 7-piece band—which included the core Family members, plus guitarist Oliver Leiber, Jason-Peterson DeLaire on keys/sax, and drummer Mario Dawson—in addition to a 6-piece string section. In the end, it was decided that the inputs needed to be scaled back to a manageable 46.â€¨â€¨"
The initial stage set called for two drums sets because original drummer Jellybean Johnson (playing bass in the new band) was left-handed and wanted to sit in on a few songs," explained Markiewicz. "As things got scaled back, we were only able to use one drum set, with the tech switching kits back and forth on those songs... Which were not played in sequence!"
"On top of that, I found out a day-and-a-half before the show that KTCA, the Minnesota public TV station, had plans to record the show, so there was the addition of a few extra mics added for that. We agreed that since we were already tracking the show at FOH using an RME MADIFace we could simply split the feed. I set up KTCA'S engineer, Joe Demko, with a mono feed from my console to sync up in post, which would give them more control over the quality of it. Post mix engineer Brian 'Snowman' Powers was given an additional MADIface interface in monitor world and he tracked the whole show there."
Perhaps one of the biggest save-the-day features for Markiewicz was the ability to do the virtual soundcheck. "Going into this, I knew it would be a show that we'd have to fly by the seat of our pants on," he laughed. "The venue was fairly small and the group was very large and I thought it was best to put everybody on in-ear monitors. Because of budgets, we weren't able to provide full production for rehearsals, so mixing FOH was going to be very much on the fly on the day of the show. When it was mentioned that Scott Fahey would be doing monitors I was thrilled; he's an absolutely phenomenal engineer. I decided to give him the SD10 for rehearsals, which is an excellent desk to mix in-ears on. By getting him the console early, he was able to mix the ears and whatever wedges we ended up using and I was then able to take his preamp settings and recorded tracks and do a quick virtual soundcheck on my own back at the shop on an SD8. I was able to build scenes for the individual songs, and set up a fair amount of things so that I could get through the show as easily as possible without the benefit of a full production rehearsal. When I got the set list on Friday at load-in, I was able to put the scenes in order, set things such as my gates from song to song, Gain-Track off what Scott got at rehearsals and it allowed me to fine tune each song. It gave me a leg up so when I heard the songs for the first time on the night of the show, I was 80% there. And quite literally, it flew from there. We stepped into soundcheck, ran through 3-4 of the songs, and next thing you know, we were into the show. The virtual soundcheck feature really saved my butt on this show, and I think it's one of the best features of the console, period."
At monitor world, Scott Fahey came into the gig with no experience on a DiGiCo console, but the former production manager for the Gatlin Brothers club at the Mall of America currently lead audio engineer at Living Word Christian Center, was overly impressed with the sound and layout of the SD10. "I loved the way it sounded overall, the EQs were clean and it was very responsive. When I turned a knob it did what I wanted it to do. I downloaded the offline software and spent some time on that so that when I got in front of the console I'd have a general idea how it worked. After that, I was able to get some hands-on time at the Audio Logic shop."
Fahey found the console's onboard offerings easy to use and abundant. "I enjoyed the EQs, they were easy to use and very responsive. If I wanted to make an adjustment at 400hz, I could turn the knob ever so slightly and tell the difference. With some boards you have to make big huge changes before you hear anything. The sends on faders mode was a godsend. Trying to do monitors with a group like this on a digital board without them would've been a nightmare. I set up the monitor mixes using them so I could jump between mixes quickly. I tend to use a lot of what I call 'feel' rather than a technical approach when I do monitors… I know about all the technical aspects, but I try to get inside the musician's head and get a sense of what they're looking for. A lot of the time, it's a subtle adjustment, especially with the in-ear monitors that make a big difference. The average person can't tell the difference between a 1 or 3db change, but these guys can. When Paul [Peterson] asked for a little bit more guitar or vocal, he was talking 1 or 1-1/2 db. So it's a feeling of how much to push the fader or move the knob to get the sense of its sensitivity. That was the learning curve for me, but once I got the feel of it, it was great!
From the band's perspective, Peterson—who is touring during the hiatus with Kenny Loggins and Oleta Adams—was thrilled with Fahey at the helm. "The in-ears sounded so incredibly clear and Scott did a great job of interpreting what I needed to hear. The integration of the DiGiCo board into what we were doing was so important. Having that flexibility and different options with the effects sends and such really freed us up to do what we wanted to do - with no holds barred. It was a pleasure to have such great people and the best gear so we could just concentrate on the music portion and the bond and camaraderie that we have as a band. So many cool people came out of the woodwork to help with this project, not only with the recording, but on the live portion, as well. People I had known for years from the old Paisley Park days and guys like Scott Fahey, who is my favorite monitor guy on the planet. To do it at such a high level with the DiGiCo system was a dream come true for us, and the credit goes to John who managed it all."
"The DiGiCo consoles gave me the tools I needed to do this show," Markiewicz added. "This was not a show where we were going to have time to chase down problems. We needed to keep it as clean and neat as possible, not having to use a splitter snake, having the MADIface and multitracking capabilities, all that stuff, is directly related to what I can do with the DiGiCo desks. Walking into an event like this, we all knew we'd have to make it happen rather quickly and work together. And that's exactly what happened. All of the musicians were of the very highest caliber with no ego or attitude. I told Paul I would love to mix for them on any project, but I wouldn't want to do it without a DiGiCo console—whether its a SD11, SD8, SD7 or SD9—because they offer the tools I need to do the job and do it really well. And to top it off, the support that we get from DiGiCo is fabulous. They really support us, they understand us, and they listen to the people using their desks for future development. You couldn't ask for more. Even though this show was like riding a freight train, it was a fun ride, but I couldn't have done it without the DiGiCo desks. And having their support on it made it all possible. At the end of the day, I couldn't have enjoyed myself more."