Blues Traveler may be one of the hardest working bands on the scene today. For more than 23 years, the quintet has been making soul-filled rock music together, as witnessed by eight studio albums and four live discs, six of them certified Gold or Platinum, with combined worldwide sales of more than ten million units. Along the way, the band has played more than 2000 live shows in front of more than three million people.
Because they're very much a live band, catering to its legions of fans around the country, it was important to offer fans a high-quality recording that they could take home after a show. FOH engineer Adam Fortin, who's been with the band since 2006, has struggled with finding the right recipe for getting the best-sounding multitrack recordings with previous digital consoles. With the implementation of a DiGiCo SD8 for FOH, they had a console that made a solution easily accessible with the addition of an RME MADIFace 56-track interface to multitrack 34 channels straight to a MacBook Pro with an Express port.
"The recording aspect of it is really what sold me on the console," Fortin confessed. "When Big House Sound purchased the two SD8s, I was excited to get my hands on the desk to try with Blues Traveler. Once I did, I never looked back. It just really sounded good. I'm running about 40 inputs off the deck, most of which is for the multitrack recording. The RME MADIFace allowed me to multitrack the band for the first time at a very low cost with no extra outboard interfaces that were proprietary to their software and it's all because of the MADI standard language."
"We've definitely heard a lot of positive comments about the unlimited recording capabilities that the SD8, along with the MADIFace interface, offered our engineers," explained Big House Sound co-owner, Roy Kircher. "That, along with the quality and versatility of the console and the reputation of DiGiCo were the deciding factors in the decision to add two to our inventory. We first demoed the console at the Austin City Music festival last fall with several acts every day and it was a great way to confirm the ease of use. As a rental house in a regional area like Austin, we have to have versatility in what we offer the touring acts that come through our area, and we're seeing more and more DiGiCo consoles popping up as one of the top three choices on production riders. What's funny, though, is that both consoles have gone out a few times with one-off shows, but they've both been kept very busy and out most of the year with Blondie as well as Blues Traveler."
For Blues Traveler, what began as nightly recording for archival purposes turned into a streamlined duplication system that allows the band to offer live recordings available for purchase following a show. "This started about three years ago. The drummer Brendan Hill, who's the recording guy of the group, was really pushing to do this. We explored a bunch of options. Offering downloadable music online was one of the options, but it was just too difficult to consistently do on the road, maybe in part because of the uncompressed file quality he wanted. We could've gone MP3 and done MP3 sticks, but he really wanted to stick with CDs. And having to upload stuff on a website as a smaller compressed files was not a good solution. Being a real stickler about the quality of the audio, offering the music on CD seemed the best way to go, so I started buying gear."
Fortin says for the recording he'll takes a matrix left/right out, which gets mixed along with a couple of mics located at front of house. "Being that the console is very versatile, I'm able to add delay to my left/right mix back to the microphones and bus that out to a couple of outputs into my TASCAM CD-RW900 and everything is aligned from there. I typically add a few seconds of delay on the main PA, which varies day to day depending on the distance of the main PA hang to the main vocal mics, and when I use room mics for the live feel of the audience, I will also delay these to align all sources, which creates a tighter live recording. As soon as I'm done with the recorders, I can go straight to a Microboards' tower duplicator, which is a great machine. I was afraid it wouldn't be road-worthy, but I put it in a nice foam case and it has proven its durability. As soon as a show goes down, 20 minutes later—using my 7 burn/1 read unit—I've got all the copies I need available for purchase at our merch booth."
As for as the quality of the recordings, he found the separation on those tracks was very transparent. "My mixes just came alive," Fortin added. "I couldn't believe it, from one console to the DiGiCo SD8, how really different the recordings were. We've had lots of compliments all around and it's been a very easy transition. Not to mention, the SD8 finally gave me a great straight-to-CD recording. I'm very proud and confident to offer a quality product to BT's fans."
Other aspects of the SD8 that Fortin found himself raving about as he dug into the console were its onboard effects, compressors, and the like. "Just the fact that the SD8 has all the tools available onboard is fantastic," he offered. "Every output has a parametric EQ; they all have compressors and gates on all the outputs… that makes a big difference. All of the reverbs on the console sound really good, too, and are very transparent and clean. I didn't have to mess with them very much. I'm using an octave for the vocals every once in a while, a simple delay and a couple of reverbs for vocals and drums, and off we go… It's another rock and roll show."