Groove merchants, Cage The Elephant, settled into Nashville's Soundcheck rehearsal space last November in preparation for a mini US outing, and later the band's first worldwide headlining tour. Propelled by the January launch of their second release, Thank You, Happy Birthday"—with the single, "Shake Me Down", riding high on the Billboard charts—it was a time of new beginnings. For monitor engineer Jay Rigby, the change came in the form of a console swap, from another digital mixing console that offered plug-ins to that of a DiGiCo SD8. It was the analog-sounding mic pres that initially sealed the deal, but when the band started the challenging task of packing everything into a behind-the-bus trailer for the road, it was the small footprint and all-in-one package that proved invaluable. Once the tour commenced, it was the RME MadiFace card for recording that made the change a slam-dunk all around.
"My console of choice has always been a Profile; I've always toured with one," he confessed. "But I had heard great things about DiGiCo's SD8. A buddy of mine was out with the Disco Biscuits and they were using a pair of them from Dowlen Sound. Also, I did some work with Blues Traveler and they had switched from a Profile to an SD8, and were raving about it. Prior to the band rehearsals, I called Howard Jones at Digital Console Rentals and asked if I could try one out. When we got to Soundcheck, I had the band running off the Profile and ran a split running the SD8. It was my first experience on an SD console, although I'd previously done a few shows on a D5. The thing that really sold me on it—and made me switch over—were the mic pres. I ended up soloing one of the guitar channels on the Profile and soloed the same channel on the SD8 in my in-ears and with no EQ, no high-pass, literally just gain… it was like night and day between the consoles. It sounded like the Profile had a blanket over it. The SD8 was a lot more open and more like an analog console—like the Midas XL4 pre-amp—which is what I was going for in the first place. It would be impractical to carry around a Heritage 3000 or Midas XL4, especially for the kinds of shows we're doing, so to find a digital console that had the same mic pres and same analog sound to it in a digital footprint was huge for the band and me as well."
During rehearsals, Rigby was able to build his entire show using DiGiCo's offline editing software, making on-the-fly changes from his hotel room on a laptop. "We were constantly adding inputs, so I was able to go to the hotel and make the changes on my laptop, save it to a USB and be ready to go the next day without having to mess around making changes on the console."
Mixing the quartet live was initially a bit of a challenge, as all the guys were on stage wedges but only half were using Shure PSM900 in-ears with JH Audio JH16s. The SD8's Mute Solo button allowed him the ability to monitor each member on individual channels. "All of the guys have wedges in front of them but the guys who wear ears use them for kick drum and that kind of thing. I like having them on individual controls so when I'm switching between the two, it's not blasting out of the wedges. Funny thing, too, but the guys have noticed! At rehearsals in Nashville, the first time I mixed the band on the SD8—the first day, right off the bat—the one guitar player looked over to me and said, â€˜Something's different.' His words were that it sounded a lot more open and a lot more natural compared to what it sounded like before. And that was before he knew that we had switched consoles!"
Rigby says he loves the flexibility of the console and that it's configurable to be 24 auxes in either stereo or mono—which allows him to lay out the console in an organized and concise fashion. "If I was on a Yamaha PM5D or a Profile, if I was doing 12 stereo mixes with 24 outputs; I'd be out of outputs. But with the SD8, I can do as many as 24 stereo outputs [48 XLR plus L&R for sidefills if needed]. Same thing with the input channels; it doesn't really care; it's not eating up too much of the console. I've been able to lay the console out in pretty much any way I want to. I can have on one bank the lead singer's vocal, right next to his reverb, right next to his mix—all right next to each other. I've got it set up like that, with everything on one page. I don't have to switch between banks, so it's really straightforward. I hope to start using snapshots. I didn't get enough time to play around with that, but that's definitely something I want to look into for the next run."
On Cage's live shows, the SD8's Auto Solo function proved invaluable, allowing Rigby to converse with stage techs easily. "Both stage techs have microphones and I have both their inputs in the console auto-soloed so if they need to tell me something during the show, they can just pop something in my ear and get my attention right away."
Following in the footsteps of Papa Roach and Wilco, Cage spent two nights in late February/early March at the historic Vic Theatre in Chicago, recording audio and video tracks for a forthcoming live DVD. DiGiCo's SD8 paired with an RME MadiFace card made the task of multitracking audio tracks a breeze—and cost-effective, to boot. "If I was carrying a Profile, I'd have to spend another couple grand to bring in a Pro Tools HD rig to capture what the SD8, an RME MadiFace card and a MacBook Pro laptop can do a lot less expensively. And, in my opinion, a lot easier. I'm using it to capture not only this live recording, but also every show on the tour."