Hot off the production line, literally, DiGiCo's very first SD11 console made its debut in the field—and on the road—with Staind founder and frontman Aaron Lewis. Out in support of his debut country-tinged solo album, Town Line, released in March 2011, the stripped-down tour features Lewis in an acoustic duo setting on sold-out stages ranging from headlining 700-seat casinos, churches and honky-tonks, to playing opening slots on 50,000-seat arena and festival bills. Long-time DiGiCo user Clay Hutson—who's wearing multiple hats on this outing including FOH/Monitor engineer and day-to-day/Production/Tour Manager—had read about the SD11 rack-mountable system and had to get his hands on the first one for this tour. â€¨â€¨
Over the years, Hutson has driven just about every console DiGiCo on the market, including an SD7 on last year's Maxwell tour and several SD8's on a bunch of one-off gigs. "I also had the very first, hand-built D5 out with Marilyn Manson almost ten years ago. Considering the volatility of that artist, taking a new console out was a risk… but it worked out fantastically. DiGiCo had my back then and I've been a supporter ever since."
Wanting to be in control of Lewis' sound, and not at the mercy of the local production companies and house systems, Hutson was adamant that he carry his own console, but budgetary constraints made his options slim. Because of the varying travel modes of the tour, Hutson needed a compact mixing system that he could simply stow beneath the tour bus or check as baggage on fly-dates. The 19" SD11, DiGiCo's smallest offering (both in size and price), seemed the perfect solution all around and offered the DiGiCo features, functionality and sonics that he'd grown to rely on.â€¨â€¨
"Frankly, it's tough to achieve control and consistency when you're working with some of these regional sound companies who have Mackie consoles or Soundcraft this, that, or the other. I was looking for the perfect solution; something that was a small format that I could either put under the bus, in the back of the trailer, or fly with if I had to, and low and behold, DiGiCo had a product for that application. I've had a long history with DiGiCo and when I saw the SD11 on the website, I made a plea to the audio-powers-that-be to make it happen. We were in the middle of the tour and the console appeared a few days later on a show day. I pulled it out, plugged it in, and fired it up and it was good to go. Within 15 minutes, I had it working the way I needed it to with reconfigured channels, everything on one page, and inputs and outputs set. I was happy to abandon the Yamaha PM5D slated for that night's show!"
For the stripped-down show, Hutson is doing both FOH and Monitors for Lewis' vocals and guitars and for Dobro player Ben Kitterman (the former Staind bus driver-turned-sideman). While this tour is a mere fraction of the large-scale productions Hutson's typically used to working, the simplicity of the gig still had its challenges.
"Just because we're playing smaller venues or casinos doesn't mean the demand isn't there for things to be perfect every single day along with the sonic performance levels we achieve on much larger budgets. It doesn't matter if we're in a club or at a sold-out show at an arena, the person I'm working for expects the best and I feel obligated to give them 100%. Working with acoustic instruments poses their own challenges and with the range of classic vintage Gibson acoustics that Aaron plays, I wanted to give them justice and make them sound as pristine as possible. Granted, working in venues like the casinos, I have to tailor what goes on onstage to match what's going on in the house. You can't always make it sound the way you want it to; you have to make it work with you're given. The thing I love about the DiGiCo is you can tailor the sound to work with what's going on in the room at the time… With no compromises."
Hutson says what makes the SD11 special is that it's no different than any other console DiGiCo offers, in terms of reliability and what's under the hood. "When you fire it up and listen to it, the EQ reacts the exact same way as an SD7, the preamps sound the exact same way as an SD7—it's all there in what would be considered a miniscule package. I'm considered an audio survivalist and I try to stack the deck in my favor. Having the best tools for the gig has helped me in whatever situation I happen to be in and that's why I've relied on DiGiCo as my toolkit of choice for much of my professional career."
ALL PHOTOS BY Christina San Miguel.