Jon Lemon has been rockin' DiGiCo consoles on A-list tours for nearly 8 years, so when the venerable engineer was asked to handle FOH on a short tour with The Fray, he jumped at the chance to check out the latest DiGiCo SD10 console. The Denver rocker's mini tour, opening for U2 on a handful of make-up dates from last year's cancelled tour, was the perfect opportunity for Lemon to explore a desire to assemble and test-drive a small touring package utilizing the compact SD10—in tandem with an SD 192kHz DiGiRack and the Waves/DiGiCo SoundGrid Bundle.
"I was really keen to use the new SD10 with a full Waves package to see if I could actually do a tour without carrying any of my normal, expensive outboard gear, which I've gotten quite used to using. Last year, I took an SD8 out on a Smashing Pumpkins tour because we were flying so many places and I wanted something small, lightweight and powerful but I still had all the outboard etc. to ship I liked it, but preferring the SD7, the new SD10 seemed more SD7-like—from the meters and faders to general feel. Having 96 channels with full processing appealed to me, as did the SD10s macros, especially on a single screen DiGiCo product, because you can get around a lot quicker by having them programed. The ability to have more inputs is highly important, too. Bearing in mind that on most modern tours these days you seem to do more flying, it was my goal to get this powerful, small package together, and for a travel pack, I think it's totally ideal—and probably the way I'm heading for the future."
Working out of his home studio a few weeks prior to rehearsals, Lemon was able to set up the console, working off a hard drive from the band's previous live shows. "I was impressed with SD10's layout right off the bat and liked having 16 plug-in racks to work with. Going into rehearsals in Las Vegas, we set up, switched on, and it was all there ready to go. It felt like I'd done a couple of weeks of rehearsals, when in reality I'd only spent two weeks at home and two days with the band and I had a full show ready to go. The nicer bonus was the new SD192 rack, which showed up during rehearsals… My inputs actually sounded better. I've been using those other racks every working day of my life since 2002, and it's a completely noticeable difference to me. It sounded cleaner, more analog sounding, and the high-end is different too. More airy."
Lemon's enthusiasm with his newly crafted audio tour package, in part, could be attributed to the addition of the DiGiCo/Waves SoundGrid bundle, which he says is a â€˜must-have' companion to any DiGiCo system. "Between the console's compressors, gates, dynamic EQ and dynamic compression—not to mention the straight Waves plug-ins on top of that—you've got quite an arsenal there! The Renaissance plug-ins, especially the reverbs, are so good. Combined with some of the high-end valve compressor emulations, H-delays, H-compressors, and SSL buss compressors, there's so much available to you."
An interesting situation presented itself on the tour and one in which the benefits of the Waves bundle were extremely evident. "On the U2 shows, the main end of the PA had two lefts and two rights—flown side by side—so one system was doing all the vocals and all the guitars, and the outside system was doing all the drums, bass, keyboards, etcetera. Normally, on my left and right I would have a Waves hardware piece, the BCL—the one with the Renaissance Compressor, a Maxx Bass and an L2 Ultramaximizer. I added another stereo bus for all of the shows we were doing with them and then it was really easy. I was able to drag up another rack and then copied and pasted my original three plug-ins—the Renaissance Compressor, Maxx Bass and L2 Ultramaximizer—into another rack and then instantly I had my settings available on two masters. That was a very easy way to handle having another output in a complicated system."
"I also found that, where I would normally run parallel drum compression live and have to use an outboard compressor such as a Smart C2 Compressor or an SSL Bus Compressor, I was able to do it internally on the console using the SSL Bus Compressor. Normally, when you do it with analog outboard, you've got to loop in and out of a straight drum bus to make up the latency of the compressor to stop it phasing. All that's calculated and compensated for you within the Waves/DiGiCo package now, so stuff like that is useful and quick. You can build up your own presets like you can do with the regular channel EQ, dynamics etc."
In the long run, scaling down his live rig has ultimately given Lemon more advantages and a new way of working moving forward. "Having the ability to use what you use on your DAW at home out in the field has sort of changed things. There's no doubt about it, and long-term, it will give me a lot more nuance in my mixes ultimately because there's so much more flexibility—especially in terms of presets and snapshots. Between what you can do with the Waves plug-ins and what's available onboard the DiGiCo is fairly limitless. It'd be great with the SD7 as well, although I'm not sure whether I'd use that many plug-ins—32 racks is a lot—it would probably depend on the amount of inputs. But if you figure most bands I typically work with are between 50-90 inputs, I'd probably realistically only use 16 to 20 plug-ins or so."
Another boom of the Waves SoundGrid came after the tour had ended when Lemon was asked to mix three songs from a live recording done at one of The Fray's sideshows at the Fillmore Auditorium. "The recording was done in Pro Tools by the venue as it was a fly date and one of the only shows I did not record myself. Funny enough, I was able to take many of the presets from the live console's Waves plug-ins and import them into my Pro Tools session as I'd stored the files for the presets for each individual plug-in off the SD10. I found that intriguing; that I could get my drum and vocal reverbs and de-esser exactly where I'd honed it in live. It made the mixes I had to do for the band extremely quick and easy because I was able to access all my presets from the live show. And of course that will work the other way around as well, as you can hone reverbs and the like at home and import them into your DiGiCo/Waves session."â€¨â€¨What began as an experiment in streamlining a somewhat complex audio touring rig into a compact and features-packed system has perhaps become a new way of working for Lemon. "Absolutely! I found this to be a viable system for many if not most of the bands that I'd be working with down the road. The trial proved most enlightening and will no doubt impact the day-to-day workflow for me from now on. And needless to say as a longtime DiGiCo user, I'm so pleased to be able to have an all-in-one that's DiGiCo top to bottom and that I can flex for whatever band has got me on its payroll."