Veteran engineer Matt Svobodny is out on road with The Summit Tour, which showcases Grammy-winning vocal ensembles Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 joining forces for a concert experience that offers a capella arrangements, ensemble breakouts, and combined all-star performances featuring ten singers onstage, backed by a three-piece band. Live Design caught up with him as he was ramping up for the tour’s European leg, to learn how he manages this nightly vocal extravaganza.
Svobodny, who has worked with Manhattan Transfer for the past nine years, mixes the entire show from FOH, while also mixing monitors for Take 6, who are wearing in-ears, from the same position. (Manhattan Transfer mostly uses wedges or a combination of wedges and in-ears; those mixes are handled by monitor engineer Bryan Farina.)
Managing both FOH and monitors from the same spot can get a little complicated, but Svobodny, who has spent much of the tour mixing on a Roland M-5000, has developed a streamlined workflow.
“I have my one-to-one input list on the first layer of the console,” he explains, “and have duplicate channels for all of the vocals on a second layer for the IEMs. This way, I can have separate EQ, compression, and panning to the IEMs, and what I’m doing with the FOH channels won’t affect the IEMs. For the band, I use the same set of channels for both ears & FOH, since it seems to work fine. I then have a third user layer of the console programmed with all my vocals, beat-box channels, and effects together on one page. With this layer plus the DCAs, I can mix the show with all of those vocals going on fairly comfortably.”
Five of the six members of Take 6 share a stereo in-ear mix, so the group ultimately only needs two stereo in-ear mixes. “So it’s not as much of a monster as it sounds like,” jokes Svobodny, noting that the singers are so good about sound-checking and getting the right levels that he doesn’t have to make many moves during the show.
The tricky moments come when Svobodny has to send Take 6 reference pitches, which he generates via a piano app on his iPad. “There’s one song where one mix gets the reference pitch and the other one only gets it for the first couple of hits. So, it’s trying to get the reference pitch, and mute the send, unmute the right inputs, and tap a tempo for the delay all at the same time, which makes it also kind of difficult to also be doing FOH,” he laughs.
Here, Svobodny takes full advantage of the M-5000’s user-definable hot buttons. “They’ll pretty much do any parameter, anything that you want to do, so I had a bunch of those set up to mute and unmute channels, switch effect parameters, and get to the outputs.” Several members of Take 6 beat box, so Svobodny sets up separate channels for each singer. “I had even another mult on their channel that had just the beat box settings that would come on and off in parts of the songs when they did that.”
The singers in both ensembles are all on wireless systems; both groups are on Shure ULX-D systems, totaling 12 channels into three rack spaces. Manhattan Transfer’s four handhelds feature Shure KSM9 capsules, and Take 6 use three KSM9s and four Shure Beta 58s—one singer switches between singing on a KSM9 and beat-boxing on a 58; three other singers use the same mic to sing and beat-box. (The twelfth channel is a spare.)
When it comes to effects, less is more with these singers. “I’ve got a couple of reverbs, and a couple of delays, that I keep for the whole scene,” says Svobodny, who uses the Roland console effects. “Mostly, Manhattan Transfer doesn’t use delays, so I just go with a nice reverb on them. Take 6 has a few spots when they have hits, and call and response, where they want to pop on a tempo delay in a phrase, or something like that; the sends to those delays are channels that I mute and unmute.”
Svobodny’s favorite part of the tour? “I’ve been proud to work with a great crew of multitaskers,” he says. “When you’re out on the road with 13 musicians and a crew of four, everyone is doing more than their job titles. And watching audiences walk out at the end of the show with smiles on their faces, singing and dancing their way out of the theatres is nice. It makes you feel like you had a small part in providing a little bit of happiness to people. That never gets old.”
The Summit Tour continues through July; find a date near you.
Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers. As a new contributing editor to Live Design, Jones will be focused on covering the live pro audio market segment.