Over the past 20 years, New Orleans-grown musician Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, has progressed from journeyman horn player to headliner, touring in support of his own Top 10 albums. And engineer/tour manager John Hermann has been with Andrews just about every step of the way. Hermann was the front-of-house engineer for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band when Andrews was their opening act.
“When he became a headliner, I was the very first crewmember Troy hired,” Hermann says. “I was tour manager, trombone repairman, anything that needed to be done. My career has grown along with this band.”
Trombone Shorty is on the road this summer, including 20+ dates with his Voodoo Threauxdown, a mini-festival of New Orleans favorites, including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Galactic, New Breed Brass Band, and more. Hermann reveals details about the tour planning, go-to gear, and what he’s learned about mixing NOLA brass.
What’s your life like during these months leading up to the Threauxdown shows?
My job has become less about mixing and more about logistics. It’s important to us that the bands that are playing before us are taken care of, as well as just making sure two buses and two trailers of people with all their stuff get to the gig on time.
How many of the bands will you be mixing?
Everyone else has their own crew, except for Troy’s cousin’s band, the New Breed Brass Band. They’re the only other band I’ll be mixing.
When you’re mixing Trombone Shorty’s band, with him singing and playing his horns, how do strike the right balance, to highlight the right pieces in the right moments?
The way Troy has structured his band, it’s like a traditional brass band with a rock band backing it up. So I approach mixing horns a little differently from a lot of people. If you combine the bari sax and the tenor sax, that’s like another guitar part in my mind. The horns aren’t window dressing; they are literally another part of the rhythm section.
What are the mics you like for Troy onstage?
He uses a wireless [Shure Beta] 58 for his vocal, an SM7B for his trumpet, and a wireless Beta 98 on trombone.
The SM7B is really the glue for my mix; I learned that this year at a soundcheck at the Saenger Theater [New Orleans]. I had left one of my SM7Bs at home, so we threw up another mic for the trumpet and the mix was washy and weird. I realized that, as loud as the stage is, because the SM7B is transformerless, it does not pick up stage noise. I’ve got 48 inputs, and one microphone can change the whole thing.
Right now, I’m only carrying those few microphones, but when the Threauxdown dates start in August, we’ll be carrying a full control and mic package.
What console will you want?
I’m gunning for an [Avid] S6L at front of house. The flexibility of page layout—those user-defined layers—for me is huge. I came up mixing on analog desks, so I like having my hands on everything all the time. This board lets the vocals and the three horns be under my fingers at all times.
I imagine there’s some spontaneous overlap on these shows, with different performers joining each other onstage. How do you approach your mix when those things happen?
The rhythm section is always the foundation, but when you have up to 40 or 50 people onstage—which has happened—I just let what’s happening onstage be what it is. It becomes more of an acoustic thing, and it winds up sounding great on its own. It’s better for me just to stay out of it!
Do you have any tips for engineers who don’t have a lot of experience mixing brass live?
Subtractive EQ always: If you can’t hear a tenor sax, instead of turning 2.5 up, take some 250 out to highlight the upper end. Boosting frequencies in that case will just create issues across the board; it’s better to make a hole for each thing to sit in.