I cut my teeth on a Crest GT40, analogue console.  I loved everything about that desk.  I couldn’t imagine needing more than 8 aux sends back then and I didn’t know what a VCA was.  To the right of my console was a rack full of outboard dynamic and effect units that were either inserted on a channel (or a group) or fed vix one of the precious 8 aux sends and returned to one or more channels on far right of the console.  Back then a 40 channel console was effectively a 28 channel console after taking up stereo pairs for effects and playback.  The aux returns on that desk were relatively useless and awkward so those knobs just held the setlist up.

A short 15 year fast forward and I have some pretty amazing tools at my disposal.  My current FOH console is a Midas Pro6 with using 34 inputs, 16 aux sends and 16 matrix sends.  The outboard rack has been replaced with a Waves Soundgrid Server with 32 send/return channels at 96k over Madi converted from a Klark Teknik DN9650 with another DN9650 converting AES50 to Dante for record and virtual soundcheck playback.

The on-board dynamics on the Midas Pro6 are fantastic.  However, when I was afforded the opportunity to use the Soundgrid I embraced Waves whole heartedly and went about setting up my own digital outboard rack.

There’s the first mistake and I’m sure that everyone who has ever made the conversion from analogue to digital will admit (at least to themselves) in doing this… I inserted everything everywhere.  “I can put a C6 on my bottom snare?  FUCK YEAH, I can.  Why not?”  I spent more time figuring out what amazing widget I could plug-in to make everything perfect that I had almost forgotten what my purpose was.  As a FOH engineer, my job is to reinforce the amazing sounds coming from the stage and translate them as transparently as possible to the audience.  Toys are for playing; tools are for working.  I quickly decided to use my plugins as the tools they were intended to be and my insert count has significantly diminished.

Let’s have a look at the current Apocalyptica input / output list with inserts:

1 Kick Dynamic – Audix D6 – Waves DBX160
2 Kick Condenser – Sennheiser e901 – Waves DBX160
3 Snare Top – Audix D2 – Waves Maxx Volume
4 Snare Bottom – Audix D2
5 Tom 1 (14”) – Sennheiser e604 – Waves DBX160
6 Tom 2 (16”) – Sennheiser e604 – Waves DBX160
7 Tom 3 (18”) – Sennheiser e604 – Waves DBX160
8 Tom 4 (22”) – Audix D6 – Waves DBX160
9 Roto Toms – ‘y’ cable of 2 Sennheiser e906 – Waves C6
10 OH SR – Shure KSM32
11 Ride 1 – Sennheiser e614
12 Ride 2 – Sennheiser e614
13 Hi Hat – Sennheiser e614
14 OH SL – Shure KSM32
15 Open
16 Open
17 Cello 1 (Perttu) Mic – DPA 4099
18 Cello 1 (Perttu) Amp – Radial JDX
19 Cello 1 (Perttu) Amp Mic – Sennheiser e906
20 Cello 2 (Eicca) Mic – DPA 4099
21 Cello 2 (Eicca) Amp – Radial JDX
22 Cello 2 (Eicca) Amp Mic – Sennheiser e906
23 Cello 3 (Paavo) Mic – DPA 4099
24 Cello 3 (Paavo) Dirty DI – Radial J48
25 Cello 3 (Perttu) SUB DI – Radial J48
26 Cello 3 (Perttu) Amp Mic – Audix i5
27 SR Vox – Shure SM58 – RF
28 Ctr Vox – Shure SM58 – RF
29 FRANKY PEREZ Vox – Telefunken M80 on Shure UHF-R Transmitter – WavesC6 – Waves Vitamin – Waves One Knob Driver
30 Spare Vocal – Shure SM58
31 Click
32 Intro

Aux 1 – Cello Verb – Send to Waves Renaissance Reverb
Aux 2 – Cello Delay – Send to Waves H-Delay
Aux 3 – Vocal Reverb – Send to Waves Renaissance Reverb
Aux 4 – Vocal Doubler – Send to Waves Doubler
Aux 5 – Kick Sub Group
Aux 6 – Snare Sub Group – WavesC6 inserted on group
Aux 7/8 – Cymbals Croup – WavesC6 inserted on group
Aux 9/10 – Perttu Cello Group – WavesC6 inserted on group
Aux 11/12 – Eicca Cello Group – WavesC6 inserted on group
Aux 13/14 – Paavo Cello Group – WavesC6 Side Chain inserted on group
Aux 15 – Vocal Delay – Sent to Midas on-board delay
Aux 16 – open …for now…

Matrix 1 – Left
Matrix 2 – Right
Matrix 3 – Sub
Matrix 4 – Front
Matrix 5 – Record L
Matrix 6 – Record R
Matrix 7 – House Feed
Matrix 8 – Smaart Listen

My favorite Waves discovery is, by far, the DBX160 plugin.  How can I describe it?  IT SOUNDS AND ACTS LIKE A DBX160.  That’s it.  It’s not magic.  It’s not trickery.  It’s the digital version of an industry favorite compressor.  Before I actually checked out the preset library for it, I inserted the DBX160 on my kicks and set it to max input gain, heavy gain reduction and compression and voila… there’s the kick that I used to have back on the old Crest console.  When I dug into the preset library I had to chuckle to myself that the kick drum preset in the plugin had the exact same settings that I instinctively put in place.  Someone over at Waves had the analogue ancestor of this device and loved it for sure.

Another cool Waves discovery is the C6 Side Chain.  The bass cello and the kick are always fighting for space in the subs.  Now that I can side chain the LF band in the cello with the fundamental frequency of the kick they play nicely together and the subs are more manageable.

This blog is just the beginning.  In the coming weeks I’ll be making some videos and posting them for demo of how these plugins are working in the mix.  I’ll also go over the how and why I put microphones where I put them.  For now… It’s time to go remake my patch to accommodate the support band, Art of Dying so they can use the Pro6 as well.

Many thanks to Duane Tabinksi at MidCoast Sound in Nashville for the gear and support, Bill “The Rev” Evans for the opportunity to share my experiences with you, Kyle Chirnside and Chris Malmgren at Midas for the late night / early morning phone calls and, of course, Apocalyptica for pretty much everything.