By Bill Evans
It’s one of those great stories of the guy mixing the opener on a big tour finding himself a decade later mixing the headliner. But this time, he’s still with them another decade on.
“In 1990, I was on the Presto tour working on Electrotec’s sound crew,” recalled Rush house engineer Brad Madix. “One of my duties was to mix the opening act, Mr. Big. I got a couple of good gigs out of that, including Queensryche. Later, I took over for Robert Scovill on the Roll the Bones tour when he had a conflict with Def Leppard. He did a tour after that, but wasn’t available for the Vapor Trails tour in 2002. The guys invited me back and I have been mixing them ever since.”
“The guys” would be Rush. One of the most enduring–and polarizing–bands in rocks history. Beloved by a legion of fans (which includes a huge number of other musicians) and reviled by critics. They have had the same lineup since 1974. That puts them just a year away from 40 years as “real” band. They have put out more than 20 records, 14 of which went platinum. They’ve sold 40 million-plus units worldwide. And still they had to wait almost 15 years after their initial qualification to get into the Hall of Fame. And the are a regular on end of the year top tour lists.
“They’ve been making great music for decades with the same lineup for virtually the entire run. I’d say it was well-deserved,” Said Madix about the recent induction. “As for me, I’m honored (and lucky) to be associated with such a class act at a time when they are finally gaining some respect amongst the critics. Personally, I think they’re doing some of their best work now!”
OK, let’s start with a geeky audio question. Rush is three-piece band… How many inputs and how many of those are drums?
We are 80 inputs total. About 36 of those are drums. That hasn’t changed much in 10 years, though the electronic element of the drum kit does shrink or grow from tour to tour. We’ve probably been as high as 40 Drum inputs and as low as 32 in that time. Depends on the set list, mostly.
BRAD TUNES THE SYSTEM
Console of choice and why?
After having done one tour with an analog board, I was an early adopter of digital for this act. Mainly because I could actually reach all of the inputs and inserts! It’s been the Avid VENUE system for the last three tours. The facility to run TDM plug-ins on the desk elevates the Avid platform above all the others, in my opinion. I like the small footprint, also. The ability to reach everything and keep my head up and in the mix is invaluable. Things are always evolving in the audio realm of course, and it will be interesting to see what the next few years will bring.
PA of choice and why?
Clair Brothers i5. Clair is top-notch when it comes to global service and they’ve been an immense help and support over the past 10 years.
What’s with the Copperphone mics that were mounted on Geddy and Alex’s mic stands? Audience mics for in-ears? A “look” thing? Or just something to make people ask questions like the chickens and the dryers?
Those are the most interesting mics, but In our case they are props. However, they’re a functional mic, with a cool, old-timey sound. I’d love to put them to use some day in the right setting. For us, they just look like something Jules Verne would have used if he had a band.
I get the feeling that Rush is a pretty complex show in terms of audio “events.” I am 90% sure there are no tracks but I am just as sure there is a significant amount of triggered stuff and pedal and keyboard parts in addition to the bass, guitar and drums. Are you heavy on scenes and snapshots?
Now you can be 100% sure. There are no tracks, but there are hundreds of triggered samples and other events. And yes, there are hundreds of snapshots fired during the show. All three of the guys are firing samples and keyboard parts during the show, and the snapshots are really the only prayer of keeping all of that in the pocket. Most of the level changes happen on the back layers of the desk, though, so it’s not like there’s faders flying all over the place. I still ride the top layer VCAs and Groups in an old-school way.
BTW, you forgot strings! They’re an interesting new addition to the mix.
Biggest challenge of the gig?
First, it’s a long show, and there’s a great deal going on. It’s 2:45 of pretty intense focus, and that can be hard to maintain. It’s important for me to try to have a routine so I can keep my head in the mix.
It’s a technically challenging show as well. There’s a lot going on, and technology does not always cooperate. It’s not so much that any one piece of gear fails – that happens pretty rarely, as a matter of fact. But there’s a huge amount of inter-connectedness, and occasionally something just fails. We had a short in a MIDI cable at a show, for example. No hums, no buzzes, but some interesting mis-triggers and non-triggers.
It’s funny what people notice, though. At that show, the first several songs were major disasters. Imagine “Subdivisions” with no keys! Yikes! There were seven or eight songs like that before we got it tracked down. At the break some guy came up to me and said he was an engineer and he couldn’t hear the bass. And here I was obsessing about the fact that about 1/4 of the audio elements of the show were missing entirely! What do I know?
Thing you look forward to the most each show?
On a daily basis, I love the buildup to the first song. Getting ready for that downbeat is very important. I actually make a point of mixing through the first song in my head before the show starts. I think it helps me to be prepared to handle whatever the first song throws at me.
I have to say that I really enjoy the preparation that these guys do for each tour. They are meticulous in all aspects. We never go out under-rehearsed and unready.
How does the fact that pretty much every Rush tour ends up as a live DVD play into how you do the audio thing with them?
Well, I can’t say we tailor what we do live much to account for a DVD. We do multi-track every show and some of that gets used, and we are putting up audience mics we might otherwise not use. But in the end the DVD is a representation of the band’s live show, and not the other way around.
Away from Rush… I first met you when you took over Shakira from Cubby when he left to take Juanes. And it seems like you are one of a couple of “go-to” guys when an A-list mixer needs a sub on a major gig. That’s a good thing, BTW and speaks volumes about both your skill and basic human decency. (i.e., People know you can do the gig AND that you are not gonna try to take it from them.) A little about the skill set AND the personality traits it takes to be able to step seamlessly into another gig would be awesome.
I have been asked to take over a few gigs. Sometimes the engineer has a conflict and just needs someone to keep his hand on the tiller, so to speak. I would never actively work to take that guy’s gig from him! It’s nice just to get the call. Other times, the guy may be moving on, and in that case I’ll move quickly to make the gig mine. I think Cubby is a great engineer, and in fact we did call him back a couple of times when there were shows I couldn’t do. It’s good to be gracious, don’t you think?
Anything else I’m failing to ask about that you think is important?
I think a live engineer just has to have a strong work ethic and get in early and work with other people on the tour to make the sound of the show – not to mention the show overall – as good as it can be. The truth is there are always compromises (starting with the venue on most days) and it’s important to work with the other departments and get the best possible results.