By Bill Evans
In a decade and a half of touring, they’ve sold better than 10 million tickets with better than 85% of those shows happening in just two months of every year. Three generations of families pack arenas across the country every November and December to see and hear what is basically the bastard stepchild of a couple of brothers with a metal band in Fla, a music biz guy who produced and managed major acts but really wanted to write rock operas and one of the top lighting designers in the world who may be a hired hand but is a huge part of the vibe. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of the most unlikely success stories in rock. When composer Paul O’Neill shelved his first attempt at rock opera in the late ’70s because he was unhappy with the recordings, he took a sideways step into management and promotion. Throughout the ’80s he was one of the biggest promoters in Japan, putting on every show that Madonna and Sting did there during that decade plus producing a couple of live Aerosmith records. That led to a relationship with a young metal band called Savatage on the same label. O’Neill produced 10 albums for the band and starting with the second one moved them into his rock opera world. Along with several members of Savatage, he started working on a prject that was inteded to do six rock operas (including the first one about the Bolshevic Revolution), a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two “regular” albums. Stunning, but the idea not only had legs, but he got Atlantic Records to finance it tothe tune of $30 million AND give him total creative control over everything the project ever did. For the past decade, TSO has run two separate but equally huge tours during the holidays where they throw piles of money at Bryan Hartley and let him go totally nuts.But TSO is not just a light show. The audio–team and gear provided by Clair Global–is big and impactful but without “crossing the line” in terms of volume. This is, after all, a show where the audience literally ranges from 5 years old to 75.TSO: Turn It ALL On
We caught up with the TSO West tour in Las Vegas at the first of two shows on the same Sunday afternoon in early Dec. This is not a tour for the weak… They were coming in hot from two shows the day before in Phoenix. Load in was 5AM to 3:30 and the first show was at 5. We got a few minutes with monitor mixer Chris Hoffmann, house engineer Michihiro “Michi” Tanikawa and Clair system engineer/crew chief David Coyle. (Thanks to PM Jeff Boguski for setting everything up…)
This was a first in terms of TSO tours as it was the first time they had ever performed The Lost Christmas Eve–the final installment of their Christmas trilogy–in it’s entirety.”The main system is Clair I5,s and I5-B’s” said Coyle. “We have 56 boxes total between the 5’s and B’s running in 3.5. We are running the B’s lower than normal because we don’t carry subs. Front-tills are P2’s and the whole system in being powered by Lab Gruppen 20k’s. Side-fills are Clair I3s–16 boxes total.”The house console is a DiGiCo SD7 and we are only using the on board EFX’s. The only outboard piece of gear is the Alan Smart Comp on the L,R, The system is controlled via Lake software with Smaart 7.
Moving on to monitor world…”The monitor console is also an SD7. In-ear packs are all Sennheiser and the ear buds are all Ultimate Ears UE11s. Most of the band is on ears, but there are still a lot of wedges. Clair CM-22 (a new box with a double 12) and SRM’s all powered by Lab Gruppen 20k’s as well. Most of the mics are Shure including the wireless which are the beta 58s, 414’s for OH, Vp-88’s for audiences mics, 57’s and 414’s for GTR, Palmer and Avalons for the bass.”In total, each TSO unit has approximately 65-80 inputs for drums, bass, two guitars, four keyboards, 12 vocal mics, eight live strings, and audience mics with another 15 inputs for spares and utility stuff. A self-professed analog guy who has worked with TSO for the past 6 years, Michi actually pushed the production toward the SD-7. Monitor engineers Tony Luna (now on an SD10 with Alicia Keys) and Hoffmann made the move first and up until just a few years ago there was a big Midas H3000 at the house position. “I like analog consoles, but we can’t bring them on tour, so that’s why I stick with the SD7. It makes everything sound more analog with digital convenience,” said Michi. “I had been using a D5 for a long time, which made it easy to start using the SD7—the faders and layout is set up very much like an analog console unlike some of the other digital console’s out there. I still like the analog console sound, but the SD7 always sounds accurate, every day on different gigs… and takes up less space. Also, they are great for doing multiple recordings and virtual soundchecks. Hoffmann’s Headaches”What I love about digital consoles,” said Hoffman, “is the ability to expand. I double lots of inputs for various reasons. I don’t double everything but I like to keep some of the key channels doubled in order to send different tones to the ears and wedges. Things like the kick drum, main piano, guitars, and vocals I like to have separate strip EQ’s for the in-ears vs. wedges.There are 80 physical stage inputs on my stage. Output-wise, I have 24 stereo ear mixes split between the band and various tech mixes plus 12 wedge mixes, thumpers, effects sends… I don’t actually know how many channels I’m up to at this point, I’ve never counted, but it’s a ridiculous amount.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWO6PLFmNso