It's rare for GS to have a Q&A with an engineer who works almost solely in the live & broadcast music arenas (pun very much intended) but when we're talking about Robb Allan, all bets are off! Robb is one of the most respected & experienced live sound guys around having done FOH for Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers, Massive Attack, Alt J, Natalie Imbruglia, Lisa Stansfield, Glastonbury, V Festival, Reading & Leeds and broadcast audio for such TV staples as SNL, David Letterman, the MTV Movie Awards and more. His career pivot from live audio to Avid product engineer (amongst other things, working on the design teams that brought the S3L and S6L to market) meant that he was able to bring a very unique angle to his 2016 Q&A. Read on for some very wise perspectives on live sound, mixing TV, and at least a couple great stories from life on the road...

[top]Can you please tell me how you approach your mix when you have to work in a Stadium when you have a lot of Reverb and echoes? - George_Sotis

There are no easy answers. Some rooms are just pigs. Of course with new line arrays and beam steering algorithms we can reduce reflections by making sure the energy from the audio only hits people not hard surfaces.The challenge is predicting how the sound will change when a space changes. Fifty thousand people are a pretty good sound baffle. We always say "be alright with a few fat ones in".

It's not a coincidence that there's a stadium rock sound. Think of Coldplay or U2 in essence music stripped down to clear rhythm sounds, big kick and snare, simple bass line, a guitar and a vocal. The space in the music allows the reverb tails space to die off. I also try to resist the temptation to rip frequencies out of the master eq. I always try to maintain the energy in the mix. Pulling out frequencies that are ugly in an empty room just means you'll be chasing your tail when it's full, putting them back in during the first songs. Or even worse trying to pull out more frequencies til your mix is really insipid and out of phase.You have to trust your mix.

I will often reduce the amount or turn off reverbs in an untreated stadium or arena compared to a drier theater space or acoustically treated Arena. No point adding hall reverb to a snare drum that's actually in a hall right? I'll keep my delays but give the reverbs the night off.

[top]Given that you only have to deal with one live band, is there a chance that you would prefer a digital board instead of a, say, top Midas board? - Haryy

I spent twenty years of my life mixing on Midas XL3s and 4s with loads of boutique outboard analogue compressors, tape delays, etc. I switched to digital around 2005 and haven't even considered going back. Virtual soundcheck and plugins improved my workflow so much that I can't imagine how I managed to cope without them. Asking a drummer in a hugely successful band to go round and round their toms whilst I got a sound up seems unthinkable these days. I can choose a roll in the ProTools session now and loop it and work for as long as i need to nail the sound. The granularity of detail I can achieve with snapshots and virtual soundcheck more than makes up for any real or imagined advantage that a piece of analogue kit can provide. I remember around about the beginning of the century watching the lighting guys desk get smaller and smaller even though the lights were getting more complex; spinning and changing colour and shape. He'd be on the bus drinking the good wine whilst I was still packing away my massive FOH set up. I consciously set about learning all I could about digital audio, took a few courses did some studying because it seemed obvious to me that the world was changing and the Digital Revolution would sweep through audio as well. Probably the best decision I ever made. I respect other peoples decision to work with analogue desks live but I honestly couldn't begin to imagine how I would mix a Massive Attack, Coldplay or Alt J show with the complex resets involved between or during songs on an analogue mixer and FX set up.

[top]Do you feel that, live digital sound has still some way to go or is it already there with some boards as the Avid you use? - Haryy

Hi I honestly think digital audio, certainly in my world has at least equalled if not surpassed the quality of analogue. I have a 100 metre snake as a minimum to get audio from stage to FOH position and back again. With a digital network there is no loss of quality over that distance or a 2km over fibre. However if you send analogue over copper for 100 metres you just add a massive LPF to everything at best and distortions and interference at worst.

I'm sure in the studio world that argument is raging but in live sound I never see anyone mixing international acts on an analogue board. Well, my mate M.C on Muse does, but apart from him...

I know the whole analogue/digital thing is like a faith test for some people out there but you asked and that's my humble and pragmatic opinion.

I don't use 35mm film in my camera either :-)

[top]I am interested in hearing about some of the challenges of mixing live TV.
Later... with Jools Holland (UK) seems especially tricky since there are so many different bands that all have to sound like themselves and work for broadcast. What is your strategy when tackling a live performance TV show? - JiveMiguel

Yes, a very different challenge. TV is a visual media. Sound is slave to the image. Often a vocal, for example, has to be mixed higher than you would ordinarily choose to have it in your mix because directors always insist on zooming in on the singer. It's a disaster if there's a camera shot of something guitar solo etc. that you can't hear clearly. I bumped into Mike Skelton recently who is my tv sound guru. He's mixed Later... with Jools Holland from the get go to now. I learned so much from him over the years about what works and doesn't in TV sound. I remember the first couple of times I mixed a band at Later there were all kinds of desks plumbed into various different types of multis just to cover all the channels. At first I'd just get to sit at the back and make suggestions, after a few years I'd get to ride FX and vocal levels, eventually I was allowed to mix the band properly. The challenge is trying to mix something that is huge through a massive PA to fit the limitations of broadcast audio. It's filtered and compressed after your mix. Listening off air in a live show helps to get the general feel but the delay involved is horrible. You just have to get the balance right and trust your ears. It was always nerve wracking watching a show like later a day after it was recorded in a hotel room with the band members and crew. I'd get some stick on occasions! Everyone knows their gig and sound!!

One of my favourite ever shows to mix was Massive Attack live at Abbey Road with a full string section. I mixed the band and vocal FX on my Avid Profile and The orchestra and vocals were mixed on the house Neve and summed together. It's such an iconic space to work in. Some much musical history steeped in that place. The version of Teardrop with Liz Frasier singing still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. You should google it, it's on Youtube or Vimeo. Awesome performance. She has the voice of an angel.

I also have mixed festivals live to air on radio. That's great fun mixing all day long band after band with little more than a line check and a quick listen to their last CD as a guide.

[top]I'd like to ask you about the use of effects with Massive Attack. Are they handled on your end with the use of outboard racks and plug-ins on the console, done by the band on stage or a mixture of both? Can you tell us a bit about which pieces of gear (or software if that's the case) is being used for all those amazing effects? - Diogo C

Hi Diogo_c. Great to be invited to do this. There's nothing I like better than talking to my peer group about all things live sound, whether it's the back lounge of a bus, in a seminar or in a virtual lounge like this. I'm raising a virtual glass.

MA has two drummers, one acoustic one mainly electronic. The electronic drummer plays all the samples triggered from his pads, not only percussion sounds. one has the scratches from a vinyl record! Some of those sounds are heavily affected. Everything else I do at FOH. I have no external fx. I work with plugins within the S6L, It has 200 slots and I can trigger them from snapshots with precision from the code. I use the Avid plugins that come with the desk and also a bunch from Sonnox, McDSP and Flux. The whole show runs from LTC which I pick up as an audio stream in my stage box. I bring it in to the desk as an audio channel then use direct out top of channel from that channel to the LTC input in the S6L. This means when I run my virtual soundcheck the LTC is recorded as an audio track in ProTools. I can then use this workflow to fine tune my snapshots. I trigger many of the FX automatically from the code. I also work "old school" and spin them in dub style to maintain spontaneity.

Reverbs: I use Revibe on Drums and vocals. I also love the Sonnox Oxford Reverb.

I also insert plugins across these returns on occasion. For example the snare sound on Angel has a plate reverb with a sans amp inserted to 're-amp' it and make it punchy and dirty and then a Mooger Fooger flanger to make it shift up and down in frequency slowly so that each hit has a slightly different timbre. I also gate a huge hall reverb. It's a bit over the top but when the acoustic snare kicks in on that song for the first time I want it to be a 'moment.' I've seen people duck at shows when they get a slap from the first snare beat.

Delays: I program from the BPM of the song. I tend to have a short delay and a longer delay for each song for the vocals. Often 16ths for the short and bar or half bar for the long. The short one pretty much mixed into the background so the vocal sits in the mix and the longer one I either spin in from the aux send or push the return fader to bring out words or syllables. Think of love you, "love you, love you" - in the chorus of the same song. These delays and reverbs are fed back to monitor engineer so he can send them to the band and they can feed off/work with what I'm doing with the FX at FOH. I will always use stereo returns on my delays. I sometimes offset them just a few ms to create a stereo image, I'll also have different amounts of feedback on L and R returns so that the tails of the delays appear to move across the stereo image. ..Blimey long answer, hope that was the kind of thing you were interested in. cheers

[top]What's the laptop model/OS you're using for this? - 12ax7

Just a macbook air

[top]I'm curious what to invest as an FoH, Mon engineer besides the rental stuff. Interface? Measurement Tool? What did you carry in your toolbox for your touring? - Ulisun

Sennheiser HD 25
Now I have a pair of very good Focal nearfield monitors, I have stands built into my S6L flight case and a bunch of plugin auths on my ilok. I have a laptop that only does ProTools. Its never been connected to the internet!! I have Smaart and and a focusrite sound card on a separate laptop and ten year old Sennheiser HD25 Headphones. Pretty low key.

Back in the day I had four 12U racks of analogue FX. 12 of the original DBX 160, some Al Smart and Distressor comps, BSS and Drawmer gates, BSS 901s, a pair of Roland space echoes (and spare tapes) Eventide H3000S, couple of SDE 3000S a PCM 70, REV5, SPX990s. All kinds of stuff and cable looms for days.

If you're using different manufacturers' desks a lot I'd maybe carry a couple of things you know work for you like a couple of channels of good compressors and a great reverb. I only ever work on Avid consoles these days so it makes my life much easier.

Also I think you can never have too much education so I'd invest in training. Time alignment and speaker management or networking. Being an expert at radio frequencies is also a great skill to add to your CV.

I wish you all the best for you in your career.

[top]What's the weirdest gig you ever did ? - C.Lambrechts

OK I'm going to cheat a little here. This is lifted from my blog. I never tire of telling this story. Normally over a glass of Rioja.

Manic Street Preachers – Teatro Karl Marx, Havana Cuba 1994

You might have heard of this one. God knows I’ve told this story enough times. The Manics, in their own inimitable style, decided to play in Cuba, out of solidarity and to see what was going on. The record company didn’t want to get involved so they paid for the whole thing out of their own pockets. It was a big deal, as no Western rock band had ever played there before, and it was even on CNN as a news item.

We, of course, had a slightly different story seen through the lens of the roadie world. We had to bring in everything. Every single thing. There was nothing there to put on a gig. We hired a charter jet to fly in all the smaller stuff, but PA stacks and racks, trussing, lights etc. were shipped in. The stuff from the airport arrived on time, however the container ship carrying everything else couldn’t get through the reefs to dock because of bad weather. We had a few things and got on with setting all that up. All we’d asked for was 100 amp three-phase power and some local crew to help physically move our stuff.

The power: each phase was made of twenty pieces of 5-amp cable bared at the ends and twisted together. When we explained that wasn’t really what we had in mind to tail into our distro we got another surprise. In order to give us this much power they would have to close the power down for a whole swathe of Havana so we could only have all of it for the show. Anyway it was a hypothetical problem seeing as all the kit was stuck outside the port in raging seas. We decided to call it a night and come back the next day and see where we were. Next day, no sign of the ship. Next day the same.

We woke on the day of the show to good news—the ship had docked and the PA was on its way to the gig. Great, we rushed to the theater and then waited around for a couple of hours. Eventually it turned up in these ancient, flatbed trucks. The local crew, who all looked a bit too clean-cut and martial to be the local crew (secret police?), showed no interest in unloading trucks. I had a little Spanish and tried to explain that normally it was considered part of their job description to help carry equipment. They explained they were just going to sit there in the shade and smoke cigars and such, Claro? Yes, clear, no ambiguity at all. We had to load every single flight case by ourselves. It was 40 degrees Celsius and humid. No air-conditioning of course. This was before my road-to-Damascus digital conversion and we had to manhandle my huge old analogue board and effects racks to the FOH position up a million or so stairs. Man there were some sweaty roadies that day. Anyway we got it all in and up somehow. All ground stacked, even the lights. We had enough power to turn bits on one at a time.

Some kid turned up in the afternoon and asked if he could play guitar. He explained that he loved rock music but couldn’t afford an electric guitar and only had an acoustic; he just wanted to try an electric guitar, just this once. Deptford was going to kick him out but James said no, let him have a go. He’d never seen all these amazing amps and pedals and his face just lit up. Then James strapped his Les Paul around the kid’s neck and he grinned like he was fit to burst. Loads of white teeth, great dental care in Cuba, but there are no electric guitars. The first chord caused him to stagger backwards from the sheer power of the amps. It’s still the loudest guitar rig I’ve ever heard. Anyway he played his heart out and we all loved it. It felt like a real connection. He didn’t leave empty handed, let me tell you, now there was at least one electric guitar in Cuba.

We completed our sound check, of sorts, and were sitting around watching as the crowd poured in. The Karl Marx theatre is the biggest in Cuba and holds five thousand people. The young crowd had banners and flags and were so excited. The first ever rock gig they or anyone else in their country had seen. The tickets were 25 cents each! It was at this point we we heard a mad rumor; Fidel Castro was going to pass by the gig and say hello to the band. No, surely not. Then he was there. Tall and straight, wearing full jungle fatigues, hat and everything. I remember he had a really sharp crease down the front of his combat trousers, immaculate. He chatted to the band and named a couple of their songs he liked. Incredible, this man had fought alongside Che Guevara and now knew Manics songs. He said he particularly liked a song about baby Eli, who’d been at the centre of a sad family tug of war case that was in the news at the time. He asked if the boys could play it early in the set, as he had to leave for another engagement. So you’ll watch some of the show? Really? Amazing! Nicky then ventured that as we were a rock band and we’d flown in a huge Turbosound Flashlight PA from the UK, he felt he should warn Mr. Castro that it would be really loud.

Castro looked down at him from his full height, with his big beard and booming voice and said “Son, it cannot be louder than war”.

So there I was in Havana, which was all-dark outside, because we needed all the electricity in the whole town to do our gig. Fidel Castro sitting behind me, literally behind me, nobody between us. The gig is worldwide news and five thousand screaming kids are going to see their first ever gig. Not just another day at the office then. I have to say all the kids in the audience were warmly smiling and waving at ‘El Presidente’ as if he was a favorite Uncle, not a military dictator. “Eh Jefe, Eh Fidel Buenos noches.”

The gig was amazing. The kids loved it and had a great time singing along and waving their flags, a bit like a very humid, cleaner version of Glastonbury now I come to think of it. The leader stayed all the way to the end. I kept looking over my shoulder thinking what must he make of all of this? He had a benign smile on his face and sat there tapping his foot as if he was having a great time. I hope he was.

That night, after we had put everything back on to the lorries, we had a great celebratory party. Who was going to believe this story when we got home? We kept shaking our heads and saying, “did that really happen?” We were supposed to leave the next day in the morning, but then the message came through at breakfast: before you leave you have to have lunch with El Presidente!!

“But what about the flight?”

“Don’t worry the plane will wait”.


Before lunch begins, El Presidente Fidel Castro stands up and taps his glass for silence. He then says in his huge, bass heavy, declamatory voice: “Yesterday I said you couldn’t be louder than war. I was wrong. You were louder than war and you, you” he points at Sean the drummer, “you are the artillery.”

Korg Kaoss Pad

[top]How do you handle vocal fx when the singer is using fx pedals onstage to process their sound? Do you prefer a split wet/dry signal mix? - Meriphew

I have encountered this. Used to have a couple of Kaoss Pads inserted on the vocals. Honest answer is I hated it. I tried to use my powers of persuasion to let me put the fx on the singers vocal. It felt sometimes like just a feedback generator. I split the send into two channels and think I used a multi band compressor to control the random sounds generated to at least some kind of degree.

On Massive Attack at the moment the Vocal mic of 3D also controls the vocoder. I have them on separate channels and make sure via LTC programming that the vocal mic is never open when he's using it to control vocoder. That would be a sacking offense I think :-)

[top]What degree or amount of trust would you expect right from the start, for being hired at all? What are your thoughts on earning trust, how does it work, to what degree do you think it's acceptable to actively work on it until you claim kind of a blind trust that your work is good? - Livebox

Good question. Trust is everything between an engineer and the band/artist. I can't imagine working with someone without it. I think the technology nowadays makes it easier to get that trust. Using virtual soundcheck means the band can sit at FOH with me and hear exactly what I'm doing, make suggestions but mainly feel reassured that their music is being delivered to the audience how it should be. Back in the day they would get second hand reports from their friends and family. Or the bloke at the bar in the back of the club who thought the bass was too loud. Everyone's mother thought their son was too quiet on stage!

At the end of the day its their music, we just make sure that what they are doing on stage is experienced by the audience properly. We're like a bridge between the musical ideas of the band and the paying audience. We're the third most important element in that equation so I think humility is essential. Superstar roadie egos are boring and miss the point. (and get you fired).

One last point: I always say to younger engineers -if they ask- that the most important way to succeed is to be enthusiastic, polite, on time and fun to be around. An awesome snare sound helps but if you're going to be on buses and planes endlessly with the same group of people the person with the great attitude and ok skills wins over the person with a poor attitude and great skills. Never think you're too good for your gig. It's your gig, you chose it, do it, so do it to the utmost of your ability, with total commitment and with a smile on your face.

You asked does the size of the paycheck influence decisions. No, it can't, if you do a badly paid job really well maybe the next one will be better paid and the one after that better still. I would tell my younger self to start learning about computers and digital audio earlier than I did. I was a terrible analogue snob for way beyond the point it made sense.

[top]Could you explain a bit more about the timecode setup you're using with Massive Attack?
Does the drummer get a click track, are there any backing tracks running off the timecode?
Who starts the timecode for each song? - Jetam

There are two drummers who both receive click tracks. Also the bass, guitar, keyboard, Dj and all the vocalists. There are eleven performers on the tour plus an 18 piece string section on some shows. All working to click.

RE; Who starts the timecode for each song? There is a playback engineer for the tour, Euan. He also is the band's studio engineer. He starts each song when everyone is ready. There are various clicks and counts for all the musicians, prompts, even the odd piano chord for pitching that the audience doesn't hear. I receive 4 x stereo stems that have strings, samples or little loops depending on the song. Nearly everything is live. The second drummer triggers loops and percussion sounds from pads. If there are some sounds that need to be added on top they're added via playback. They tend to be minor details like pads or a drone.

[top]I've literally lost count of how many times I've seen the Manic Street Preachers live but back around the time of the 'This is my truth' tour right through to the early 2000's I was always astonished at how you were able to find the balance between having really larger than life drums, bass and guitar sounds (particularly the snare drum) while still being able to maintain a strong and robust vocal sound that never felt dwarfed by what was going on around it.
Something I struggle with at times as a FOH mixer is being able to maintain a strong vocal sound while still ensuring that the rest of the band sounds big and powerful, when required of course, so I'd be keen to know if there's any particular processes or techniques you employed while working with the Manics specifically that helped you achieve these things in the mix. - valjean24601

I'm a diehard Manics fan too. In fact I'm still close personal friends with James. I stopped working with the Manics when I started to work for Avid and had eight years off touring. Some of my favourite gigs of all time were with the Manics. My oldest friend in the world Davey Cooper now has the FOH gig. Its family, I worked for twenty years with that band and crew.

Vocals versus backline was the question. First of you should know that James has the loudest voice ever!! This is the main reason it was possible to get his voice over the instruments. I remember doing Wembley arena with the Manics and the backline alone was 103dbA at FOH without the PA on. Six Ampeg stacks 8 4x12 guitar cabs and a mental amount of wedges and sidefills. Fortunately James would walk up to the mic and smash out the songs with that amazing voice of his.

There are little things I'll do to help push the vox through the mix. I'll layer the other instruments around the voice. So pull the vocal mid range from sounds that don't need them. Think of the frequencies you hear in a telephone, those are chosen for intelligibility as much as possible to fill that frequency range with vocals. So low sounds like bass and kick beneath the vocal range. Overheads and hats above them. Have only the voice and Kick drum bang up the centre of the mix. I'd always pull the guitars whilst JDB was singing and push them when he wasn't. I'd pull some 2k out of the rhythm and some 3k out of the lead just to separate them. I'll also often use a de-esser on the guitars set up to cut between roughly 2 and 5K so that when they really get dirty I can control the frequencies that obscure everything else. I'll always be very light on compression on the main vocal and try to have it as flat as possible, certainly in the high mid and high range. I'd always rather have less interference with the signal path than more. I always think if you find you're sticking several plugins on a vocal to get it to cut through it might be time to bypass them all and make sure you're improving on the original. I'm sure all of this sounds obvious but its all I've got, I didn't use sidechain compression or multi band compressors. I honestly believe in mixing. I had my finger on the vocal nearly all the time and a vca of the guitars. One up one down depending on the moment in the song. I see people not touch the faders much during shows and getting a great sound but that's not my style.

[top]I attended the last 3 massive attack shows in Switzerland (as a fan) and I don't know if you were operating the FOH.. but it was incredible. The bass was super tight and loud.

I have 3 questions:

1. Can you tell us something about the soundcheck procedure with Massive Attack? are you doing the laptop thing where you playback without the band/real instrumetns and do an "I call it offline soundcheck"?
2. Is there any secret you can share about how you control the lowend? (which is very important with a band like Massive Attack)
3. How do you deal with the 100dB limit we have in Switzerland? I always struggle without 2bus compression (killing the peaks) and try to compensate in the lower mids (200-400 Hz) with a dynamic eq or us a multiband (I mostly work with Yamaha CL5 so I don't have much options).

thanx! - George Necola

Yes we did a show this summer in Zurich and I think 2014 in Gurten. I mixed both those shows. Glad you enjoyed them. Next time come and say hi. I'm always happy to hang out with other brothers in sound and talk about desk and speakers. Some of the best features that made it into the S6L design I got from informal chats with other roadies who had a great idea. (I always steal them and pretend they're mine. Don't tell Avid).

1. Yes I mentioned in another answer that I use virtual soundcheck. MA don't soundcheck. 3D who is the main guy will sit with me at FOH during production rehearsals and we'll collaborate around the broad intentions and particular details of the mix. He has incredible ears. I also send the LTC from my desk to the video,lights and laser departments. This means we can do a virtual show with everything locked together. The band can sit and add comments or occasionally criticisms!!

Rational Acoustics Smaart
2. Lowend. Secrets, I'm not sure I have secrets, any I do I'll share. I spend a lot of time in my virtual soundcheck working with the low end. I think of them as sub and bass. I don't play Steely Dan or anything to check the system. I'll dive straight in with last night's show. I like to flatten all of the eq in the system and anything I'd done on the previous show and start from scratch. If you're over eying the system you're draining the energy from it. My old friend Campbell always said: If you stop turning it down it goes louder. When we're touring PA my system tech will have done all the measurements with Smaart before I get involved and Tony is a genius so it's always perfect. At festivals you hope for the same but sometimes there's a lot of work to do. I aim to have a uniform and even bottom end for as many people as possible. I don't want any frequencies to stick out. I hate that lazy lets make 60Hz thump kind of eying. MA use 30 and 40Hz up in their music. You have to feel the sub in your stomach and the kick drum in your chest. For me the relationship between the Bass and the kick drum is the basis for any mix and particularly so for M.A. There can be a bass guitar, two synth bass lines and a drone on playback at the same time so unless we have the PA in great shape it ends up a huge mess. It's about finding ways to layer the bottom end not fight for the same space. I use the Pro multi band on the bass guitar and analogue synths, set the crossover points to the crossover of the PA speakers. this enables me to drive the bottom end hard but always keep it under control in each area of the PA.

3. 100dbA over at least 15 minutes is always doable. This summer many festivals were at 98dbA LEQ an hour. Suits me fine. Firstly, MA are like an old reggae system with loads of top and bottom. So the main energy is not included in the measurement. Also as the music is dynamic I can "save up" some level for the peak moments. I work closely with the noise police and build the peaks in volume to contrast the quieter sections. I always say the music is dynamic so don't worry about the high SPL it will balance out in the end. If you just go straight to the noise limit in the first chorus there's nowhere left to go. The audience stick in earplugs or their ears naturally compress. Volume is relative, to seem loud counterintuitively you have to turn it down for some of your show. I like the show to follow a dynamic flow. Angel is one of the loudest part of of the show and can peak at 110/112dbA. Another part of the show can drop down to a synth line and wind chimes. It's harder to work with noise limits with bands like the Manic Street Preachers particularly in their early punk years. I remember our first show at Wembley arena was 105 dbA at FOH 30 meters from the stage- without the PA on!! just the backline and monitors. No noise limits in those days though!!!

[top]Have you got any horror stories from your time on the road? - Whitecat

My worst ever night was in Glasgow in Scotland, my home country, at the SECC, with Manic Street Preachers. The band came onstage, punk rock, pints were flying and I could see one in my peripheral vision coming in from stage right, with a perfect head on it like a cartoon. It hit my desk, an analogue beast, full on. We did everything -towels, hair dryers- but we knew it was going to go, it was just a question of when. When the VCAs shorted out they all went to the end stop so eight VCas at +12, meaning the whole mix quadrupled in volume. It was the loudest thing you’ve ever heard, like the end of the world. Nicky Wire the bass player said he thought someone had let off a bomb. While 50 of my countrymen attempted to sort the situation out by climbing over the barriers and physically assaulting me we held them at bay and down stripped a complex mix of 50 or 60 channels and chose the ten most important ones because that was all the input channels we had left working on the desk. We patched them to a mono aux because there were no output faders left working and stuck that into the crossover. So we had kik, snare, 1 OH, bass di, two guitars, a mono piano, a mono hammond a vocal and a reverb. I’d like to say everybody noticed the difference but they didn’t, truth is with those essentials going on we had a gig again and the place went crazy. Twenty thousand people jumped up and down and got on with the party.

[top]Hey Robb.
You have an impressive resume! Worked with so many great artists.
I wonder how you keep organized on your board?
Do you work a lot with VCAs or more with single channels?
Do you group lots of your channels together rather than use VCAs, or do you use both?
Do you do group compression to keep your groups together?
Any other crazy routing stuff you do?
Thanks a lot for doing this! - Nixoblivion

Yes worked with a bunch of great bands and artists over the years. I was thinking about this the other day and after a certain point in my career I can't really think of any band I'm embarrassed about touring with or didn't enjoy the music. Now that I'm "semi retired" (i did four months touring this year as opposed to ten or eleven in my full on years) I love every gig. The most fun I have or can imagine having standing up is the hour and a half I'm behind a mixing desk whilst Massive Attack are on stage. Its the other twenty three that can be dull when touring. I'm working really hard to get the technology to the point when I can sit in my studio in Barcelona and mix the show wherever it is in the world.

Right VCAs: yep I organize the eighty something channels I have from the stage into VCAs. I have 32 VCAs on my S6L but I only use eight mainly. (still analogue ingrained in there somewhere). Acoustic kit, electronic kit, bass, guitars,keys, playback, vocals and FX. On some shows we have an 18 piece string section then I'll also have first violins, second, violas and cellos. On MA I don't mix on them, I use them for adjusting crude, relative overall levels. Maybe the drummer is a little"tired" and isn't hitting the kit as hard as normal or an acoustic in the room means I need to drive the bass harder etc. I usually don't touch them after the first couple of songs if at all. I also use my VCAs to 'spill' channels to the surface.the S6L lets me double tap attention on a VCA fader and the members of that VCA then spill out onto the top layer of the surface wherever they are on different layers of the desk.

I should probably explain that MA never soundcheck so I only ever do a virtual soundcheck during the day. The first time I hear the actual band on stage is during the first song.

I don't use groups on MA. The dynamic range varies so much that group compression would be unusable. I have gates and comps etc. on individual channels. I'll have different settings on different songs or parts of songs depending on the needs of each tune. On other bands, maybe more straightforward, I've been a big fan of parallel compression. For example, on Coldplay I'd have a compressed and uncompressed drum group. I'd also bring out the mids in the squashed drums. I'd put varied amounts of both into the mix depending on the song. This can give the effect of "lengthening" the drums front end and make them punch out of the mix. Also Chris's piano I'd have a 'dry' group and one with Phoenix by Cranesong to give it a crushed analogue feel. Back in the day this was an easy workflow with analogue, and all the Avid desks allow you to do this with auto delay compensation, otherwise with digital consoles you can get into a whole world of comb filtering pain if you don't compensate for the different times it will take a single input to a single output via different paths.

Crane Song Phoenix II

[top]Do you listen to their studio mixes and try to recreate that on stage or make your own mixes for Tour? - Sreejesh

Yes I will definitely listen to the recorded version of a track before setting up the live mix. However a live show has a different dynamic. I don't want to just reproduce the recorded version of the song, I want to bring out a different energy and with MA for example its often looser and more assertive. A really important difference between studio and live is that when you make a record you have no control over the way that people listen to your work. A little iPhone speaker, a poor domestic hifi or tv speaker. In a live show as an engineer you control the level, the weight, the dynamic of how the audience listens to the music. This enables you to use the weight and physicality of the audio to engender an emotional, visceral experience. Hearing Massive Attack as a soundtrack in a movie or a track in a club is very different to hearing the full blooded experience of their live show. I work really closely with them to make sure that the experience is exactly as the artist wants for their audience. The relationship between the audio, lights, lasers and video all work together to make the experience of the show multi dimensional.

A band like Coldplay for another example are much more about closely reproducing the recorded content. For them I spent a lot of time reproducing the recorded music; more compressed, more controlled and accurate to recordings. With MA I can improvise and spin in some dub type effects that wouldn't be appropriate with Coldplay.

I think the important thing is to have a clear conceptual idea of what you are trying to achieve and have the tools and the understanding of those tools to achieve yours and the artist's intentions. I suspect,, and you can tell me that is not so very different from the way you'll mix a movie soundtrack. Our job is to provide the bridge between the artist's concepts and the audience's experience. Man, we have the best job in the world!!

[top]Time Aligned to what?
What sort of delay times are used?
If everything is time aligned, are the main speakers either side of the stage delayed? or are they the "master"?
If the mixing position is halfway down the field, is there a lag in live mixing fader movements / actions?
Does out of sync clapping along "do your head in"? - Jules

Hi Jules

I'll answer all your points one at a time
Time Aligned to what?

Interesting question. It depends where you measure from and how the PA is flown or stacked. I should say that I have a system tech who flies the PA and makes all the measurements using measurement algorithms. I'll come in when its as ready as he can get it. I'll then play a track from last nights show and wander around the venue upstairs out wide, all the way to the back and get a sense of how well covered the space is. Often you will start by time aligning to where the FOH engineer stands to mix. Whichever part of the PA gets there first is delayed to the other(s). As different frequencies have different wave lengths it is never 100%. You often end up with compromises. Each position throughout the venue has a different set of delay time as speakers will reach each position at slightly different times. So it's not purely science but also creative. I'll start by listening to the main system and the sub. Most important is aligning the sub with the flown PA. Usually my tech will have time aligned a frequency that is in the flown PA as well as in the sub.Say 60 or 80 or 100Hz. Sub has a long wave and is hardest to get an even spread. There are so many ways to align sub. An array with several stacks in the middle of the stage with differing times in each stack pushing the sub forward in a semicircle. Cardioid with some of the box pointing back at the stage but phase reversed to control the amount of sub going backwards onto the stage. Two big stacks L and R for a big slab up the middle. You may have a strong bottom end coupling up the middle of the space which pleases the engineer but will make for a disappointing experience for people standing outside the "power alley."If possible you want people to all have a relatively equal experience wherever they are listening from.

You often have infills to align to the flown PA, flown sub, ground stacked sub, out fills, delays. I'm honestly not an expert but the one thing thats most important I think is to trust your ears more than any computer readout.

What sort of delay times are used?
we usually work in milliseconds
If everything is time aligned, are the main speakers either side of the stage delayed? or are they the "master"?
see above
If the mixing position is halfway down the field, is there a lag in live mixing fader movements / actions?
Sure sound travels slowly. More or less 3ms a meter. Or a millisecond a foot for the pre metric folks. If sound traveled at the speed of light our job would be so much easier. So 30 meters down a field I'm hearing the drums 90 ms or so after each strike.I don't consciously make an allowance for this but if I'm spinning in a delay on a word or dub reverb ion a snare I think, with repeated experience, my body just kind of subconsciously allows for the delay. I'll start twisting the aux send knob before the word and bring it down before it ends. It happens so naturally that now the next time I'm doing it I'll screw it up because thinking about this question will make me self conscious:-). It's like driving, you don't consciously think about the time to push down the clutch.

Does out of sync clapping along "do your head in"?
Ha ha not really. I'll sometimes push the snare and hat to try and get the more rhythmically challenged audiences back in time.
Out of tune guitars or singing do my head in more.
Now you've got me started:
-people talking loudly at the FOH whilst I'm working. I'm really territorial during the show and will throw badly behaved liggers, cameramen, family members etc. out of my world.
-those nodding bucket lights that always seem to end up pointing in my eyes.
-strobes whilst I'm placing the mids on stage
-TV crews that arrive during the intro music and hand you a minijack and ask for an audio feed.

I could go on all day being a grumpy old roadie.... I'm joking, I'm actually genuinely happy doing what I do and as my friend Hunter who is Massives LD always says "hashtag first world problems"

Is the audio in your Headphones "advanced" compared to the audio around you at the mix position?

No, I put a delay on the monitor bus that feeds my cans.

How do you work with 360 degree stages, where you have this big Bowl with the stage in the middle of the hall and your mixing position is fixed to one side?

Never done that but watched my mate Dave Bracey do it brilliantly well with Adelle recently. I once did a show in Wembley stadium when the Gangnam style guy performed on the roof of the FOH. That was interesting. I also had an artist (who shall remain nameless) who complained about the weird delay we were putting on her voice as she walked out onto a thrust. Quick physics lesson about how slow sound is etc. see above, sorted the problem. We weren't putting a weird Elvis slapback on her voice to mess with her, honest.