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Big backline versus big vocals
Old 30th September 2016
Lives for gear
valjean24601's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Big backline versus big vocals

Hi Robb,

I have often wondered what became of you. I'm a die hard Manics fan and have followed them for years and often wondered why you were no longer behind the desk on many of the recent tours - Now I know

I've literally lost count of how many times I've seen the Manics 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.

Great to hear that all is going well with you and many thanks for taking the time to do this!

Old 4th October 2016
Special Guest
robballan's Avatar
🎧 5 years
Hi Mark
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 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 through. 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 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 side chain 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 thats not my style. Thanks for the question and kind words Mark. If you or any of the other questioners want to keep in touch I'm easy to find on linkedin.

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