- by George Petersen
in Production Profile
Coming on the heels of a sold-out European arena run, German hard rock band Rammstein continues its Made In Germany tour with 21 dates throughout North America. A lot of offshore bands play in the States, but this time, Rammstein brought its entire production. And this was not some partial system with locally supplied racks and stacks. For this tour, a full-tilt, 120-box L-Acoustics rig came along for the ride, assembled, tried and tested before being packed into sea containers for the three-week ocean voyage to the States.
The sound company handling all aspects of the tour was Berlin-based Black Box Music (black-box-music.com). Founded in 1992 by managing director Thilo “Baby” Goos and celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Black Box Music has grown into a large operation. It currently has 50 full-time employees, 150 freelance engineers and techs, as well as full-on staging, lighting, sound and production services, with a 500-box L-Acoustics inventory and the ability to simultaneously support up to seven major tours.
But the list of available services goes much further, says company representative Jannice Kluck. “We also now offer rehearsal and showcase halls for tours — the largest of which is 30x30 meters (98x98 feet), with a 14-meter (46-foot) ceiling and a roof that can support 75 tons,” she explains. “We have a full backstage area for the crew and the band, production offices and a restaurant for catering. We provide trucking services for tours operating anywhere in Europe, as well as on-site warehousing for equipment and staging as well as a scenic workshop, a custom case building facility and electronic servicing/repair for backline, moving lights or sound gear. We can do everything on our own, in-house.”
Black Box Music has provided services for Rammstein since 1998 and has handled the band’s sound and lights since 2009. Other well-known acts the company has worked with include Linkin Park, 50 Cent, Incubus and Kelly Rowland, as well as last year’s seven-month world tour for Sade.
Carry That Weight
Carrying full production to the States for a band like Rammstein is unusual. “We compared the cost of trucking from here in Berlin (in the north of Germany) to Munich, in the south,” says Kluck. “And that amount was half as much as sending a sea container from Hamburg, Germany to the States, which made it worthwhile. The difference wasn’t so great, so we wondered why we should rent sound in the U.S. versus taking our own equipment. We did use a U.S.-based trucking company for transport, starting from the harbor and included a lot of dry packs in with the backline and all electronic devices to protect them from moisture on the ship.”
However, this approach does have certain drawbacks. “The worst part of it is that it takes three weeks to come over via sea and three weeks back, and that represents downtime for the gear, when it can’t be used on another tour,” Kluck explains. “But the advantage is that we know every piece of our own equipment and the system is set up so well in advance during rehearsals that it’s really plug-and-play.” No coincidence here, but Rammstein’s U.S. tour began in Ft. Lauderdale (a port city) in April, and wrapped up in Houston (another port city) at the end of May. Sounds like some smart advance planning was involved there!
Black Box Music is also ready to cater to the other side of the pond. “If there are bands that want to tour in Europe and don’t want to bring production, we’re ready to help,” Kluck adds. “We’ve also found that more bands are doing rehearsals in Germany for their European tours rather than Great Britain, because their equipment doesn’t have to cross the water [English Channel] another time when they’re ready to play in Europe.” The company is also looking to the future. “We just bought another building next to us, and we’re building more studio/rehearsal multifunction spaces in there that can accommodate meetings, expositions, or rehearsals of bands, orchestras or large dance companies for musicals.”
Big Sound, Big System
The man behind designing the 120-box rig for the tour is systems engineer/sound crew chief Andreas Vater, who was at the helm for the last Rammstein tour. “They are a loud band, so we have a big system,” Vater laughs, explaining that the all-L-Acoustics rig is comprised of 14 K1s, three KARAs and eight K1-Subs per side in the main system; 10 K1s and three KARAs on each side; four ARCS for front-fill; 12 V-DOSCs for delay; and 40 more subwoofers — 24 SB-28s and 16 SB-218s.
A 12-in/4-out Dolby Lake controller handles system management, Vater continues. “That goes digitally into a Riedel RockNet, sending audio over Ethernet to stage left and right, where it breaks out to analog feeding the 16 L-Acoustics LA-RAK amp racks onstage.”
A Rammstein show offers plenty of excitement, for both audience and crew, including dealing with all of the pyro, dust and water effects, and the 110dB stage volume. “It’s a loud show,” confirms monitor engineer Alexander Becker, who was pleased to upgrade to a DiGiCo SD7 console before the tour began.
“I had been working on a D5 before and we needed to buy two new consoles for the festivals in Europe, so I switched to the SD7, which is a great console,” says Becker. “I get 48 channels from the main stage and 16 channels from the ‘B’ stage, where they play three songs 30 meters out in front of the main stage. I have 36 graphics on the console, and the SD7 offers all the processing and effects I need — right in the console, so there’s no outboard except for one Distressor EL-8 I’m using on snare.”
The continual pyro, dust and water sideshow does create other complications for anyone being backstage in the middle of the fray. “I also handle all the RF for the show, which, aside from the guitars — which are Sennheiser 2000 — are Shure UHF-R vocal mics,” Becker explains. “And I have a custom-made switcher, so I can swap out vocal mics and get them clean and dry during the show.”
With all that stage volume, the monitor system is formidable. “I have 16 L-Acoustics HiQ wedges under the stage, with V-DOSC side fills and two dV-SUBs per side and 10 Sennheiser 2000 in-ears,” says Becker. “Four band members are on in-ears and the singer and one guitar player are on wedges. Mixing both in-ears and wedges doesn’t make my life any easier, but it’s all right.”
In the House
FOH mixer Olsen Involtini has a long association with Rammstein. He began mixing monitors for the band back in the 1990s, then left the road to work with them in the studio. About two and a half years ago, Involtini returned to tour with Rammstein, this time as FOH engineer.
Involtini mixes on an Avid VENUE Profile and runs a variety of Waves and McDSP plug-ins, but also a fair amount of external outboard including classics such as Lexicon PCM70 and TC Electronic M-3000 multieffects. But analog gear is also well represented in the rack. “I have a Vertigo Sound VSC-2 [discrete VCA-based] master compressor on the master bus, and I also fine tune the sound with a CharterOak PEQ1 equalizer,” says Involtini. “The CharterOak really can get rid of harshness and adds clarity. On lead vocal, I’m using an Avalon VT-737SP — this smoothes his vocal, although I still always need to keep on finger riding his vocal fader throughout the show. I also have a 4-channel SPL Transient Designer 9842 that I use on the kick drum group and the two mics used on the guitar.”
Speaking of guitar, that particular aspect is key to the Rammstein sound. “We tried a lot of things on guitar,” Involtini recalls. For lead player Richard Kruspe’s guitar, “we use two microphones — a Lawson L47 and a Neumann M149 — and we try to match his guitar sound.” But beyond taking two expensive tube studio mics on the road for guitar miking, Involtini also took it to the next step. “We have the amps and mics set in a hidden backstage ‘tent’ booth made of thick curtains which prevents picking up too much leakage from the drums and other stage sounds. And that’s the Rammstein guitar sound live.”
On the other hand, bass is run direct. “I go for a really clean bass signal, because the guitars are already dirty enough in the mix,” says Involtini.
As to whether European venues are better than those in the States, Involtini doesn’t think so. “In a lot of the hockey arenas in the States, the area beneath the seats is solid material; in Germany, many of the arenas have a lot of portable seating with large hollow areas, which makes the acoustics more difficult. The venue we played in Anaheim [Honda Center] was really bad, but most of the rest have been really good.”
But the secret to mixing a great high-energy rock show requires maintaining a delicate touch. “Keeping the power of the music while making the vocals as transparent as possible — and balancing those two worlds — is a challenge,” says Involtini. “Sometimes it’s a struggle — and it can be a lot of work to keep these two together.”
Carnets: The Key to International Touring
If you’re going across international borders and bringing gear with you, you’ll probably need a carnet — a detailed document that declares what you’re bringing in, how long you plan to stay and what you plan to take back with you once the tour’s over. Without a carnet, you could be required to pay import duty on arrival and export duty on your own gear for the trip back. And these days, dealing with border and customs regulations can be difficult and confusing, so it’s good practice to be prepared — well before you plan to travel.
Black Box Music is highly experienced in international touring, and Jannice Kluck handles the required paperwork for the company — and its clients. “I do the carnets,” she explains. “All our equipment is warehoused and bar-coded, so when we’re setting up for a production, I can just scan the barcodes and get an immediate update on what’s available and in stock. This creates a database with all the serial numbers, so creating a carnet is fairly simple. Then I get a list of backline from the band, add that in, and do all the carnet and customs paperwork. We’re very experienced in border support and knowing what we need for different countries. In the EU countries, this is not so difficult for us as a German company, but dealing with Russia and different Eastern European countries can be complicated, as is doing tours in North America, and knowing which ports to ship to and having all the carnets and correct paperwork. Our production assistants can handle all the requirements for any production,” she adds.
The carnet/customs process can be complicated. However, “once you know some of the secrets about what you need to do and how to get a carnet through, then it’s not so difficult,” says Kluck. “We do this several times a month, sometimes with seven tours out at the same time. Even when we go to Switzerland — which borders Germany but is not part of the EU — we’d need a carnet, just as if we were going to the U.S. As long as we’re within the EU, we don’t need carnets, but with non-EU countries like Norway, Switzerland, Croatia, Russia — a carnet is required. But for us to go somewhere like France, it’s like driving to another state in the U.S.”
— George Petersen