- by George Petersen
in Production Profile
A Conversation with FOH Mixer Kevin Madigan
More than four decades after their first concert as a trio (auspiciously at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash are back out on the road again, with a hot backing band. After doing Australia, New Zealand, and South America, this leg of the tour — simply called CSN 2012 — kicked off June 7 at Philadelphia’s Tower Theatre, with more than 50 stops along the way at venues including The Wang Theater in Boston, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, The Greek Theatre in L.A. and ending up with a string of shows in late October at The Beacon Theatre in New York.
At FOH is engineer Kevin Madigan, a veteran of previous outings with CSN, Crosby and Nash, The Steven Stills Band and a host of other top acts including The Smashing Pumpkins, Justin Timberlake, Mastodon, Lucinda Williams, Phil Lesh, Sinead O’Connor, The Eels and others.
The Studio Side
One of the interesting aspects of the tour was recording audio for a concert DVD/CD/Blu-ray planned for release during the latter leg of the tour. Tracks were recorded/captured directly to a computer running Cockos’ Reaper (reaper.fm) DAW software. The tracks were the mixed for release on the custom 68-input Neve 8068/8088 console in Studio B at Ocean Way Recording by Madigan, with Graham Nash producing. “Reaper worked out just fine for what we wanted to do [capturing tracks]. Pro Tools is probably a little over-engineered for that task — the last time I downloaded Pro Tools is was about 1.5 GB; the last time I downloaded Reaper, I think it was about 13 MB!” he laughs. “We also went directly to an ADK Recorder which sat beside the stage rack, which will do over 100 tracks with the two RME cards in it, and I took a feed at FOH directly to a MacBook Pro as a backup, so we’d be covered in all events.” Once in the studio, things went pretty straightforward. The tracks were transferred to Pro Tools, which was just used as a playback machine. “The studio mix itself was fairly organic — nothing fancy — just some tube compression, reverbs and the sound of that Neve console.”
The Sound Image-provided sound system consists of a QSC WideLine line array system and DiGiCo SD7 consoles at both FOH and monitors, with the latter helmed by long-time CSN monitor engineer Rance Caldwell, who’s been with the band for three decades.
The FOH mix only required 52 inputs. “We try to keep it reasonable,” Madigan adds. “Like I said, it’s more of an organic thing. It doesn’t need help, it doesn’t need a whole variety of weird and wild inputs. Just good microphones on good sources, and you’re good to go. The WideLine system has a wide dispersion, which worked out well in the type of venues we were doing. Everyone was happy with it.”
Obviously, a big part of this whole tour is the vocals and the harmonies, so you’re keeping on top of three money channels. “Yeah, very much,” Madigan says. “The signature part of the whole thing is that vocal blend. It’s their identity in recorded and live music, so you have to be very careful with that. You always need one hand riding the vocals. Despite what dynamic controls you might use on individual vocal channels, you still have to keep hanging on, be aware of what’s happening and what’s going to come up next.”
Madigan is using a combination of rack outboard (including Manley and Charter Oak gear) and a TC System 6000 and Bricasti reverbs, and a Waves SoundGrid system with the SD7. “Two years ago we got into SoundGrid thing and we were pretty happy with it,” Madigan notes. “There’s some great stuff in there that I wanted to emulate — classic pieces like LA-2A’s, 1176’s, Fairchild’s — but hoping you can get four good units on the road is not realistic. The combination of using SoundGrid with some outboard pieces has worked really well. It was kind of the best of both worlds.”
But Madigan hasn’t extended this passion for touring outboard to preamps. “I’m using all DiGiCo’s from the stage rack. They sound great. I’ve used them all for sorts of different acts. From the most delicate classical stuff to full-on heavy rock. They stand up to it and sound great night after night.”
Another thing that’s worked out well for Madigan is the use of multiple measurement mics to feed his Rational Acoustics Smaart system during setup.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for a while and we started doing that earlier this year, to see if it speeded up setup time and gave reliable, repeatable results,” Madigan explains. “I used four iSEMcon (EMX-7150) mics to start with and had a PreSonus 8-input FireWire interface for the Mac feeding Smaart. I was getting good results from it. It’s definitely a repeatable and reliable thing, so if figured I’d try using six mics. Especially in theaters, with balconies and multiple balconies, I’ve been able to put at least one microphone, if not two, in each coverage area of the PA. Then from front of house, run some pink noise and see what the system is doing. I have a listen and adjust, so we don’t always have to stop and take ten minutes to walk up on the balcony to find out why we don’t like it. And working with our system tech Gary [Sanguinet], we got really good dependable, repeatable results every day. It’s a quicker way than we had before. It works well and I will be doing it that way any time I can from now on.”
So after a total of 80 stops on three continents (with studio sessions in-between), is Madigan ready for a reprise? “Absolutely! These guys are great to work for, and this is one of the easiest and best tours I’ve ever done. Really! I think there’s a reason that Caldwell has been doing this for 30 years!”