- by David Morgan
in On the Digital Edge
After a hiatus that began in February 2011, work has returned me to Las Vegas and the 4,082-seat Colosseum Theater at Caesars Palace, where I spent the better part of three years mixing FOH for Cher and Bette Midler. This past month, rehearsals for Shania Twain’s new Still The One show commenced at Solotech in Las Vegas. Ten musicians and three singers will be joining Shania onstage, and sheer numbers are making things very cozy right now in the 45-by-50-foot rehearsal room we now occupy. The Solotech staff has been incredibly helpful and accommodating while our entourage has nearly overrun their facility. This is a fantastic conglomeration of musicians and vocalists, and many of Shania’s amazing songs already sound show-ready after less than two weeks of work.
The Still The One presentation is a musically dense and complex audio production endeavor. At this moment, there are 90 inputs from the stage now populating my Avid VENUE D-Show console, plus 14 stereo effects returns. The maximum complement of five DSP engines are required to drive all the inputs and plug-ins necessary for creating the most advantageous and sonically pleasing audio product. A second sidecar has also been added to the D-Show so that 16 critical input faders will always be available during the performance.
Each band musician performs on multiple instruments. The stringed instrument players are doubling on electric guitars, acoustic guitars, mandolins, dobros, banjos and fiddles. There are even three different drum kits that drummer J.D. Blair will employ at different points in the show. Bassist Andy Cichon is playing electric bass, upright bass, acoustic bass and keyboard bass. Keyboardist Hardy Hemphill is playing multiple keyboards, accordion, harmonica and percussion.
In order to remain within the 96-input constraint of the VENUE console and the Yamaha PM1D console that monitor engineer Connie Fernstrom employs onstage, we will include two Radial SW8 eight-channel switchers to facilitate managing the redundant drum and instrument inputs that will be used in three separate performance areas on the Colosseum Theater’s vast 120-by-80-foot stage. Judicious use of the SW8’s will allow Connie and I to avoid adding 16 extra inputs. Solotech’s Josh Conway, stage tech extraordinaire, will be handling the switching duties in addition to his incredibly demanding role of wrangling the vast number of wireless microphones, instrument packs and in-ear monitor systems.
Mixing a show containing so many input sources is fraught with difficulties. If it is possible to employ a tool that helps me to be “hands off” on a particular input without sacrificing the dynamic expression of the instrument, then I am all for trying it. Our bassist, Andy Cichon, is playing synth bass on the song “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” He is using the Monster Bass patch on a Korg Trinity 2 keyboard. In the past, I’ve found that the combination volume pedals, touch sensitivity and velocity sensitivity can often produce unevenness in output when it comes to bass patches.
Enter the Bass Rider
I would never use anything more than light compression on a stringed bass instrument when played in a live situation, but the keyboard bass seemed a likely candidate for testing out the Waves (waves.com) Bass Rider plug-in. The product concept is stated as follows on the introductory page of the user guide:
“Bass Rider is an innovative, easy-to-use plug-in that rides bass levels automatically. A companion to our popular Vocal Rider plug-in, Bass Rider delivers perfect bass levels, without changing the natural sound of your bass. Optimized especially for the frequency range and envelope characteristics of bass instruments, Bass Rider covers all the basses: DI, amplified, acoustic, synth, upright—you name it.”
The screen shot in Fig. 1 reveals a simple interface that allowed me to easily adapt the Bass Rider’s detection and response characteristics to the synth bass signal I was processing. The signal chain begins with a pair of Radial JDI passive direct boxes feeding a stereo module on the VENUE D-Show. The first plug-in I inserted was a Waves CLA-3A stereo compressor. I have experienced great success in the past using the CLA-3A plug-in on keyboards as I described in my February, 2012 column in FOH. The stereo Bass Rider was inserted following the CLA-3A compressor.
I next set the Target level as advised in the user manual, setting the Target Slider within the action area so that loud notes go a little outside it.
This particular bass patch has a very fast, percussive attack, a rise in the low bass output as the note sustains and a decay that features quite a lot of after touch artifacts. I was already using the CLA-3A with a slow attack time to gently control the rising bass response but I needed to increase the sensitivity and speed to accommodate the rapid attack of the notes and to ensure the integrity and clarity of each note played in the bass part.
The user guide further goes on to advise:
In the Detect section, I ended up increasing the default setting to about 2 o’clock and the moved the Response switch to Fast. That combination gave me great definition on each note played. In the Ignore section, the Spill control was irrelevant because this sound was played directly from the Trinity keyboard. I increased the Artifacts level to approximately 2 o’clock as well. This allowed the Bass Rider to ignore the delays and clicks that are part of the patch sound at the tail end of the envelope.
The final control is the Output section. Instead of adding makeup gain on the output of the CLA-3A, I added 3 dB to the output of the Bass Rider as the final component in this channel’s audio chain. The Bass Rider performed exactly as advertised, and I found I was able to maintain the forward opposition of the synth bass in the mix throughout the song. The strength and aggressiveness of the signal was uncompromised and the overall audio quality was excellent.
This plug-in is a simple, elegant solution to a common problem with synth bass parts and using it in the mix has provided the “hands free” operation I was hoping to achieve. After initially setting the overall fader level I did not need to constantly make the up/down moves that are often necessary when dealing with this instrument. I call that an unqualified success.
We were so pleased with the Bass Rider’s operation and results that Andy Cichon and I have now discussed gently applying the Bass Rider plug-in to the output of his upright bass. It will be an interesting experiment to see if I can come up with a combination of compressor and Bass Rider settings that will successfully and seamlessly enhance the more complex and expressive signals produced by a large wooden instrument that may be plucked or bowed.
We are now waiting for his new Yamahiko bass pickup system to be delivered from Japan before we start testing, but I’ll let you know how it turns out. I am very optimistic that we will be able to obtain a positive outcome.