May 2012 Issue
Production Profile

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band "Wrecking Ball Tour"

Any successful tour requires a great team. Shown here are: (back row, left to right): Etienne Lapré (L-Acoustics K1 system engineer); Jeff Tweedy (Steve Van Zandt guitar tech); Troy Milner (stage right monitor engineer); John Cooper (FOH engineer); John Bruey (crew chief/system engineer); Ray Tittle (system tech); Monty Carlo (stage left monitor engineer). Front row, left to right: Rob Zuchowski (system tech); Klaus Bolender (system engineer).A Conversation with FOH Mixer John Cooper and Solotech’s Mario Leccese

A Bruce Springsteen tour isn’t just an event; it is a movement celebrated by fans in packed venues around the world. And in an era when groups are scaling down with smaller ensembles, acoustic shows and looking at “more intimate” venues, Springsteen brings his own version of intimacy to stadiums and arenas, staying just as much in touch with audience members in the front row as the people in row YY on the second deck.

The all L-Acoustics stage right speakers consist of a side hang comprised of 14 K1s and six KARA underhangs, and the main hang of 12 K1-SB subwoofers, 14 K1s and six KARA underhangs.Gear and Logistics

Working to bring the current Wrecking Ball tour to the masses is Solotech, just a year after acquiring Audio Analysts. Clearly, this is a huge undertaking, including a massive 210-box L-Acoustics system comprised of 60 K1s, 24 flown K1-SB subs, 24 KARAs, 48 KUDOs, 16 V-DOSCs, 14 dV-DOSCs, 16 V-DOSCs and eight stacked SB28 subwoofers. On the monitor end are 32 Audio Analysts 12/15/212 SLP (Super Low Profile) wedges and eight JBL VerTec VT4888 sidefills. But beyond providing tour support for this mega production, there are countless other details involved.

Speaking just before the second show at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, on Friday, April 27, was Solotech USA Director of Sound Operations Mario Leccese, who with David Brazeau are the two project managers for the tour. “For example, tonight everything but racks/stacks and lighting is getting air-freighted to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival on Sunday,” Leccese explains. “Then it’s trucked to New Jersey for Wednesday [May 2] and right after that, the universal stuff is palleted and sent for the European tour. We’ve already shipped a couple containers of gear to Europe and on Monday we’re taking delivery on a new K1 rig in France, teching it there and sending it for the first show in Spain on May 13. There are a lot of details, but fortunately, Solotech is a large organization with more than 300 people ranging from technical support and backup to specialists doing customs paperwork, shipping — everything. This lets us tackle large projects with a fair amount of ease, but still, it’s demanding. It’s a major league effort.”

The coordination went well beyond creating the systems, scheduling and shipping manifests. This is one big production, with some 17 musicians onstage and “with all the wireless mics and IEMs in use, there must be 70 different frequencies operating,” adds Leccese. The tour is carrying 10 Shure UR2 wireless handhelds with SM58 capsules, 12 Shure UR1 beltpack transmitters with Beta 98 clip-on mics and 36 Sennheiser EK 2000 beltpack IEM receivers. That’s a whole lotta RF on any tour. Hardwired mics are mostly Shure, as well as some Sennheiser 409s (Springsteen’s guitar amps) and 906s (percussion), Heil PR28s (toms), Beyer M88 (outside kick) and Radial and Countryman DIs.

Back in the Saddle

Nearly all members of the sound crew are veterans of previous Springsteen tours, including the left/right stage monitor engineers Troy Milner and Monty Carlo (each on DiGiCo SD7 consoles this time around). Front of house engineer John Cooper — who’s been working with The Boss for more than a decade — was a major catalyst in the move to an L-Acoustics rig.

“I’d used L-Acoustics K1s a couple years ago at the Hyde Park show/festival that we did with Bruce and was knocked out by them,” says Cooper. “Also, the Dave Matthews Band was on immediately prior to us at that show, and the mixes that [FOH engineer] Jeff Thomas achieved were nothing less than spectacular. Frankly, it was the best-sounding live performance I’ve ever heard — absolutely stunning. For the bulk of last year, I mixed Sheryl Crow, and she opened a bunch of Kid Rock shows that Sound Image did using a K1 rig. That solidified my conviction. I’ve been fortunate to use most of the modern line arrays out there — and the K1 is the clear leader at the moment. It’s much more direct sounding, with a greater level of transparency and imaging than I’ve heard from the competitors.”

Cooper was instrumental in searching for a supplier with a large K1 rig. “We ended up using Solotech, because they came in with the right bid and had all the right support systems that made the difference. The irony of course was they were the company that bought Audio Analysts, who had a long history with Bruce. It was a good marriage from the beginning and thus far has turned out to be a strong relationship.”

At FOH is an Avid Profile with a screen on the left running Rational Acoustics SMAART audio analysis program. In the rack beneath the console is an Apogee Big Ben digital clock, RME OctaMic II preamp, APB-Dynasonics MixSwitch and RME MADI Bridges.In the Mix

Given the glowing reviews about the sound during the U.S. leg of the Wrecking Ball tour, the move to L-Acoustics for this tour seems to have been a good choice. Cooper is pleased to be vindicated by this, but added that “now it’s up to me (laughs). This is a very revealing system, and if I screw up, it will show it. Now I’m anxious to hear the K1s in the outdoor stadium environments we’re heading into. If it sounds good in a confined arena, then it will really take on another dimension in a stadium.”

Not your father’s FOH rack: Beneath the Furman PL8 power conditioner/lights and Lectrosonics R400A wireless (used for measurement mics), PreSonus FireStudio preamp/interface (for measurement mics), Dolby Lake LP8 D8 system processors, Riedel RockNet RN.335 digital input interface, Cisco SGE2000 Gigabit Ethernet switcher and an Eaton 9130 rackmount UPS.Cooper enjoys working with Springsteen, but adds that this is a complex mix. “Bruce is a loud show, and even in an arena, the stage volume is a factor — it can be fiercely loud onstage. You have to take that into consideration when you’re mixing,” he explains. “And just leaving mics open will finish your evening before you’ve even gotten started. I’m using 104 preamps at front of house — some of those are stereo channels, but every input source on the Avid Profile is used. There eight outboard preamps doing audience mics and 96 Avid preamps, and every effects return is used, so it’s a very full plate.”

A major part of any Springsteen tour is pushing the envelope and striving for the best in every area — whether on stage or in the house. “I’m gonna sound like an Avid salesman here — and I’m not — but I did a lot of very careful A/B comparisons during rehearsals, listening on Genelec near-fields and paying very close attention to input sources. I tried various external preamps and, in each case, I went back to the Avid,” says Cooper. “At the end of the day, we don’t base any sound decision on whether it represents more work. In Bruce’s world, if it’s better, we do it — and that applies to every person on this tour — whether they’re a guitar tech, set carpenter, front of house engineer or lighting director. It’s all about doing whatever we can to make this better, because Bruce gives so much in terms of the performance aspect, and the least we can do is to try and keep up with him. He’s 62 years old and throws down more than most 22 year olds on that rock-n-roll stage. I do whatever I can to take every tour to the next level.”

The Safety Net

“At the same time, I’m not going to stick my neck out there and risk everything to be on the cutting edge of technology. There’s a fine line between what works, what’s available out there and what can get you into big trouble if you had a failure,” Cooper adds. “The Avid console architecture doesn’t really provide an online tandem ‘B’ engine, as does Yamaha, DiGiCo and some of the other manufacturers. So we came up with the idea of running two complete front of house engines through an APB-Dynasonics MixSwitch. The engines are MIDI linked and files are cloned from one engine to the other. Then when I fire a cue on the primary ‘A’ front of house engine from the control surface, that change is reflected on the ‘B’ engine. It’s all monitored via a network laptop, and the control surface can be swapped over in a matter of seconds. It takes about a half-second to switch over the ‘B’ engine audio, which I do routinely during sound check and so far, the band has not detected the change, if I do it on a downbeat.”

One backup is fine, but it goes a step further. “Our second course of redundancy is also through the MixSwitch. I have a mix-minus and a Bruce vocal feed from the stage right monitor console, so if both engines fail, I can still drive a mix through the sound system and complete the show. Triple redundancy is the name of the game in our world. A console failure is just not acceptable. But to not build in escape routes — and test them as part of your routine — is just foolhardy. There are millions of dollars at stake at every event, and, as corny as this is to say, you’re only as good as your last show. You might mix a thousand great shows, and I don’t want to be known as the guy whose console quit on him at Madison Square Garden.”

In the Money Channel

There may be 16 other performers on stage, but the show is all about Springsteen. But there’s no magic treatment here. “I’ve listened to everything, and I’ve run the gauntlet on boutique microphones, but I use an SM58 capsule,” says Cooper. “Every mic has its place, but not here with the guy who’s burying his face in a tub of water and spitting into the microphone. The 58 is the tool for the job.”

The vocal chain uses all Waves plug-ins — the Renaissance EQ, a Waves C6 and a Waves MaxVolume. “That’s essentially it,” Cooper explains, but adds that there are a few other complications. “Bruce’s vocal is routed independently of the stereo bus, so there’s independent control of the vocal through the matrices that drive the PA, so I can ring it out. I approach his vocal mic like a monitor engineer would. I ring out his vocal mic at about +12dB over operating level every day, because he’s out in front of the PA, doing several songs on a platform about 50 feet in front of the stage and he’s underneath the downfills. It has to be approached in that fashion. I don’t want to destroy the tonality of his vocal going to the 2-track record buses that feed the video, DVD, press feeds and 2-track recorders — so I do that in the matrices that feed the PA, and use a 10-band Waves Q10 to ring it out. That runs through an IDR brickwall compressor if I need to contain the dynamics a little bit.”

The Virtual Outboard Rack

Cooper is no stranger to running plug-ins on previous Springsteen tours, but was there anything new this time around? “Not really, but I’ve been using a little of Waves InPhase plug-in on the snare top and bottom,” he says. “But even there, with the way I marry a snare top and bottom, the effect is pretty subtle, because I don’t use a very full range sound on the [Beta 137] bottom mic. In fact, it’s high-passed at 4K, so there’s nothing in that mic but snap. And the top mic [Beta 57] is rolled off all the way down to about 4K to keep the hi-hat out of it. If both were both used full range, then the InPhase plug-in would be tremendously beneficial, as it would if I was using a bass mic and a bass DI, or two kick drum mics at the same time.”

“That’s one of the few new plug-ins I’ve experimented with, but really, the set of plugs-ins — such as what I’m using on Bruce’s channel — get used a lot. I put a C6 across the master bus before it goes to the drive system and it’s incredibly helpful. I’ve used the same type of C6 arrangement across the master recording bus to help contain the show’s broad dynamic range.”

Using up to 100 plug-in instantiations in his mix, there’s no room for more, so Cooper tends to be judicious about what he employs. “A lot of the other plug-ins I use are the vintage stuff. I’m a big fan of Waves’ Chris Lord-Alge stuff, the CLA-2s, -3s and CLA-76s, along with the SSL 4000 and G-Channel — and I use the Renaissance Series quite heavily. I have no slots left for plug-ins at this point, so one of my go-to’s for things like background vocals is the Renaissance channel, which gives me some downward expansion, compression and a good equalizer. I could do the same thing with the console’s channel electronics — which are good — but the plug-in’s downward expansion function is extremely useful, by helping dim channels when singers back off between phrases. It’s only taking off about -3 dB, but when you’ve got eight vocal mics, the effect is dramatic. It makes a big difference in the integrity of the mix and provides an extra set of hands.”

The Mixing Philosophy

“I’ve been mixing for a long time, but I’m also there with the guys on the floor at seven in the morning and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Cooper. “Yet I live for the mixing and to me, this is all about what happens when the lights go down. You’ve got to submerge yourself in the music to be an effective mixer. The reason I started doing this was because I enjoy mixing the music and the hair standing up on my arm at certain parts of the show. I don’t ever want to lose that because I’m screwing around with the electronics. For me, it’s all about the music, which is one of the keys to my success.”

Being successful in any team endeavor, whether as a football quarterback or Indy race driver, requires a coordinated effort by an experienced and well-practiced crew that works together towards a common goal. “I’m the lucky guy that gets to mix this and be intimately involved in Bruce’s music, which is a privilege beyond all others,” Cooper explains. “But I can’t do what I do without the support of a good company like Solotech and in particular, the guys out here who look after me. It’s the system engineers and the guys who are hooking things up that allow me to have such great consistency when I mix that show. These men are the best there is. I can’t thank them enough.”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Wrecking Ball Tour

 

Crew

FOH Engineer: John Cooper

Monitor Engineers: Troy Milner, Monty Carlo

System Engineer: Klaus Bolender

System Engineer/L-Acoustics K1: Etienne Lapré

Crew Chief/System Engineer: John Bruey

Techs: Ray Tittle, Rob Zuchowski

Tour Project Managers: Mario Leccese, David Brazeau

Sound Company: Solotech

 

Gear

FOH Speakers

32 L-Acoustics K1 (main hang: 16 per side flown )

24 L-Acoustics K1-SB subwoofers
(main hang 12 per side flown )

12 L-Acoustics KARA
(main underhang 6 per side flown )

28 L-Acoustics K1
(side hang 14 per side flown )

48 L-Acoustics KUDO
(rear fill 4 clusters of 12 flown )

8 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC (front fills )

8 L-Acoustics SB-28 subwoofers
(4 per side stacked )

16 L-Acoustics V-DOSC
(FOH delays; 2 clusters of 8 flown )

12 L-Acoustics KARA
(side array underhang flown 6 per side )

6 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC
(center cluster 6 flown)

Amps

26 LA-RAK networked amp rack

Consoles

1 Avid PROFILE

2 Avid stage racks
(48 inputs, 24 outputs, 8 AES outputs)

2 Avid local racks with 5 DSP cards, 2 snake cards, extra output card, ethernet card

1 Avid VENUE Pack 2.0 plug-ins, Waves Live plug-ins, CLA, Crane Song Phoenix

4 RME MADI Bridge

1 APB-DynaSonics MixSwitch

FOH Drive Rack

5 Lake/ Dolby LP8D8 processor

2 Apple Mac Mini w SMAART, LAKE,
L-Acoustics software

1 Tablet PC computer

1 Wireless Access Point

1 Sound Devices USBPre interface

1 Audix measurement mic

1 PreSonus FireStudio 8 ch firewire mic pre amp with 8 Audix TM1 mics

1 Lectrosonics TM 400 wireless test measurement microphone system with Audix TM1 microphone

FOH Pro Tools

2 Apple Mac Pro Towers with 10 GB of RAM and 4 1TB 7200 RPM drives

2 Apple 23” monitor with magic mouse and keyboard

2 Magma expansion chassis

1 Avid 2 Pro Tools HD Core Card

6 Avid Pro Tools HD Accel Card

2 Tripp Lite 1500 VA UPS

4 Sonnet rack mount 4 bay hard drives

4 Avid MADI HD cards

2 RME MADI bridge

2 Avid Sync HD

1 Apogee Big Ben Word Clock

2 ATI Radeon HD 5770 1 GB drive

2 18X Super Drives

2 Tascam CD burners

1 Millennia HV3D 8 ch mic pre amps

MON Speakers

10 Audio Analysts 12 SLP 1 X 12” wedges

12 Audio Analysts 15 SLP 1 X 15” wedges

10 Audio Analysts 212 SLP 2 X 12” wedges

8 JBL VerTec VT4888
(monitor side fills flown 4 per side )

2 Audio Analysts 2 X18” subwoofers

4 Buttkicker Shakers for platform w/ amps

MON Amps

6 4-mix wedge rack (Crown I-Tech 12000HD)

1 VerTec VT4888 stereo side fill amp rack

(Crown I-Tech 5000HD / 12000HD)

1 drum sub amp rack
(Crown I-Tech 12000HD)

MON Consoles

2 DiGiCo SD7 surfaces, Mach 2 software with 2 Waves cards

3 DiGiCo SD Rack
(56 in, 24 analog out , 2 AES out)

1 DiGiCo SD RACK (56 in, 24 analog out, 2 AES out + AVIOM D-16C output card)

4 Waves Sound Grid servers with gigabit switch and cables

1 Waves plug in package for SL

1 Waves plug in package for SR as per spec

1 Sound Grid Pro Bundle with 2 ILoks

MON Processing

2 TC Electronic Reverb 4000s

2 TC M-2000s

4 Aphex Headpod headphone amps

Wireless Mics

8 Shure UR4D-J5 dual receiver
networked via Ethernet

10 Shure UR2 wireless handheld
microphone with SM58 capsule

12 Shure UR1 beltpack transmitter J5s with B98 clip on mics

2 Shure UHF antenna distribution systems

3 amplified paddle antennas with cables

IEMs

12 Sennheiser SR 2050 dual IEM transmitter networked with Ethernet switch

36 Sennheiser EK 2000 beltpack receivers

3 Sennheiser AC 3200 antenna combiners

4 25’ low loss antenna cables

5 Helical antennas

Snake Systems

2 56-ch 3 way transformer splits

4 25’ 56-ch snakes

2 50’ 56-ch snakes

2 150’ 56-ch snakes

8 56-ch fanouts

12 75’ 10-channel sub-snakes

1 300’ FOH AC lines

4 300’ drive lines

3 300’ quad BNC snakes

AC Distro System

4 20-way 200 AMP 3 phase AC distro with 200’ of feeder cable

Rigging

9 CM 2-ton chain hoists

25 CM 1-ton chain hoists


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