Marc Carolan and Muse: Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

in FOH Interview
Marc Carolan was having a rough day. The Irish-born engineer who has spent the past nine years mixing Muse, in venues ranging from stadiums to theatres and headlining to opening for U2 on the 360° tour is not used to the dry Vegas climate or the blasting air conditioning inside the Mandalay Bay Event Center, where his clients have a sold-out show in a touring season that has been very tough for a lot of acts. Not that he does not like the weather. "Ireland is great," he says. "If you like rain. We have a saying there that our two favorite days in Ireland are Christmas and summer."
FOH: Okay, I got the tour with Paddy (system engineer Patrick "Paddy" Hocken), and this is obviously a huge show. At the risk of sounding totally unhip, how is it that I have never heard of these guys?

Marc Carolan: It has been a nice, gradual, natural build in the U.S. They started really touring over here in 2004-2005. They were playing arenas in Europe, and then we would come over here and do 200-seat theaters. And every time we came back over here, the size of the audience doubled. Now we are doing arenas in the States, and we'll spend the summer doing festivals and stadiums in Europe.


So you are all analog?

Yes, Midas XL4.


It's a big FOH footprint...

We could squeeze it down a little more, but we are all standing (GA) on the floor here and do stadiums all the time in Europe, so it is not like I have had to squeeze this into a 200-seat theater. The size has not been an issue with our production team.


Most of the guys I see sticking with analog are older "pry it out of my cold dead fingers" guys. Even Big Mick went to an XL-8. But you are a younger guy. Talk to me about the whole analog thing.

I'm not gonna be one of those die-hard analog guys who pounds the table and says, "It must be analog. It must be analog." I am totally comfortable with digital. I am just trying to use he right tool for the job. I don't approach it as "It must be analog" or "It must be digital." I try to assess what I am doing. What is the program? What are the sounds I'm trying to achieve? I come from that point of view. It is not like it is politicized.


So you are equally comfortable in both worlds.

I am. I have a recording studio background as well. I have my own studio back home with my SSL in there. It is a methodology based on what we are trying to achieve. We let the job determine the tool and don't force the wrong tool into the job.


You guys are out with a d&b rig. Is this the same system you use in Europe?

It is. I'm glad you get to see a 360 show.

(NOTE: 360 does not mean in the round. The stage is at one end of the arena, but audio and video coverage is 360 degrees as every seat in the house is sold. A tour of the rig with system engineer Patrick "Paddy" Hocken accompanies this interview on FOH-TV.)

Let me go back another step. I was L-Acoustics for years - V-DOSC, and very, very happy there. And I'm obviously looking very closely at what they are doing with the K1. One of the advantages to the d&b J system that we are using here is the ability to go all the way around using the same box. You really can't do that with another system. The weight alone would rule it out. You would end up doing every zone with a different enclosure.

And from a practical point of view, that just sucks up a lot of time trying to make everything sit in harmony. And I never truly know in my position what is happening in the rest of the room. With the J series, we get the same enclosure all the way around.


Well, this tour is amazingly efficient. We got a call this morning at 11 that you were tipping trucks, and by 3 I got the call that you were ready for us, which means sound check was done, because no one outside the crew is allowed inside during sound check.

Well, that efficiency has audible results, because we are able to get really consistent results from night to night, even with a 360-degree hang. With the rig being so efficient, we get a lot more time to actually play with the audio and get it right.

We're not hunting down spurious problems. With everything centralized and managed, there is much less room for problems. It is very rare that we have to do any real troubleshooting. It gives us more time to make the system really sing. And it keeps production off our backs.


On so many tours now, audio quality has taken a back seat to other considerations. Just from looking at the care that is being taken with the system here, I get the impression that is not the case on this tour. I get the impression that audio still counts.

Yes. I get tasked by the band, and audio is very high on their list of priorities. They produced their last album, and they are all very aware of audio quality. The are all good engineers in their own right. But that does not get in the way of the show. Some artists who know audio can just get too specific in their requests.


I have heard stories of artists calling frequencies from the stage.

Right, there is none of that. If there is something they need, they are able to explain it in a very clear way, which makes my job much easier. But at the same time, they allow me to do my job. There is a good balance of understanding and trust.


It probably gets old because I ask this every time I cover a show, but what's different? What are you guys doing that others are not, and that you want people to know about?

Well, some of the outboard stuff is pretty esoteric.


I noticed. What are there, like eight racks at front of house?

No, it's not that many. If you discount the system rack, then it's five. (Laughing). I'm trying to talk the size down, not up. And the   y're very short racks...

But there are some pieces you don't often see, like the Bricasti reverbs and the old GML EQ, which I just love.


But it's not like you are a boutique snob. I saw a bunch of Line 6 Echo Pro units in one rack, and that is not an expensive piece.

The nice thing about the Echo Pro is that you can get some nicely colored delays. Different colors of delay as opposed to "an echo."


I'm a Line 6 fan, but I don't see it in a lot of touring racks.

It's real quick to program, it sounds great. I don't know why we don't see more of them, to tell you the truth.


Well, I know that Gordon Mack with John Legend and Hugh Johnson with Vince Gill both use the plug-in version on the Venue system.

And when I am digital, I use the plug-in as well.


You mentioned being equally at home with digital as with analog. What is your digital console of choice?

Well, historically it has been the VENUE. I prefer the Profile. It's an ergonomic piece and much easier to work on. Obviously, as a long-time Midas user, I love the sound of the XL8. It just comes back to using the right tool for the job. The thing about the XL4 is that it has a feel that lends itself to almost being a performance itself.


Anything else new and different?

With us, it is more the little things. The incremental changes from tour to tour and the attention to detail. And cumulatively, we end up with something we are very happy with.

We're using the d&b SubArc style sub. Sub bass is a bit of a task for me, because in the past we have had problems with sub onstage being an issue for the artists in that it causes coloration of their in-ears. This setup has been fantastic, because it allows me the freedom to put the sub bass in the house that the audience wants and still keep it off the stage.

My approach has never been engineering for engineering's sake. I try to engineer in such a way as to never ever inhibit what the artist is trying to achieve. And that is the bottom line for me. This is not an exercise in the perfect kick drum sound.


Howard Page was quoted saying, "When did the kick drum become the lead vocal?"

Exactly. And not that the kick is not important, but it is one aspect of the overall sound.