FOH engineer Dani Munoz talks about recreating Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li’s lush studio sound in a live setting, taking his compact eMotion LV1 mixer rig to venues and festivals worldwide during the So Sad So Sexy tour.
By David Ampong
When we last spoke to front-of-house engineer Dani Munoz (Kali Uchis, Ricardo Arjona, Chromeo), he was embarking on his first tour using the eMotion LV1 live mixer, with Canadian reggae fusion band Magic! Since then, he’s been using it steadily around the world and back. This time around, he’s taking the LV1 out with Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li. We caught up with Dani to hear how his compact rig has been holding up during the singer’s So Sad, So Sexy world tour, and how his plugin chains allow him to recreate her sleek album sound at venues and massive festivals.
Dani, how long have you been using the LV1? Has your rig changed at all since then?
I first took it out in 2015 during the Don’t Kill the Magic! world tour. Back then it was a dual touch-screen setup, with a Mac mini, a SoundGrid Extreme server and four DiGiGird IOX SoundGrid interfaces for I/O. That took about four road cases.
Since then I’ve been on a mission to make my rig as compact as possible without compromising on sound quality but instead improving it. The fact that Waves added features to the LV1 like custom layers allowed me to rethink my layout, to the point where these days I’m rocking a single touchscreen, making space in my rig for other toys.
Currently, I travel with only two Pelican Air Cases with Circle Three designs for my flyout racks. Inside I’ve got an Axis One compact computer, a SoundGrid Server One-C, a DiGiGrid IOX, a DiGiGrid MGB coaxial MADI-to-SoundGrid interface, a couple of outboard FX units, and a single touchscreen monitor.
How do you mix Lykke Li’s stylistically dynamic vocals in the live setting? What plugins do you use in her vocal chain?
I love mixing an artist with such a unique voice. Making her vocals sit in the mix the RIGHT way is pretty much what this gig is about for me. The main goal is to bring the audience as close as possible to her while keeping everything very stylish and faithful to the concept of her music. I care about every single person in the audience being able to understand what she’s singing and saying; even all the way to the back of the venue. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I use the plugins.
Her vocal chain runs like this: the F6 Dynamic EQ for the real-time analyzer, low-pass and high-pass filters, and some initial EQ to clean up the proximity effect etc. Right after that I have the Primary Source Expander, which I engage and disengage to minimize mic bleed on songs like “Little Bit,” where she sings extra quiet.
That goes into a CLA-76 ‘Bluey’ because, after years of using it, it’s still my favorite vocal compressor. It does ballsy compression, and it’s been my friend when it comes to bringing her vocals up close and keeping her wide dynamic range in check. The chain then goes into Sibilance, my favorite de-esser at the moment. Then I use the H-EQ for some final tone adjustments, and finally, Vitamin gives the final shine and excitement that keep her vocals still sounding lively.
On her albums Lykke is known to have a very lush sound with reverbs and time-based effects sort of ‘dancing’ around her phrasing, and I try to replicate that as closely as possible without pushing her too far away in the mix. For some of these effects, I’m IN LOVE with everything Abbey Road: the TG Mastering Chain, the Chambers and the Reverb Plates are my favorites right now. Luckily eMotion LV1 has a very powerful and intuitive scene workflow, so I can rely on it to make these effects change style from song to song at the push of a button.
Other effect plugins I’ve used on her vocals are a long hall preset in the IR-Live Convolution Reverb, and a very lo-fi 300 ms H-Delay setting for the big spacious sounds. I used another instance of H-Delay with a clearer and more pronounced feedback sound for all the tap delay cues. Then there’s the amazing Doubler, which I used at 4 voices and in parallel: the Dave Pensado preset for vocals worked out perfect for me.
To what extent are you trying to replicate the studio sound of her albums?
Fans show up to concerts to hear their favorite artists, so it’s always the goal to maintain enough familiarity but with the excitement and dynamics of a live concert. My approach to achieving this is partly forensic, and partly comes from studying Lykke’s music and her own notes and feedback.
I had a few conversations with Lykke during our production rehearsals about my approach to vocal effects. She’s very involved in these decisions. She came to FOH often to listen to my recordings and make sure that I stayed true to her vision, while giving me the freedom to add my own flavor to it. Having such clear objectives made my job really easy. The biggest reward for me was that after one of these listening sessions she said, “I don’t think it’s ever sounded better than this.” That made my day!
The So Sad So Sexy tour also features a live band. With only four other musicians on stage, how do you get the sound so big, so massive—without overshadowing Lykke Li’s vocals?
I'm using the F6 Dynamic EQ throughout the band channels, and a variety of other Waves plugins for processing. On drums I have Cobalt Saphira and API 2500; the bass guitar has the dbx 160 compressor; on keyboards, I use the Renaissance Compressor, Kramer PIE Compressor, and Center, and for background vocals I love the CLA-2A.
I have to give a big shout-out to Lykke’s amazing band: Lars Skoglund (musical direction/drums), Anders Stenberg (guitars/bass), Mikael Sundin (keyboards/guitars), and Rosemary Longdon-Hughes (background vocals). They’re such great instrumentalists and so in touch with their parts, the music and the artist that they don’t get in the way of Lykke’s vocals but instead enhance her performance. I felt really lucky to work with such nice and professional people. They’ve been her band for about a decade now and the quality of the sounds that come off that stage really allows me to focus on the movement and tonal quality of the mix.
You’ve been touring venues and festivals worldwide with the LV1. What’s setup been like for you at all these gigs?
Setups have been a breeze. I literally walk in, ask for a 4’ road case; my entire setup is assembled, and I’m ready for PA lines in 10 minutes. We’re flying into most of these festivals, and a lot of times we don’t get a soundcheck. So virtual soundchecks with the Waves Tracks Live recording software have become the norm these days.
I want to say I’ve been extremely proud to see the LV1 on many major festivals in the past couple of years. I love to see how engineers who use the platform do it with such passion for the craft. I’ve seen many skeptics who are deceived by the small form factor change their opinion once they hear it for themselves; it’s truly a great-sounding console. I love the contrast of walking in with just a couple of Pelicans and then rocking world-class festival stages like Coachella and Hyde Park!
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