Learn how you can take your live sound to the next level by mixing your shows with the same cutting-edge plugins used in top recording and mixing studios.
This has been an amazing era for studio engineers. With the emergence of increasingly powerful laptop computers, inexpensive I/O, and advanced DAWs and audio plugins, artists and engineers can now cut a proper studio-quality record in their basement. But with all this technology becoming increasingly affordable in the studio world, it seems that the live side of audio engineering often gets left out. Shouldn’t live engineers get to use the same tools that their studio counterparts use? It’s true that digital live sound consoles have come a long way quickly and continue to evolve with higher fidelity and reliability, but in the live world you are still very much limited to the basic tools that come with the desk. Thankfully there is one company who realized years back that this shouldn’t be the case, and have put a lot of their resources into creating and supporting a platform that is purely dedicated to giving live engineers the ability to use their favorite tools in a live setting.
Waves Audio created an application called Multirack, a host platform used to run their plugins for live sound. The application itself is visually laid out just like a rack of outboard gear that you would use at a gig or in a studio. When you first open MultiRack, it’s just a blank rack space. Just like a hardware insert, you can insert this rack on anything you’d like (i.e., input channels, output channels, groups, etc.), and you can add up to eight plugins per rack and arrange the processing order any way you’d like. You can continue to add as many rack spaces as needed for processing. Furthermore, you can make these racks mono, stereo, or even mono-to-stereo for different processing like FX returns.
I think that a large misconception about using plugins live is that it’s unnecessary; all just icing on the cake. To that, I must say that using plugins has put me on the mixing offensive rather than the defensive. In other words, where I would normally have been doing damage control and just trying to make sure nothing is feeding back, I’m able to actually fix the issues with some of these tools, and then mix into the music like a studio mixer would and take the live experience for the listeners to the next level.
I was using Waves MultiRack years before I came on board with Waves as their Live Product Specialist, as one of the FOH volunteers at Passion Church in Atlanta, GA, and also when mixing other artists. One of the main artists I’ve been fortunate to work with is Matt Redman, and throughout the past 5 years of working with him I’ve been able to try out many different plugins and develop a great library of presets for his band. There are so many great tools available to correct issues that you wouldn’t typically think of. For example, Matt tends to do a bit of talking in between songs. Before I was using Waves’ C6 Multiband Compressor, I would start to EQ his vocal in sound check when he was hitting the mic pretty hard, and I could get it sounding pretty good. Then during the gig he would start talking at normal voice in between songs, and all of a sudden his mic became muddy and unintelligible. This is because I had EQ’d out a bit of the high-mid harshness when he was at full voice. In order to correct this problem while he was talking, I would carve out a good bit of low-mids, which cleaned up his voice nicely. But then the next song comes around and he’s still at full voice again, and the low-mids I pulled out made his voice sound thin and bright. With standard EQ and channel compression, you just chase yourself in a big circle because you are making static adjustments to a dynamic input. With dynamic compression like the Waves C6 or C4 Multiband Compressor, it will only react to and correct the problem areas as they occur in real time. This is just one example of the many different tools available to help you go on the mixing offensive.
As mentioned, some of Waves’ plugins such as C4, C6, DeEsser, Q10, H-EQ and InPhase are great problem solvers. Some are very musical, like H-Comp, CLA Classic Compressors, and the SSL, Abbey Road and API models. There are many types of FX such as reverbs, delays, doublers and tape machines. The list goes on and on. With Waves MultiRack, you are no longer bound to what lives on the console you are working on that day, and you can take your entire plugin toolset with you wherever you go because MultiRack has been engineers to work with practically any live sound desk.
Plugin and Rack presets are another huge advantage with MultiRack. For instance, I have saved Matt’s vocal chain into a preset file called ‘Redman’, and have saved presets for the other singers (Jorge, Bryan, Nathan and Jon) as well. I can load their individual rack presets into a MultiRack rack space at any time with the click of a button, which will load all the individual plugins and presets that are associated with that person’s preset. This preset feature can be very useful for churches that have rotating band members and singers week to week. I am using this preset system all the time when mixing at Passion City Church. We have about eight different worship leaders and singers rotating in and out (or even all at the same time), and since we don’t have mid-week rehearsals, I don’t have a lot of extra time during sound check to dial in vocals. Instead, I get there about 20 minutes early, build my show file for that morning, load my presets, and my mix is literally already 80% there before we start sound check. You can also update presets on the fly, which I find very convenient. It’s a massive time saver.
Waves products simply speak for themselves, and I was very drawn to that. it’s no wonder that the biggest tours and A-list mixers are using these tools to help shape their sound. The plugins are easy to use and truly sound amazing, and Waves have some of the best support available. It’s a win-win if you ask me.
Recording Matt Redman Live at Abbey Road Studios
Very recently, Matt Redman recorded his new album live at Abbey Road in Studio 1, and I was tasked as FOH engineer for the recording. My job was to mix the live portion of the recording for the audience like a typical FOH engineer would, but very carefully. It’s a delicate balance trying to mix for an audience while also mixing for a recording or TV. If it’s too loud, there will be a lot of overspill into the mics on stage and this will cause big issues during mixdown, but if it’s not loud enough and doesn’t have energy, it defeats the purpose of a live recording… and not to mention that the slightest bit of feedback will be forever imprinted into a live recording. We have a successful gig though. I’m happy to say that there were zero ringing mics, and all in all it was a pretty incredible experience. A funny note about it, though, is what plugins I was using at FOH. Waves have collaborated with Abbey Road and created an Abbey Road series of plugins, which are models of a lot of the more famous hardware they are known for. I had the option of pretty much using any of their world-famous hardware I wanted with my SD10 desk. However, I found that the Waves plugins are so accurate and sound so good that I honestly couldn’t be bothered with walking the pieces over from the control room and plugging them in! Call it lazy or call it smart, but either way the gig sounded great, and I attribute a major part of that to Waves.
Originally published in Technologies for Worship magazine, April 2015.