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Greg Price Presents: FOH Brett Orrison

Oct 17, 2012

young gun
Noun, informal – A young man regarded as assertive and aggressively self-confident.

From the dictionary definition, we can see that the term “Young Gun” perfectly describes today’s live sound engineers/producers, who are, in many ways, similar to the gun-slinging young men of the old Wild West. Armed with Waves tools, the modern day engineer rides into the gig, ready to do battle, confident with the knowledge of what a mix needs to be. With a clear vision of the music, the band and his mixing tools, the “Young Gun” live sound engineer/producer aggressively goes after the sound and production that make for a great show.

This is the first of our Young Guns features which will shine the spotlight on up-and-coming live mixing talents. First up is Brett Orrison out of Austin, Texas, whom we met at this year’s Lollapalooza, where he put on a stunning show with Black Angel. I have asked Brett to write, in his own words, about his work.

How Waves Plugins Enable You to Build the Defining Sonic Characteristics of the Artists You Mix

My initial goal is to make the band sound big with everything in its right place. Equally important, as the engineer, you must reproduce the defining style and sonic characteristics the band has been cultivating in the studio for their entire existence. This can be quite a challenge, depending on the genre, the venue and the imagination of the artist. I mix The Black Angels on the road and in the studio. They are a psychedelic rock band encompassing late '50s and '60s rock with a dark modern twist. The challenge with modern psychedelia is creating a timeless/vintage sound and, at the same time, creating a big punchy sound that takes full advantage of the advances in PA technology, all the while falling in and out of calculated chaos and destruction. It means I have to perform at FOH, literally work up a sweat. Panning, riding faders, tapping tempos, building effects on the fly, destroying sounds until they become beautiful again – basically insuring an aural mind trip for the listener. The band expects that from me and the audience expects it from The Black Angels. I love it. It's total artistic freedom.

Now, for the grim reality of it: I've been mixing on different consoles and outboard gear every night. Having to start from scratch everyday is a pain and certain venues can be very limiting – not to mention the old crappy gear you run into on the road. There is a solution! A game changer if you will. Waves plugins have completely changed the way I mix in the live realm. Let’s start with lead vocalist Alex Maas and his FX chain. I can run his voice through a GTR Tool Rack, H-Delay, and then smash it into oblivion with TrueVerb. As long as I have a C4 at the end of the chain, there’s no chasing EQ settings and dynamics. I can go back and forth with any effects with little maintenance. Vocal out of an aux send to my MultiRack with snapshots for each song...yes, please. My entire vocal effects chain is the same every night and they’re the same plugins I use to mix records. There is no limit to the sounds you can design, and it allows more time to feel the music and enjoy mixing.

For example, let’s take the bass: Four members of the band play bass, ranging from a Rickenbacker to a Jazz Bass, with totally different styles. Massage a C6 to Kyle Hunt’s percussive style and 95% of my work on the bass is done. Using frequency compression the C6 automatically and gracefully molds to the other bass players, while keeping the character of the particular guitar being played. Occasionally, I have three guitar players (and pedal collectors) playing at the same time: Renaissance Axx and some creative panning and...done. Lead guitarist Christian Bland is a vintage pedal collector; I see a couple new pedals every tour. He goes from Buddy Holly’s glassy tone to a signature dark tone bender distortion, multiple times within one song. Using Renaissance Axx, I pull the threshold down about 3 dB and it helps those quieter notes come alive with out smashing the dynamics and power of the distortion. The only time I used to compress guitar is in the studio and rarely, but using compression live with a plugin designed specifically for guitars is a huge asset for placement within the mix.

Stephanie Bailey’s drums get a lot of love from my MultiRack. On some songs, the drums need to sound like they are in an inner space cavern. I also have songs where the drums need a trashy garage band sound or Zeppelin-style flange on the cymbals. This is where having Waves revolutionizes my mix. I no longer have to be limited with using three or four FX units for the entire mix; I have every sound I need, period. Don't get me wrong: The ten years of mixing on the console du jour, I wouldn't trade for the world. It taught me how to use the tools I'm given and achieve the sound I want no matter what obstacles arise. But as soon as I mixed a concert with Waves plugins for the first time, my head was spinning, as I realized that I will never be limited by a venue’s outboard gear again. Using Waves lifts all limitations for sonic diversity and, for that, I am grateful.

Brett Orrison