Greg Price Presents: FOH Michael Spiess

Greg Price

FOH Engineer

Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, ZZ Top

Hi, my name is Michael Spiess. I work mainly with Hard & Heavy Bands, mostly from the ‘80s, and I do live engineering for them worldwide.

To make them sound good and mighty is, of course, the main goal. To also sound equal to their records is another one, and this has been very difficult or impossible in the past. This music has a lot of facets, energy, tempo and effects changes throughout. Usually their records were also produced big, with many effects, doubled guitars, pitched vocals, etc. I always want to reproduce that while sounding smooth and clean, without the typical dynamic problems from the instruments and vocals. This demands a lot.

During a mix, I am constantly in motion and concentrating on moving pans and effects, to change parameters, ride delays and vocal faders. You can do your job pretty well in a good live sound environment with good gear, but this doesn’t always happen. To really go another step further, you need some of your own favorite tools, but to have some extras or even sensitive studio gear on the road is always an issue of expense and risk of damage during transportation.

Well, one day in June 2011, I met Greg Price at a Festival in Finland when we played with Helloween before Ozzy. Greg is doing with Ozzy exactly the same genre that I am doing. So I asked him about his D-Show system and Waves. This was very interesting, and I thought, "These are tools I’ve always wanted. If they are really that worth it and good, I will check them out.” I wasn't interested in "esoteric" stuff.

I am very grateful for this day! Since this time, a lot of things have changed for me. I informed myself with a lot of knowledge about this stuff at the Avid and Waves sites, and talked with colleagues. Finally, a few months later, I bought the Waves live bundle and some extra plugins, and I use them on D-Show Profile and SC48, preferably every time I am able to get it at the shows. Sometimes, I even offer some artists in smaller club tours to do monitors (including in-ear monitors) together from FOH. Earlier I would have not dared, because this was not satisfying enough.

I have to say that I am very happy about my investment in buying Waves plugins because this will give me the possibility to do more things in mixing, and more things differently, than I could ever imagine before. If I compare it to previous times, my mixes never sounded that good. Of course there is, so to speak, a learning curve to find out what works for you and what you want to reach.

For example, let’s start with drums, things like kick drum or snare. Everybody knows about the drums in this music genre, and how important a well-balanced sounding drum for this music is. I use an SSL Channel for the basic setting, and a CLA-3A or CLA-76 compressor to make it punchy, without making it "flat-sounding" like compressing in the usual live analog world with a "simple dbx". Or, to get a natural sounding "snap" at the kick drum, I raise 8k from +5 dB or more at the SSL Channel's nice sounding high EQ. These both help me to reproduce the drums with taste and power.

For me, what’s always an issue is to place the bass guitar right in the mix, and the C4 / C6 multiband compressors help me a lot, since with (multiband) compressing I do not have to "pull" too much out from the EQ. So everything is still almost there but under much better control.

Sometimes the lower notes on deeper guitar strings get a bit lost. I use Renaissance Axx (Threshold -4,5, Gain - 10) to bring out those lower notes and the guitars feels even more solid.

The biggest advantage of using plugins is for vocals; it’s priceless. I use a vocal chain consisting of the Renaissance Compressor, an SSL Channel, C4 and CLA-2A. The articulation and dynamic control is fantastic! It gives me enormous headroom to place the voice easily in the mix, without the usual "jumping out" problems. I’m really not a fan of mixes with a vocal that sits too high above the mix while the music is too far underneath.

Another example:

The lead singer of Helloween, Andy Derris, never appears for a soundcheck in the afternoon. I do the check of his mic in the afternoon, and later during the linecheck right before the show, it will be done again by the monitor guy. It is a guess and you never know 100% how it will be during the first moments of singing. But now that part is much more relaxing for me, thanks to the good dynamic control of the Renaissance Compressor and C4. Then at the end of the vocal chain is the CLA-2A, which is soft and smooth, and I love for its nice coloring.

The band Helloween has a song called "Eagle Fly Free." There is a very affected drum part with a flanging effect all over the drums. I could never reproduce that with the usual devices, which sound like a flanger, but not like on this part of the record. People know this part exactly and if it sounds strange or wrong they will recognize that. In the past it was better to leave it without this effect, but now I use Waves MetaFlanger!

Nice and useful effects, I always wanted that. I could never have such a selection live, and so I enjoy, for example, to have early reflections from TrueVerb as a room to "place" drums, guitars or keyboards in the mix, in addition to standard reverbs, doublers, delays, etc.

There is still another thing which I haven’t mentioned: Master buss compression.

It was never in my mind before, but since I’ve been using the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, my mix is more contained. And with an L2 Ultramaximizer, I can bring alive some deeper things in the mix and everything sounds more solid. It increases the RMS level of the mix as well, and feels a little bit louder and mighty without increasing level and volume. It really helps in venues with weak sound systems and/or to follow sound SPL limits.

The development of events in the live arena has indeed become spectacular. To have a good sound is essential, and often the volume will be limited and measured to protect the audience, which makes it even more difficult as you probably know.

I feel that my work has really begun to benefit.

Michael Spiess

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