At the heart of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival stand the top live mixing engineers who sculpt the event’s spectacular sound. We talked to some of the world’s best to find out how Waves Live tools power their mixes.
Happening each spring in sunny Indio, California, the annual Coachella festival is one of the largest, most high-profile music events in the U.S., boasting some of the world’s biggest music artists alongside emerging star acts. Coachella 2018, which took place during two consecutive weekends in 2018, featured a staggering lineup of hip hop, rock, indie and electronic dance acts between numerous stages.
As we roamed the festival grounds and visited the different front-of-house operations, we found Waves tools being used to power the sound of diverse performers. Their live engineers were running Waves plugins on diverse setups and consoles – everything from Avid VENUE S6L (Kygo) and Avid VENUE Profile (The Weeknd), to DiGiCo SD10’s (David Byrne, Vince Staples), to SSL Live (Portugal. The Man) and Waves’ own eMotion LV1 live mixer (MØ), and much else.
We took advantage of this opportunity to talk with several prominent FOH engineers, peek under the hood of their productions, and find out which tools help them create a tight, spectacular-sounding show under demanding festival conditions.
Mixing Vince Staples: FOH Engineer Robbie Barr
AOne of our first stops was rapper Vince Staples’ show. Staples’ FOH engineer, Robbie Barr, has been touring with DiGiCO SD-series consoles nonstop for five years, mixing such acts as M83, Foster the People and Banks. His setup for Staples at Coachella consisted of a DiGiCo SD10 console, two Waves SoundGrid Extreme Servers (one for redundancy), the Waves MultiRack plugin host software running on a Microsoft Surface Pro, Crane Song HEDD, and a Kush Audio Clariphonic.
“Running Waves plugins on MultiRack couldn’t be easier,” Robbie says. “It helps me recreate my favorite dynamic and FX chains from the studio and tailor them to a live environment.”
Which plugins are most essential for you?
“The Waves F6 Dynamic EQ is a must-have. I love having it across my music buss, where I use it to tame unruly 808s or soften a surprisingly harsh synth track. Also, Vince’s vocal sound changes, depending on the style of the song and whether he’s cupping the mic or not. A static EQ setting isn’t ideal for that situation. The F6 dynamic EQ has solved that problem for me, in an intuitive way I’ve yet to see in a live plugin.”
“Also, growing up on analog, a rack of dbx 160 compressors would make my day. I still love the sound of a 160 on a powerful vocal like Vince’s. I used to carry a lunchbox with one of the original hardware units, but the Waves dbx 160 Compressor plugin is so true that I now leave the hardware at home!”
“The last plugin on my mix buss is the L2 Ultramaximizer; nothing is better at keeping the mix feeling in your face and hitting hard without resorting to uncomfortable volume. I just wouldn’t want to do the show without the Waves F6, dbx 160, L2 – and also, the NLS Buss Non-Linear Summer.”
Mixing The Weeknd: FOH Engineer Derek Brener
Having toured with Bruno Mars for half a decade, Derek Brener has now been mixing tours for R&B/pop singer and producer The Weeknd for over three years. At Coachella, he’s been using an Avid VENUE Profile console to mix The Weeknd’s show. “I still like using the Profile,” he says, “Waves integration is effortless. It speeds up my process and enables me to just mix and be creative.”
Which plugins have you been using with the Profile for this show?
“My favorite plugins would be the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, SSL E-Channel and C6 Multiband Compressor. But my two absolute must-haves are the L2 Ultramaximizer and the V-EQ4 equalizer. I use the V-EQ4 post-compression on The Weeknd’s vocal since the EQ points suit his vocal timbre. It sounds like I’m using an actual Neve 1081 without extra gain stage.”
“As for the L2, I use it more for its color than a limiter at this point, although it does help me immensely when I need that extra level in smaller applications. Not only has everyone become accustomed to the sound of the L2 – it also helps in getting you that extra 3 dB when you are already leaning on a system as much as possible, your ears are about to explode, and the managers are still telling you to turn it up! It’s a life saver in those situations.”
Mixing MØ: FOH Engineer Jon Schumann
Front-of-house engineer Jon Schumann (Mew, The Ravonettes, Lykke Li) has been mixing Danish electropop artist/producer MØ’s live shows on Waves’ eMotion LV1 live mixer for well over a year now.
“It’s a very simple system,” he says, “in which both myself and monitor engineer Jeppe Andersen are relying extensively on the eMotion LV1 software mixer and Waves SoundGrid technology. The LV1 is the backbone of our touring rig. We run it on a Mac minicomputer with two 20” touchscreen monitors, a DiGiGrid IOC interface for analog/AES ins and outs, a DiGiGrid MGO MADI-to-SoundGrid interface for stage connectivity, and a SoundGrid Extreme Server for plugin processing. We use the LV1 for monitors, too, with the monitor system connected through DiGiGrid MGO and MGB interfaces to our extensive MADI backbone.
What’s the main draw of the eMotion LV1 system for you?
“Two things – the sound quality is amazing, and the system is so flexible and light. I’ve managed to get my mixes to sound exactly how I want them, no matter if we’re playing a club or a huge festival like Coachella. And it’s so lightweight. We’re doing quite a few festivals this summer, and it’s great to be able to pack up our entire small creative ‘office,’ check into the airport, and put it all on the plane to fly with us wherever we go on tour.
What plugins are you running on the LV1 at Coachella?
“Scheps Omni Channel has become sort of my godsend plugin. I use it on most of my vocal and drum channels. I also use the LV1 to create different scenes and snapshots for each song, so from song to song I can make radically different sound choices. On the drums, we’re using triggers along with the actual kit. I’ll hit the snare with the Smack Attack transient shaper and the Torque drum tuner plugins, so I can switch between a big rock sound to a very, very tight snare sound just by changing two presets.”
“To control feedback and stage noise, I use the PSE Primary Source Expander plugin. PSE works really well combined with the Scheps Omni Channel. I can use the Scheps Omni to push in some of the preamp’s harmonics, without soaking up a lot of the other stuff that’s happening on stage. I’m able to keep MØ’s vocal very, very clear in this spontaneous kind of show, where it could otherwise get messy. And that’s what this LV1 setup is basically about. It gives us so much flexibility in controlling all kinds of situations.”
Mixing Kygo: FOH Engineer Eds John
Our next stop was with Eds John, whose credits include Orbital, Richard Ashcroft and Dave Clarke. At Coachella 2018, he was helming the boards for popular Norwegian DJ/producer Kygo, using an Avid S6L-32D console, a Waves WSG HD card, two Waves Extreme Servers, and a d&b GSL speaker system.
“Quite a few plugins are must-haves for me for a show like this”, Eds says. “The Waves dbx 160 compressor and H-Delay plugin are favorites. I love using the C6 Multiband Compressor on my master buss: it’s a real mix glue for me. For the same reason I also use it on strings and vocals groups. Can’t do without this plugin. Another one is the Waves BSS DPR-402 compressor, which I insert on all my vocal channels – ten in total as we have many guest singers. It’s always been one of my favorite hardware compressors, so when the Waves version was released I bought it straight away and it did not disappoint!”
Mixing David Byrne: FOH Engineer Pete Keppler
Last but certainly not least, we caught up with front-of-house engineer Pete Keppler who has mixed tours for music’s biggest icons, from David Bowie to ZZ Top. We asked him about his unconventional setup for legendary ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s live show at Coachella 2018. Read the full interview here.
The Coachella Sound
From hip hop to rock, R&B to EDM, we were happy to find so many live sound engineers relying on Waves tools in what is simply the coolest music festival around. For many of the artists and their engineers, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work – and we at Waves are extremely proud to have been part of it!
Looking to enjoy the benefits of mixing live with plugins? Check out WavesLive solutions for live sound.