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Waves Plugins Chosen for David Byrne’s American Utopia Broadway Production

Mar 31, 2020

Legendary FOH Engineer Peter Keppler chooses Waves plugins for David Byrne’s American Utopia Broadway production. We caught up with him to discuss his full setup and go-to plugin choices.

FOH engineer Peter Keppler

FOH engineer Peter Keppler

Top FOH engineer Peter Keppler has mixed tours for music’s biggest icons, from David Bowie to ZZ Top. Recently Keppler has been working on the Broadway production of American Utopia, the new theatrical concert from David Byrne, the legendary former frontman for the Talking Heads, and an acclaimed solo artist. We caught up with him to discuss his use of Waves tools to deliver the show. The production, in residency at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, is based on Byrne’s seventh solo studio album, American Utopia, released in 2018, and also features additional songs from the Talking Heads. David Byrne fronts the production and shares the spotlight with 11 musical artists in the ensemble.

Talking about the challenges and solutions of mixing this show, Keppler says, “My latest setup for this production is a DiGiCo SD10 with Waves MultiRack, Waves SoundGrid Extreme Server and a Mac mini with a Dell touchscreen. My go-to Waves plugins are the Waves PSE (Primary Source Expander), which I use on all 12 vocal channels to help control drum and percussion spill from our six drummers on stage. It works amazingly well to clean up the mix! I place the Waves F6 Floating-Band Dynamic EQ on all the vocal channels as well, directly after the PSE in the rack, primarily as a dynamic EQ, and on one of the electric guitars for dynamic tone-shaping. The PSE and F6 on vocals are amazing. I have so much drum and percussion information on a relatively small stage with 12 headset vocal mics, and everybody is wireless and constantly on the move. It could be a nightmare for spill into the vocal mics. PSE really helps with that, especially using the filter on the side-chain, allowing me to isolate the vocal frequency range and keep any high-frequency spill from cymbals and percussion and the low frequencies of the drums from triggering the soft gate on vocals. I’ve never been able to gate vocals as effectively before. I don’t lose anything except the spill I don’t want!”

“The F6 as a dynamic EQ has become a go-to for almost every live vocal I mix: it gives me so much more usable gain on the voices, especially when people are singing quietly, and it does a beautiful job of compressing only the spots in a performer's vocal range or peaks in the mic’s response that really need it. It has also become a staple in the studio for me as well, absolutely brilliant plugin.”

Continuing to discuss his favorite plugins, Keppler notes, “Another favorite is the Waves Abbey Road Reel ADT, both the stereo and mono versions since it’s the best doubler/thickener out there for lead and backing vocals, and for some great guitar effects. I utilize the J37 Tape for slap echo and also as a doubler. It has great features like saturation, wow and flutter and various tape formulations that add harmonics and a little dirt. It sounds amazing! The H-Reverb Hybrid Reverb (send/return) is great for longer reverbs on vocals, drums, and instruments and for a gated snare reverb on a handful of songs as well. I use the H-Delay Hybrid Delay (send/return) for vocal and instrument delays, stereo ping-pong style and mono delays, and the NLS Non-Linear Summer Input and Buss for drums and bass. It enables me to change the sound of the drums with one click, and it is great for adding harmonics and a little grit to both bass and drums.”

Commenting on using Waves MultiRack (a software host that lets FOH and monitor engineers run multiple, simultaneous instances of the same award-winning Waves plugins used in recording studios and mixing rooms the world over) he says, “One of the main benefits for me is the ‘portability’... I can work on many different live consoles and carry the processing from one to the next with no more than a USB stick. I’ve also found that I can tweak reverbs and other effects while I’m in the studio and am able to listen critically, then store those as presets to use in a live situation if I want. Setting up processing chains is super-easy, and changing the order within a rack is just a drag-and-drop process. Snapshot recall is possible from rack to rack and also for the individual plugins within the rack, which for this show is absolutely critical. Also, the GUI is very intuitive and features such as mono-to-stereo and input/output are quick and save console DSP. Furthermore, the fact that it runs in pretty much every console available is awesome.”

FOH engineer Peter Keppler, mixing a performance of American Utopia by David Byrne at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre

FOH engineer Peter Keppler, mixing a performance of American Utopia by David Byrne at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre

“For me, Waves plugins just sound great. Ultimately, that’s why I use the plugins I do. It’s what got me hooked up with Waves Audio twenty years ago, and it still holds true today. Most digital consoles these days come with decent-sounding effects engines, but the selection of various types of processing is usually quite limited. Waves has such a wide array of truly great-sounding plugins, and especially some of the harmonic enhancements and distortion plugins that just can’t be found onboard most consoles. Most Waves plugins have little or no latency outside of the server itself, which is extremely low to begin with.”

Concluding, Keppler says. “Having a separate screen dedicated to those plugins is a huge plus, too. Waves is an amazing company. Their research and development have, without a doubt, brought a new level of creativity and inspiration to countless artists and producers and revolutionized the audio software and hardware market. I haven’t even mentioned the LV1, which is a pretty serious game-changer. I had the chance to use it on tour alongside an SD10, mirroring the same inputs using the SD-Rack head amps. Sonically, it was hard to tell the difference between the two consoles. And, it’s incredibly portable. It’s like having a full-blown console in your suitcase! Can’t wait to see and hear what’s next for Waves!”

Want more on live sound? Hear about Eurovision 2019 Broadcast powered by Waves plugins.

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