Bands that employ all or mostly all electronic instruments have unique requirements when it comes to the monitor mix. Without acoustic instruments or even a guitar amp onstage, the band is completely dependent on a monitor mix to hear itself. In situations where the monitor mix is poor or there are no stage monitors at all, the entire performance is in jeopardy.
“Conventional bands with acoustic drums and guitar amps don't need much more than vocals in the floor wedges to play a great show,” says Cliff Tune, drummer and bassist for the critically acclaimed electronic trio, Artemis. “But for us, it's the opposite. The vocals are the loudest thing on the stage.” Vocalist Artemis Robison and Daniel Berkman (keyboards, guitar, kora and Roland Handsonic) complete the band.
“If we don't have complete control of our monitors, we're sunk in a hurry because there are no onstage amplifiers or acoustic drums in our setup,” adds Keith Crusher, the band's manager and recording engineer. “We need to have a perfect monitor mix every night to put on a great show.”
ENTER THE SOUNDWEB
For its 2005 UK tour, Artemis needed to change its system for guaranteeing a clean monitor mix every night. “Keith and I put together an in-ear monitor system for the band based around a Yamaha 03D digital mixing console,” Tune says. “We loved the sound quality, but it was a lot to set up each night — cables, splitters, snakes, all the gear — and breaking everything down took forever.”
“We had to have a more compact and efficient system for the tour because there were major restrictions on the gear we could carry,” Crusher says. “It all needed to fit in the belly of the plane as part of our personal luggage allotments, from Cliff's [Roland] V-Drums to Daniel's instruments, the monitor rack, our lighting rig, cables, merchandise and a change of clothes.”
To meet luggage restrictions and monitoring needs, Tune designed a system based around two BSS Audio Soundweb 9088 distributed audio processors and a Lexicon MX200 multi-effects unit. “The Soundwebs and the MX200 effectively replaced the Yamaha mixing console,” Tune says. “Each of the 9088 processors feature eight inputs and outputs and were networked together to create a 16-by-16 matrix. The Soundweb Designer software is used to control the signal flow within the processors. From the software, I can see and control all of the mixing and processing components inside the 9088s, including mixer and router matrices, compressors, limiters, parametric and graphic EQs, crossovers, filters, delays, signal generators and meters. I built pages containing only the controls for a specific task, with links on the side of the page for quickly jumping between the pages. For example, to tweak Artemis' in-ear mix, I click on the link labeled ‘Artemis Monitors,’ and that screen pops up with an audio mixer just for her mix.”
The monitor rack also includes a Shure PSM600 transmitter for Artemis' wireless in-ear receiver, a Rane HC 6 multichannel headphone console for Berkman and Tune, and A/C power distribution for the rack and the stage gear. A rear-mounted panel was installed and features connectors for the stage inputs, outputs for the in-ear monitors, a passive split output for the house sound system and a FireWire and USB data hub. A MOTU 828mkII is employed as the audio interface for a Mac PowerBook G4 (from which a few backing tracks play during the show); that too lives in the rack. “The entire eight-space rack with all the gear and the cable weighs just under 70 pounds, the maximum allowable weight for most airlines,” Tune says.
IN THE MONITOR MIX
The monitor rack sits onstage next to Tune's V-Drums. At the start of a soundcheck, he connects a PC laptop to the 9088 processors using a single 9-pin serial cable and launches the Soundweb Designer software. All of the input levels are set from the input meters page, and then the in-ear mixes are adjusted for each song. The system worked so well that after only a few shows, most of the levels for each band member's individual monitor mix were correct before the monitor check began. “We always gain our rigs to unity, and since you can save every setting in the Soundweb software, after about four shows we hardly needed to do a monitor check anymore,” Tune says.
The band soon discovered other significant benefits to the Soundweb system. “When you're 7,000 miles away from a club you've never seen, all you can do is trust that the club's response to your tech rider [the band's technical-requirement document] is accurate,” Crusher says. “What we found is that the signal snakes and front-of-house [FOH] gear at many places left much to be desired. For example, it doesn't do much good to bring a 16-channel XLR splitter snake when the venue only has eight XLR connections on its stage box.”
To safeguard against such situations, Tune programmed the Soundweb system to output a discrete stereo mix of the entire band that could be sent directly to the FOH mixer. He even employed the 9088 processor's built-in parametric and graphic EQ in the signal path of the stereo output. That allowed Crusher or Tune to easily EQ the mix to compensate for poorly tuned house P.A. systems. “Instead of the 16-channel split,” Tune explains, “only one pair of cables would connect to the stage box, and a long serial cable would be run to FOH to allow laptop mixing from the FOH position.”
“That became our standard method of operation,” Crusher adds. “Once we checked the monitors with the laptop onstage, we would move it to FOH to mix the room. We only actually used the house mixing systems in a couple of venues. All the other shows were done strictly from the laptop controlling the Soundwebs.”
“Having the Soundweb rig on tour with us really made playing live much easier,” Robison says. “There was much less set up required for shows because everything was dialed in ahead of time.”