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Beck 2018 “Colors” Tour

by George Petersen • in
  • November 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: November 13, 2018

Colors, the acclaimed 13th album from Beck, came out just over a year ago. And this hard-working American singer/songwriter/rapper/multi-instrumentalist has been pretty much on the road ever since, kicking off his 2018 tour with an Auckland City Limits (Auckland, New Zealand) performance in early March. This was soon followed by a U.S. leg, then a 12-date/eight-country northern European jaunt, and a summer/early fall 24-city (plus two Japan shows) North American run of theaters, festivals and amphitheaters — including Red Rocks and The Hollywood Bowl — that wrapped up Oct. 6 at Houston’s Heights Theater. Clearly this guy and his hardworking crew don’t get much of a chance to sleep, but we chatted with the tour’s FOH and monitor mixers to get a few insights on the audio production.

Stage right hang of 12 d&b audiotechnik J8 line arrays. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Speaking of crew, the sound provider is Eighth Day Sound, who supplied a large d&b audiotechnik J-Series rig with J8 large-format, dual-12, three-way (80° horizontal dispersion) line array boxes paired with J-SUB triple-18 cardioid subwoofers.

FOH engineer Paul David Hager. Photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         The FOH Perspective

Returning to handle front of house mix duties is engineer Paul David Hager, who is known not only for his live sound abilities but his studio chops as well. Hager’s extensive resume also includes work with bands such as Miley Cyrus, Devo, The Goo Goo Dolls, Demi Lovato, American Hi-Fi and a long list of others.

Hager started out as a guitarist, but fell into engineering somewhat by accident. When he was about 20, he mentioned to a friend’s band that their sound was really bad, and they asked him to mix. “After the gig, everyone said it sounded great,” he recalls, although Hager doesn’t take too much credit for the sound, because he says the kick and snare sounds were coming off a Simmons electronic drum module.

“Back then,” he explains, “if you had the kick and snare sounding good and the vocals had some effects, you could make it sound like the record.” After that, Hager started doing more bands around Boston. “It was cool, because it was like being in bands, but not having to deal with their bull sh*t. But, I was always into it 100 percent, and I liked doing sound.”

Hager also began doing a lot of studio work. “These days, you can spend $1,000 and have enough gear to make a great sounding record. But back in the ‘80s, you needed a million dollars. Working on an 8-track recorder, I could never make it sound like I heard the mix in my head, but working live, I could make it sound just like I imagined it should be.” Around 1991, he was back into recording, working at a studio in Massachusetts and bouncing back and forth between doing live and studio stuff. “At the end of the ‘90s,” he continues, “I worked for producer Peter Collins in Nashville. After 9/11, the recording side seemed to cave in and I went back doing tours. Now I’m doing about 50/50. It’s funny, because while recording gear has improved, the end product is usually an MP3, where live sound used to be poor quality, out-of-phase stuff, and now the sky’s the limit on what you can do in a live situation.”

Beck ‘Colors’ tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Inside the Live Mix

Hager took the Beck FOH gig three years ago, after the departure of Sean “Sully” Sullivan, who left to work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And with more than 90 inputs at the mix position and eight musicians on stage there’s a lot going on. “With Beck, there’s no playback, but certain sounds from the record are triggered,” Hager explains. “The video is being triggered off MADI and MIDI notes instead of time code, like kicks and snare hits, so I send different MADI channels to the lighting guy. It’s kind of like triggering to time code, but it’s triggering to a beat clock that’s more human.”

Hager is mixing on an Avid VENUE S6L. “I’ve been an Avid guy for a long time, but I’ve also been doing DiGiCo for a long time.” Interestingly, there are several racks packed with analog gear at the FOH position. “I like plug-ins — they’re good for ease of use — but it’s nice having knobs next to you and the real things always do sound better. For example, I am known for having lots of Empirical Labs Distressors. You can pretty much shape the sound any way you want with that compressor, versus others that have certain ‘colors’ and are stuck with those colors. Particularly when I am doing TV broadcast gigs — I use the Distressor on vocals. It grabs the vocal and puts it perfectly where it needs to be.”

However, Hager is quick to point out that he is giving equal time to the digital side. “I also use a lot of plug-ins. I like a lot of the Plug-in Alliance gear — their BX SSL console knock-off is really good — really punchy. I am also a Crane Song fan. I started using the Phoenix a long time ago, especially on the Profile, where it took that console to a whole different level. I always joked to Avid that they should have just licensed Phoenix and built it into every Profile. I’ve always had a lot of [Crane Song founder] Dave Hill’s stuff, even back when he designed gear for Summit Audio.”

Beck photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         Vocal Supreme

With a strong singer/songwriter like Beck, vocal quality is paramount. The first step in the vocal chain is a hardwired Heil PR35 dynamic mic. “Using the Profile, the signal then used to go into a BAE [Brent Averill] version of the Neve 1073, but when I switched to the S6L, I found the mic pre in the console sounded just as good as having that Neve design in front of it. Since then, [Beck monitor engineer] Pasi Hara has changed that to an Avalon 737 on Beck’s vocal for the in-ears, so I have a different path. From the Avid pre, I route it to a hardware Rupert Neve Designs Primary Source Enhancer, which is great for [feedback protection] if he’s too far downstage, and it has a nice transformer in it. From that to the Distressor, and then to a BSS 901, then back into the console running the Phoenix plug-in. I do have an EQ that I kick in and out for an AM radio-type effect, but about 90 percent of his vocal sound comes from outboard gear.”

Vocal effects are another factor in the Beck sound, and here again, Hager goes to his outboard rack. “In terms of vocal effects, one Eventide H3000 is used as a doubler, another one is used as a big reverb, and I use a Demeter stereo spring reverb. He built it extra heavy-duty for me for touring and I never have any issues with it. I also use a Death By Audio echo pedal, which I run through a Radial EXTC 500 series unit that makes the pedal operate at +4 dB line level in and out. It sits pretty well for adding doubles and stuff like that. I tried some more expensive delays on him, but this pedal sounds more like the record.”

The guitar sounds are fairly straightforward, with mics capturing the nuances of the guitar work. Heil PR 30s are used on Beck’s amps as well as those of Jake Sinclair and Cecilia Della Peruti. “On Jason Falkner’s guitar amps, I’m using a Shure KSM313/NE ribbon mic. He has a Vox AC-30 and a Supro — which are kind of harsh, but the ribbon took care of that,” notes Hager. Dwayne Moore’s bass sound came from a combination of a Heil PR30B on the cabinet and a DI output from the amp.

Monitor engineer Pasi Hara

‡‡         Tag-Teaming at Monitorworld

The tour has two monitor engineers — Pasi Hara doing mixes for Beck and any guest performers, and Manu Goodwin handling monitors for the band and the tech crew. Both are veterans of past Beck tours.

The two come from varied backgrounds. Now an L.A. resident, Hara originally came from Finland, where he worked with Helsinki-based goth rockers HIM, and later began mixing for System of a Down, SOAD frontman Serj Tankian, as well as Slash (since 2014) and stints with Tool, Fall Out Boy, Fergie and Kiss.

Goodwin started out in the SF Bay Area doing tours with bar bands around 1990, using that as his stepping stone. “I worked with Sound on Stage (the Hayward, CA-based sound company), and through them I got work with other bands,” he recalls. “I had been working with the band Helmet and then started working with Beck in 1997.”

Hara is working on a DiGiCo SD-5, although “I have a few outboard items — Avalon 737 mic preamps for the main vocal (and spare) — both are inline before it hits the console. I also have a couple Eventide H3000 effects, two Eventide Helixes and I have a Waves server, which I use mostly for effects and some nicer reverbs. But most of the onboard dynamics and multi-bands I am quite happy with — you always have to be mindful of the added latency with any outside stuff, especially on the lead vocal mix,” he warns.

Monitor engineer Manu Goodwin

Goodwin, mixing on a SD-10, relies mainly on the DiGiCo’s onboard effects.

Although everyone in the band is on in-ears, Hara is also responsible for the sidefills and a few stage wedges. In terms of the latter, he does one thing differently. “Front of house systems are always time-aligned, but I like to do the same with monitors,” Hara explains. “I use Smaart7 to time align the monitors, basically to delay my wedges to my sidefills — and sometimes even the in-ears to the wedges, to make them all sound like one big speaker, rather than multiple sources. Usually it all couples so much better — you can find the frequency where you want it to couple and not the frequency where it’s going to feed back. This makes mixes fuller with less volume and more gain before feedback. It’s even more important with bands having a lot of stage monitors — like System of a Down, who have up to 14 wedges, plus sidefills and drum fills. It can be take some time to set it up, but it’s worth it. And when it’s locked in right, there are less out-of-alignment sources for front of house to deal with.”

Beck tour photo by Todd Kaplan

In terms of in-ears, “Beck uses the universal-fit Future Sonics Spectum Series G-10s,” Hara says. “We also have a lot of Jerry Harvey Audio in-ears with the band. Everything is fed from 16 channels of Shure PSM-1000 IEM hardware and a couple of hardwired packs from the 900 series.”

Besides the chrome PR 35 on Beck’s vocals — ”he prefers to stay hardwired,” Hara says, “we are also carrying four channels of Axient Digital wireless for the backing and guest vocals. The Axient Digital is a really good-sounding wireless system and is very stable.”

Hara is also responsible for RF coordination. “I’m using Shure’s Wireless Workbench 6 to coordinate all the RF and to monitor all the mics, IEM and guitar wireless. Everything is networked together so I can see them all at one location and we use an Axient 600 Spectrum Manager to scan and monitor the entire spectrum before deploying any new frequencies.

According to Goodwin, one challenge that both he and Hara faced on the tour came down to space — both physical and channel counts. “Both monitor consoles — the SD-5 on Beck and the SD-10 on the band are pretty much maxed out, especially with a lot of stereo mixes with reverb. It’s a big band, a lot of gear and a really big monitor world area, which can be pretty tight in smaller spaces or festivals.”

Beck tour photo by Todd Kaplan

‡‡         The System

“We did this tour mostly with d&b J Series boxes — I like them with the Array Processing,” says Hager, about the P.A. “But the best-sounding show on the tour was at Red Rocks with d&b’s new GSL rig; it worked great there. The J Series works great for Beck, and the J-SUBs are already cardioid; and with the Array Processing, you can mix with confidence at front of house and know it sounds the same everywhere else. I also love the Clair Cohesion CO-12, but just about every P.A. sounds good these days compared to what stuff sounded like even 10 years ago.”

Hager keeps levels under control. “Most of the songs stay around 98 to 102 dB A-weighted,” he notes. “If I had to, I could mix the show at 95 or 96 dB, but there are a couple songs where five people are playing guitars at the same time. The decibel level goes up with the build-up of those guitars and trying to hear them all in the mix can be a challenge.”

Speaking of challenges, a bit of uncertainty on the road came from Beck’s spontaneous nature. “We’d usually get our set list about 10 minutes before the show — if that,” says Hager. “And sometimes, like if he just did a couple up-tempo songs and the next song was a down-tempo song and the audience was into it, he’d suddenly throw another up-tempo song in. Sometimes I’d just have to feel him out, when he might become adventurous.”

Beck tour audio crew, clockwise from top center: FOH engineer Paul David Hager (in hat); stage audio tech Paul Jonson; monitor engineer Pasi Hara; monitor tech David McPhee; P.A. tech Marty Tarle; systems engineer Ted Kujawski. Not pictured: monitor engineer Manu Goodwin; techs Michael Souder and Ville Kauhanen. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Beck 2018 Tour

CREW

Sound Company: Eighth Day Sound

FOH Engineer: Paul David Hager

Systems Engineer: Ted Kujawski

Monitor Engineer (Beck): Pasi Hara

Monitor Engineer (Band): Manu Goodwin

Monitor Tech: David McPhee

Stage Audio Tech: Paul Jonson

P.A. Tech: Marty Tarle

Techs: Michael Souder and Ville Kauhanen

P.A. GEAR

Main P.A.: (24) d&b Audiotechnik J8

Subwoofers: d&b Audiotechnik cardioid J-SUBs

FOH Gear

FOH Console: Avid VENUE S6L

Outboard Gear: (3) Empirical Labs Distressors, Lil Freq; Rupert Neve Designs (2) Primary Source Enhancer, Master Bus Processor; BSS 901; Eventide H3000; Demeter stereo spring reverb; API 2500 compressor; Summit DCL-200 stereo tube compressor; Death By Audio echo pedal; Radial EXTC 500

Plug-ins (partial): Crane Song Phoenix plug-in; Plug-in Alliance plug-ins;

MON GEAR

Monitor Consoles: DiGiCo SD-5 (Beck), DiGiCo SD-10 (band)

Outboard: (2) Avalon 737; (2) Eventide H3000 effects, (2) Eventide Helixes; Waves Server

IEMs: Future Sonics Spectum Series G-10 (Beck); Jerry Harvey Audio (band earpieces); Shure PSM-1000 IEM hardware

Vocal Mics: Heil PR35 (Beck vocal, hardwired); (4) Shure Axient Digital wireless handhelds with Heil RC35 capsules (BG and guest vocals);

Direct Boxes: Radial Engineering JDI

 

 

 

 

 

 

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