Umphrey’s McGee 2018 Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • June 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: June 6, 2018

Jam Band’s It’s Not Us Tour Rocks North America

Umphrey’s McGee’s It’s Not Us tour — named after the band’s new studio release — is playing three-hour sets to sold-out houses. The Indiana-based jam band cover many musical styles and improvisation, so fans always get a unique and special experience every time.

The six-piece ensemble consists of Brendan Bayliss (vocals, guitar); keyboardist Joel Cummins; bassist Ryan Stasik; guitarist Jake Cinninger; drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag.

We spoke with the band’s engineers Chris Mitchell (FOH) and Bob Ston (monitors) about the tour when the band came though Northern California.

Both the FOH and monitor engineers are using Midas ProX consoles that are band-owned. Before that, Mitchell carried a Midas Pro9. “The ProX is a great console that has a mixing style based on the Midas analog consoles I learned to mix on. I’m a real big fan of the Midas summing bus. It sounds like no other. The ProX is powerful and stable with a big, open sound,” says Mitchell.

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. FOH engineer Chris Mitchell

Old School Outboard

“I like to joke that all of my plug-ins are XLR. I use outboard hardware effects, mainly on vocals, for flexibility and visibility. My mix utilizes a lot of parallel subgroup compression, and for that I like the Midas compressors. I haven’t found a plug-in that can improve what I have. And plug-in servers are a pain to maintain. I would rather mix audio than repair a computer network mid-show.”

Mitchell says there’s really only one must-have on the road, and that’s his TC Electronic D2 delay. “Gotta have the taps.” But he really enjoys the reverbs he gets from his Behringer REV2496 (circa 2004). “Quite possibly the best-sounding reverb this side of a Bricasti M7.”

No plug-ins here — the FOH rig includes an assortment of rackmount outboard gear. UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

There are a few other unique boxes Mitchell has including, the TC Helicon VoiceWorks Plus, which he says is the best doubler he knows, a TC Electronic Fireworx, an Eventide Eclipse and an Eventide H910. “For my recording path, I have a Waves MaxxBCL mastering limiter feeding a Tascam DA3000 recorder. Since we release every show as a live recording, I want them to sound polished and maintain a -14 dbfs RMS average level.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

The tour is using house P.A. systems. “We are a small touring crew, so I am usually my own system tech. I tune every house or festival P.A. using Smaart and a half dozen of my favorite tunes. I have a specific transfer curve I like to achieve and that helps my mix translate from room to room. The band almost always performs a sound check but sometimes it’s throw and go. At some festivals, I have found myself mixing side stage through our d&b M4 monitors, without any prior access to the P.A., tuning during the first song. Whatever it takes for the show.”

The band is endorsed by Earthworks Microphones. Mitchell has been a user and a fan for many years. “When I started mixing Umphrey’s in 2011, my first change was the addition of Earthworks SR25 mics on guitars and SR77s on overheads.” Now the band has 19 of them onstage. “I’ve tried many other mics, from ribbons to esoteric condensers to vintage dynamics. Nothing has the initial transient response of the Earthworks. We use every cardioid model they have, SR40V on vocals to the new DM20 on percussion. Because of my use of Earthworks mics, I have been able to mix without using any input channel EQ… at every venue, indoors and out, since 2014. I solve my tonal issues at the source, move the mic, tune the drum, swap the guitar cabinet, whatever is needed to get the sound I want, without resorting to EQ. This solves many problems, including that of collateral EQ damage. For example, if I use a lot of EQ on a tom mic, that EQ is also affecting the snare drum that bleeds into the tom mic.”

Guitarist Jake Cinninger’s sound is captured by two Earthworks SR 25 mics and two H&K Redbox MKiii DI’s. UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

With today’s high-tech audio environment, Mitchell thinks technology can become too much of the focus. “We are too easily consumed in the thousands of different ways we can mix what musicians produce and sometimes lose track of the end result. I think it’s a sound engineer’s goal to become invisible and facilitate an emotional connection between artist and audience, regardless of production level. It’s not about the gear, it’s about the emotion. I try to keep that in mind when preparing for a show.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

The band has a program started by its previous FOH engineer Kevin Browning, that allows their fans to listen to the house board mix through headphones and a wireless receiver. “We use 30 Sennheiser IEM300 packs and transmit the recording mix to them. It’s a great program and the fans love it. We’re looking to expand it in the future for those who want a more immersive concert experience.”

According to Mitchell, “Umphrey’s McGee is a prog rock band that never plays the same show twice and most shows contain lots of improvisation, so I have to stay on my toes. I don’t mix using scenes, because I don’t know what’s happening next. It’s very exciting.” On top of that, a recording of every show is released within 24 hours of the performance (usually within four hours if the internet is fast enough). “My mixes have to sound good on the recordings without any post production or editing, as well as in the house,” he explains. “I always approach the mixes with the recording in mind. It’s like having 5,000 guests in the control room while I’m mixing live to tape. It’s great to be working for a band that feels like family. Everyone from band to road crew to management are all pulling for the same team. It makes my job a true pleasure.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. Monitor engineer Bob Ston

The View from Monitorworld

Bob Ston has been the band’s monitor engineer for the past 17 years, logging in over 1,800 shows with them. “The biggest change we’ve made was going to in-ear monitors in 2004. We started using a talkback system in 2005 — this allows the band to communicate with themselves and the crew at all times. They can shoot ideas off of each other in real time while rehearsing and performing without having to stop playing.

Ston is using a Midas ProX with four DL231 microphone splitters. Ston switched to the Midas in 2016 and says he couldn’t be happier. He’s not using any hardware outboard for the show. “The console sounds like an old analog Midas, so the preamps do most of the legwork,” Ston explains. “The channel strip comps sound great. I lightly use them on the drums and vocals. All six bandmembers are on in-ears, so I use a bunch of the onboard reverbs to add a little wetness to their mixes. I use the Vintage Room reverb for all four vocalists and the Plate reverb for my drum and percussion reverbs.”

Monitor outboard rack gear consists of the Midas DL231 stageboxes to route his outputs, a Professional Wireless GX-8 antenna combiner, eight Sennheiser IEM transmitters, d&b D12 amps for his drum sub and guest wedges.

Keyboardist Joel Cummins. UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

IEM Solutions

The band has partnered with Sensaphonics since 2004. “Their innovations along the way have helped the guys become so comfortable up on stage, hearing themselves and each other. Sensaphonics 3D active ambient in-ear system has been a game changer for Brendan, Ryan and Kris,” notes Ston. “Ryan and Kris were the first to switch over to the 3Ds. They both had issues with a natural representation and feel of the drums with molded in-ears. With the condenser mics right at their ears, they now control how much of the natural drum sound and vibe they are looking for, without having their ears exposed to the loud stage volume.

“A few years after switching to in-ears, Brendan developed a pitch issue. Switching him to wearing one ear bud and bringing back the wedges cleared that up. After a difficult show where the room had bad acoustics and Brendan and I struggled all night, I recommended we try the 3Ds. Ryan and Kris were a year into wearing them and we were having so much success with their mixes. It was a $2,500 gamble, because we weren’t sure if he’d have the pitch problem wearing buds in both ears again, but it was a home run from the second he put them in! Brendan was back on pitch with two buds in and we were able to ditch the wedges and all the extra stage volume that they created.”

Vocalist/guitarist Brendan Bayliss. Umphrey’s McGee Photo by Steve Jennings

Picks, Sticks & Mics

Guitarist Brendan Bayliss’s rig consists of a Mesa Lonestar Head played through a Hard Truckers 2 x12 cabinet with B&C 12HPL64 speakers, Earthworks SR25 microphone, Palmer PDI 09 DI and a Oldfield Club D’Lux Plus 2 x 12 with an Earthworks SR 25 mic and Palmer PDI 09 DI. His vocal mic is an EW SR40V.

Guitar player Jake Cinninger’s rig is a Schroeder DB9 head and Schroeder 2 x 12 cabinet with Earthworks SR 25 mic, H&K Redbox MKiii DI, and Oldfield 100-JC Head and Oldfield 2 x 12 cabinet with a Earthworks SR 25 Mic and H&K Redbox MKiii DI. Fuchs Overdrive Supreme 100(spare). Vocal mic is a EW SR40V.

In bass player Ryan Stasik’s rig — amps are Gallien-Krueger 2001RB (powering the 4×10), QSC Powerlight (powering the subs); cabs are Ampeg 4×10 with B&C 10HPL64 speakers and two Bag End S18E single-18 subs, a Beyerdynamic M88 mic on 10-inch cab and a Demeter tube DI.

Joel Cummins tours with an extensive array of vintage keys. UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

Keyboardist Joel Cummins plays a Roland V Piano, Moog Voyager, Dave Smith Prophet-6, Hammond B3 organ/Leslie 122, Mellotron M4000D and Fender Rhodes 73. Radial DI’s are on the Roland, Moog, Voyager and Prophet; Palmer PDI 09 on Rhodes, two vintage Sennheiser 409s on Leslie top and an Audix D6 on Leslie low. Cummins’ vocal mic is a gold-plated Telefunken M80.

“We have quite a few flavors to choose from on Kris Myers’ drums to accomplish what Chris (Mitchell) and I are going for,” Ston says. “There are three different options for the kick drum. I use different combos of all three kick for my ear mixes and drum sub. Chris uses the 91 and Tang Band speaker for the house mix. For the snare and rack toms, Chris uses condensers and I use dynamic mics. He’s looking for a crisp representation to stand out in his house mix. To balance the condensers in the 3Ds, the Telefunken dynamic mics seem to add warmness to the direct signal of the snare and rack toms.”

Three mics (including a customized Tang Band speaker pickup) are used on kick drum. UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

Mics on the kick are a Shure Beta 91A, Audix D6 and a Tang Band W6-1139 speaker (customized by Chris Mitchell). Mitchell uses the B91 and Tang Band speaker, Ston uses all three for different applications on stage. On snare top — Earthworks DP30C and Telefunken M80 (FOH uses DP 30/monitors M80). Snare bottom is a Telefunken M81, on Aux snare, a Telefunken M80. Toms are Earthworks DP30C and Telefunken M81 (FOH uses DP30s/monitors M81s). Floor toms are Audix D6. High-hat is the Audio-Technica ATM-450; ride an EW DM20; overheads are EW SR77s; with a Radial JPC 2 on the Roland SPD-SX sampled drum pad. His vocal mic is a Telefunken M81sh.

Percussionist Andy Farag’s rig consists of a conga, quinto, tumba and bongo — captured via an original version EW DP30C. Overhead mics are three EW SR77s; rack toms are EW DP30C; floor tom, an Audio-Technica ATM-25 and an Audix D2 on quarter toms. A Radial JDI snags the output of an Akai MPC unit.

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

A Whole Lotta Mixing

“With a 600-plus song catalog of originals and covers to choose from, and them never playing the same set list twice, mixing their monitors still feels fresh and new to me after all of these years,” notes Ston. “I go into battle with two mix scenes. The first scene covers the entire catalog minus 1 song. I do all of my changes on the fly. With all of the reps over the years, I’m conditioned to naturally make the changes needed for each song. I think it would be more difficult for me to catalog all the songs as different scenes and remember where each scene is. Some songs are only played once, or twice a year. Scene 2 is dedicated to the song ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys, where all six guys switch instruments for that number. I’ve used scene 2 twice.”

But night after night, from town to town, it all pulls together like one big happy family. “We’ve all been doing this so long together (band and crew), it’s our family away from our families,” Ston notes. “I take pride in getting to go to work with this team every day.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

Umphrey’s McGee It’s Not Us Tour

Audio Crew

  • FOH Engineer: Chris Mitchell
  • Monitor Engineer: Bob Ston
  • Tour Manager: Bobby Haight
  • Production Manager: Bob Ston
  • Drum/Keyboard Tech: Robbie Williams
  • Guitar Tech: Andrew Queen
  • Percussion Tech: Steve Britz

P.A. System

Racks & Stacks supplied by venue

FOH Gear

  • Console: Midas ProX w/DL231 (4)
  • Outboard Gear: TC Electronic D2, TC Helicon VoiceWorks Plus, TC Electronic Fireworx, Eventide Eclipse, Eventide H910, Behringer REV2496 (circa 2004), Waves MaxxBCL

Monitor Gear

  • Console: Midas Pro X, (4) Midas DL231 stageboxes
  • RF Gear: (8) Sennheiser ew300 IEM transmitters; Professional Wireless GX-8 antenna combiners
  • IEM Earpieces: Sensaphonics 3D active ambient in-ear system
  • Monitors: (4) d&b M4 wedges, d&b B2 drum sub
  • Amplifiers: (2) d&b D12

RYAN STASIK (BASS). UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings

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