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Jonas Brothers “Happiness Begins” Tour

Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • January 2020Production Profile • January 14, 2020

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

We caught up with the Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins tour at the Oakland Arena on Dec. 12, with brothers Kevin, Joe and Nick performing for a predominantly female sold-out crowd. This Grammy-nominated band has sold more than 17 million albums, hitting the big time in the worlds of pop music, TV and film in the mid-2000’s.

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

This year’s tour, which marks the brother’s reunion after a six-year split, is in support of their fifth studio album of the same name, which topped the charts earlier this year with a boost from hit singles “Sucker” and “Cool.” Launching in August, it included a long run of shows through the U.S., Canada and Mexico through December, with more shows slated for early 2020 in the U.K. and Europe. In Oakland, FRONT of HOUSE spoke with FOH engineer Chris “Sully” Sullivan, monitor engineer Jon Kooren, systems engineer Chuck Smith and audio crew chief Andrew Kastrinelis.

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

FOH engineer Chris “Sully” Sullivan says the DiGiCo SD7 console provides two things that he finds important, transparency and speed. “I’ve mixed long enough to remember when the choices of consoles amounted to which flavor of coloration fit your application. This resulted in — let’s be honest — intended, but sometimes inadvertent, sonic alterations to the mix. With DiGiCo, only those changes that I actively apply shape the mix. I’ve heard engineers refer ad nauseam to the coloring particular desks impart, but for me, why would I want that? It’s a bit like having a great steak prepared by an excellent chef, and then saying, “right, look, I’m gonna hit this with some A1 sauce before we start, but trust me, I’ll totally get the vibe of what you were going for. That’s not a thing. Neutral, please, I beg you, neutral.”

From left, Andrew Kastrinelis, crew chief; Chris “Sully” Sullivan, FOH engineer; Jon Kooren, monitor engineer; Chuck Smith, systems engineer; Ryan Tribou comms/P.A. tech; Justin Robinson, RF tech; Matt Patterson, monitor tech. JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Another issue is speed. “When I encounter a console with 300 sub-layers to get to a mute button or one that requires me to brush up on spatial geometry to assign a DCA, it makes me want to burn the desk like a witch. With the SD series, I’m fairly confident I could walk up to any desk in the series and start twiddling knobs in front of say 20,000 punters and be relatively successful in spinning up a non-embarrassing mix with a minimum of instruction from the bored, disaffected 20-something local SE. None of that ever happened when I first encountered DiGiCo.”

FOH engineer Chris “Sully” Sullivan. JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Plug-in Frenzy

In terms of plug-ins, Sullivan would love to tell you he’s a purist that only drinks pour-over coffee and only uses the board’s onboard dynamics, EQs and effects. But that would be a lie. “I do use plug-ins, but I find them highly addictive and desperately try to limit using them. That’s not me being smug (well, a little) but because plug-ins, like most drugs, come with penalties. The first is that engineers are always seeking to automate aspects of their mixes and plug-ins can start to make that a runaway train by automating all parts of the mix. Compressors are not always used necessarily to change a tone, as much as limit dynamic range — and therefore remove the need for a fader move. Dynamic EQ removes the need to adjust a channel as the show progresses and the player gets tired/excited/creative/drunk. Noise suppressors remove buzzes and hums that should be simply fixed, not bandaged. The list goes on.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Sullivan also tends to be watchful about propagation offsets and the comb filters that can result from plug-ins routing through different paths. “I’m a maniac about lining up parallel inputs that are routed differently. I’m also extremely conscious of physical offset alignment, for example, when two mics or a mic and DI are picking up a single source like double kick mics, snare top and bottom (and hi-hat, BTW… let’s not forget that’s a huge part of the snare sound), bass mic and DI, or bass DI and a parallel compressed copy.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Sullivan is also quick to bring his approach into reality. “With my snotty purist pronouncements made and defended, I will tell you that I use Waves F6 (Floating Band Dynamic EQ) plug-in across my master P.A. output to manage room modes and resonances, primarily low-end things that hang. I also use the API 2500 as a final, very gentle two-track compressor to stick the mix together. Beyond that, most plug-ins are your typical fare: C6, Renaissance EQ, SSL EQ, etc. I do have one new plug-in that likely may have changed the course of my professional universe; the PuigChild 660 on vocals. I wish I could strap one of these across my personal life and limit the dynamic range of the civilians surrounding me… but I feel like the Edison cable would be a bummer to drag around.”

Always in search of sonic perfection, Sullivan frequently finds himself adding or re-patching something in his outboard rack, changing the order of analog chains and trying different devices on different inputs. “I may view plug-ins as an addictive necessity, but in terms of actual analog outboard, I’m a full-on addict. On this tour, I inherited the rack gear and its layout, but the choices made by my predecessor were solid, so no complaints. I have a GML 8200 running in dual mono for snare and bass. They kill it on individual channels, so no loss. I do use a Distressor for generic death slamming of a bass input for parallel compression and I’ve recently brought back an old Aphex 661 that was modified years ago with a tube bypass, (Analog Devices) OP275 amps and the output caps cut out. On snare, it gives me quick access to attack times and has a clever little feature that returns HF to a highly compressed signal. Sometimes little, cheap, old things work best. Another piece I’m never without is the BSS 901. There’s something about physically touching and twisting this piece that makes me way happier than clicking on a C6.”

Regarding the mix itself, Sullivan has a few rules that he has found success with. “We tend to center the mix around the vocal output that the principles are giving us on any given night, balanced with the average 106-108 dBA SPL of the audience screaming,” he explains. “In addition to those criteria, there’s the overriding mix mandate that the vocals can never be so loud that they pull power from the mix itself. This is an easy trap to fall into and a difficult one to return from. A too-loud vocal is tough to reduce too quickly as the audience has already acclimated to it at a higher level. It’s a bit like a too loud hi-hat. Suddenly turning it down makes everything else seem dull… you’ve addicted yourself to the HF, regardless if it was appropriate or not.”

Monitor engineer Jon Kooren. JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Monitorworld

Mixing monitors under the stage is engineer Jon Kooren using a DiGiCo SD7 console. In the past, Kooren had used a DiGiCo SD10 when he was out with Nick Jonas on his solo tour. When he started rehearsals with the Jonas Brothers, he knew he would need a bigger desk capable of handling anything they could throw at him. “The versatility of having a desk with two engines has been huge and with the processing speed you get from the quantum engine plus the sound quality of the 32 bit cards, it’s a very noticeable difference to the in-ear mixes. So much so, that it makes it challenging to do one offs without the SD7. Since we didn’t have enough room under the stage to have two separate consoles for a backup/opening act, the dual engines and large worksurface have been perfect to allow multiple acts to use just a single desk.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Kooren says regarding vocal mics, they’re currently using Shure Axient with DPA 4018vL capsules for Kevin and the background singers. “This capsule has a natural, robust sound and any off-axis bleed you do get seems to be less harsh and easier to mix around. For this tour, we switched Nick over to the Sennheiser Digital 6000 series with a 9235 capsule. It has the best rejection I’ve heard from any other capsule and provides plenty of isolation when in front of the P.A. or screaming fans. Joe is on a Shure Axient with a 58 capsule — if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

He was definitely pleased with using a Telefunken M80SH on top snare and DPA 2011c on bottom snare. “Both Sully and I really like this mic combination for its tight low-end response and mid-range clarity, producing that pleasant SMACK sound you want from your snare top. The DPA 2011c has a great rejection, high SPL tolerance, and a rich natural sound that captures the snare bottom as it is at the source. This combo — along with mic placement has giving us great results.”

The Clair Cohesion 12 main P.A. hang. JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

When it comes to plug-ins, it’s “Yes, please,” according to Kooren. “I am a proud plug-in user! A lot of engineers like to say less is more and while I don’t completely disagree with them, I prefer to view them as tools and if you have the tools to further improve the sound, why not use them? For this tour, I’m using two UAD live racks for output processing. For bus compression I like to use SSL 4000 G-Bus compressor, a Fatso Jr and Shadow Hills. I’m also using the Brainworks bx3 for its mid/side EQ, dynamic EQ and stereo widening. Additionally, I have Waves for Dynamic EQs (F6), SSL G channel, R-Vox, Plugchild 660 and WNS to help eliminate some of the unwanted audience noise coming back into the microphones when on the B-stage in the center of the arena. I do like to use the onboard DiGiCo FX for reverb and delays, mostly for those scenarios where we do shows that don’t have access to either Waves or UAD. It at least gives the artist the primary FX they’re accustomed to hearing, which helps with consistency.”

For IEM’s, the Jonas Brothers are all on JH Audio Roxannes. Kooren has used other manufacturer’s products, but found the Roxannes are the best for this application. “They’re very neutral, giving me the ability to hear everything clearly, and with a little output EQing, I can help compensate for the difference in drivers allowing them to translate very well to the other in-ear manufactures products.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Systems Approach

Clair Global is the tour’s sound company. “Clair is a wonderful sound company with the best support and training around,” notes systems engineer Chuck Smith. The P.A. consists of 16 Cohesion 12 for the main hang, with six cardioid C218 flown subs. Side hangs are 16 i3’s; the rear 270 hangs have 10 i-DL per side. Ground support includes six CP218 subs with six CP6 fills. Amps are PLM 20K LM 44.

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Smith’s duties include an extensive pre-sound check tuning, walking the room as a team. “Sully at FOH controls tuning, while Andrew (Kastrinelis) and I walk the room with microphones to check the sound from every area in the house. “We use our ears as well as data to confirm that everything is functioning correctly. We also check the performers’ microphones on the main stage and the B-stage to analyze the microphones’ response. Working alongside Sully has been a great learning experience. I have so much respect for him as an engineer. Alongside Sully, I operate a DiGiCo SD11 during the show as a production routing and show backup. I also archive the show using Pro Tools.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Audio crew chief Andrew Kastrinelis has worked full time for Clair Global, going on about four years. Kastrinelis notes a number of the technical elements in the show. “We have three moving video walls, a piano and platform that flies, and a B-stage that rises up 14 feet at FOH. For the B-stage, we use an RF-over-fiber solution so we can have pristine coverage for the mics and guitars as they rise up and down on the lift. As well, Sully has special filters that he engages when the brothers make their way onto the B-stage as their mics are in the middle of the P.A. coverage. All these solutions combine to achieve a seamless performance when they’re out there. We occupy one truck for the P.A. system and a third of a truck for our FOH and MON Package. We average two hours for load-in and an hour for load out.”

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

The North American leg of the tour wrapped up with a New Year’s Eve show at Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel and Resort. The European leg kicks off Jan. 29, 2020 in England and concludes Feb. 22 in Paris.

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Jonas Brothers Happiness Begins Tour

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Clair Global

FOH Engineer: Chris “Sully” Sullivan

Monitor Engineer: Jon Kooren

Systems Engineer: Chuck Smith

Crew Chief/PA 1: Andrew Kastrinelis

Comms/PA 2: Ryan Tribou

RF: Justin Robinson

Monitor Tech: Matt Patterson

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

 

P.A. GEAR

Main Hang: Clair Cohesion 12

Side Hang: Clair I-3

270 Hang: Clair IDL

Subs: Clair CP-218

Front Fills: Clair CP-6

Amplifiers: Lab.gruppen PLM 20k+ 44

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: DiGiCo SD7

Plug-ins: Waves Server, UAD Rack

Outboard: See article for details

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD7

IEM Hardware: Shure PSM1000

IEMs: Jerry Harvey Audio Roxannes

Wireless Mics: Shure Axient, Sennheiser Digital 6000

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

 

JONAS BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

 

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