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Mixing Benee’s New Zealand Tour

Michael S. Eddy • December 2020Production Profile • December 10, 2020

New Zealand’s success at curbing Covid allowed thousands to gather in Auckland’s Spark Arena in October.

Arena Shows Return to Island Nation that Tackled Covid-19

Indie-pop singer/songwriter Benee launched the first major tour in New Zealand since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, and the sold-out crowds were a welcome return to live performances for both fans and the production team. Having clamped down and created a countrywide bubble early in the pandemic, by October, New Zealand was able to return to live in-person concerts with no restrictions for acts based in the country. Benee hit the road for eight shows, and to share the live concert experience with her growing international fan base, her final night at Auckland’s Spark Arena became the first livestreamed sold-out indoor concert to a global audience since the start of the pandemic.

Benee tour photo by Matt Clode

Benee (real name: Stella Rose Bennett), whose chart-climbing single, “Supalonely” is an international hit, was ready to go on the road as a headliner when the pandemic struck. Once New Zealand lifted restrictions, Benee and her management team set the bar higher with a country-wide tour and brought in Daniel Warwick as production manager and FOH engineer.

FOH engineer Daniel Warwick at the DiGiCo SD5 with d&b E8 nearfields.

Warwick, a fellow New Zealander, had been living in Los Angeles prior to the pandemic and touring the U.S. and Europe, mixing the pop band Drax Project. When everything started shutting down, he and his fiancée returned to New Zealand. We recently chatted with Warwick about getting back to work and handling audio for the talented young artist.

“I got the call a couple of months before the tour, but due to Covid, we were all on standby,” explains Warwick. “Three weeks before the tour was slated to start, we heard it was definitely happening. It was a great feeling to rip into it.”

Benee tour photo by Matt Clode

Since Benee had only played one-offs, festival shows, or was the support act on tours, Warwick started from scratch. “I completely rebuilt the band’s pedalboards, which added stuff like an 8-channel multipin on the back of a pedalboard, with integrated talkback, so we could be set up and be patched in quicker, but it also included new snares, cymbals, new triggers for the drummer, and a new playback system which, obviously, had to be redundant and heavily tested. It was a lot to build in the three weeks leading up to the tour, but everything worked perfectly. It was incredibly rewarding to see it come together.”

Benee was named Best Solo Artist and Best Pop Artist at the 2020 New Zealand Music Awards.

Warwick started out mixing audio in his teens — and was mentored by two-time Academy Award winning sound engineer, Mike Hedges. When approached to mix the tour, Warwick asked if Benee wanted to replicate the album or provide a live experience. The answer was what he hoped to hear. “They wanted a live, slamming version of the recorded music, which is a sound engineer’s dream, really! Benee covers a range of genres, from standard pop music to drum ‘n’ bass and electronic/EDM music. It was also the first time she was integrating Auto-Tune, controlled from FOH. Previously, she just had a pedal and a separate mic to run Auto-Tune. She would run over and jump on another cabled mic with a pedal sitting on stage. That’s fine for small club shows, but getting into arenas, where you’ve got to run 10 meters to get to the other side of stage, we needed to make some changes. We adapted Universal Audio’s UAD live rack platform using Antares’ Auto-Tune and created presets. We didn’t get to try it until the day before the first show, as we had one day of rehearsal with the band. I was quite nervous to see whether Stella was going to like it or not, but she was very happy. We’ll continue to use it for all the shows going forward.”

The stage right P.A. hang at Spark Arena with 16 d&b audiotechnik GSL (mains) and 12 d&b KSL (sides)

Although New Zealand was now open, a lot of vendors faced, and still do, serious economic trouble with the shutdown stopping touring — and it’s still closed to international acts. To cast a wide net of some help, Warwick and local Live Nation production manager Tom Anderson decided to spread the work out among vendors; he toured with a control package from Western Audio Engineering but picked up racks and stacks from local vendors for the different tour stops. “Being able to have d&b audiotechnik all across the country was really cool, because we could make sure a lot of the suppliers got a taste of this tour effectively,” Warwick explains. “With d&b, it was a seamless experience between shows. Western Audio also supported the Auckland shows with the new d&b audiotechnik GSL and KSL systems. Not only was I incredibly fortunate to be doing a show in the first place, but being able to use what I’d argue is now one of the best sound systems in the world was a real treat,” Warwick says. “And knowing that the coverage was phenomenal gave me the confidence to be able to mix music rather than worry about anything sounding different up in the bleachers than down on the floor.”

During the pandemic, Warwick and his monitor engineer Ryan Hansen took advantage of online industry educational videos and decided to pick up a new console. “I was watching all the Youtube tutorials, including Ken ‘Pooch’ Van Druten and Chris Rabold’s Pooch & Rabold videos. It was great to be able to watch tutorials from these legendary engineers and then apply that in the real world, Warwick explains. “It became apparent to me that I needed to start using DiGiCo, and it was good timing with the Benee tour to make the change. DiGiCo is an awesome platform. It’s so flexible, and it felt like there were no limitations in terms of input counts and processing available to us.” Warwick used a DiGiCo SD5 at FOH; Hansen used a DiGiCo SD10 for monitors — both supplied for the entire tour by Western Audio Engineering. “Western Audio is just no compromises; the best,” Warwick added.

Having been off work for so long in the Covid shutdown, Warwick had to ease into trusting his ears again, judging how loud is actually loud. “Even though everyone has a Smaart rig set up at front of house, I’ve started using my own, because I completely trust it,” says Warwick. “Post-Covid, adapting to volume again will be something that gets talked about. You’re not quite sure how you’re going to react, but it did settle into being a comfortably loud show again quite quickly. At first, knowing what that was, just with your ears, was a strange experience, because my last reference was months earlier. Whereas being able to look over and go, ‘Yeah, I’ve been sitting at 100 dBa at FOH, and that’s a good volume. I’m happy with it,’ without having a calibrated measurement system next to me, I probably wouldn’t have had the same confidence.”

Warwick also relied on his Sound Devices’ MixPre-3 recorder. “I record every show, as well as multi-track. One great thing is that the MixPre-3 is battery powered, so I can listen to my mix on the way back to the hotel. Being able to reference my mixes, take notes really quickly and apply them the next day is critical to making the show better.”

On this tour, Warwick got to try a drum shield he likes but previously hadn’t had time to test their value. “I’ve been using these circular drum shields from Clear Sound Baffles. Traditionally, people would have the full drum shield — sort of a caged-in look. These circular ones look less enclosed. As Benee is a quiet singer, of particular importance was using the shields to cut down on the extraneous noise picked up by the vocal mic. On this show, we were doing multiple nights in some of the venues. We came in early, and I experimented with the vocal mic up and recorded the tests. The drummer, Dylan, would play with the shields out of the way, and then hit them with the shields back in. The difference in reducing cymbal noise going into the vocal mic was quite notable. After that, it was a no-brainer. I want those on all my shows.”

When asked how it felt to do the Benee tour, Warwick quickly replies, “Fortunate, really lucky. It was a really fun show. We had to put it together very fast, but I didn’t feel like I was fighting the P.A. I didn’t feel like I was fighting the band or tracks. Everything fell into place really nicely, and it was an enjoyable show to mix. The best thing about it was working with an epic crew, band and management. We all felt very emotional about being able to do our jobs in a time when a lot of friends overseas are still locked down.”

The Benee tour production team

Benee New Zealand Tour

CREW

  • Sound Company: Western Audio Engineering
  • FOH Engineer: Daniel Warwick
  • Monitor Engineer: Ryan Hansen
  • Systems Engineer: Mark Corbett
  • Monitor Tech: Richard McMenamin

P.A. GEAR

  • Mains: (32) d&b audiotechnik GSL
  • Sides: (24) d&b KSL
  • Subs: (16) d&b SL Subs
  • Front Fills: (8) d&b Y7P

FOH GEAR

  • FOH Console: DiGiCo SD5
  • FOH Nearfields: d&b audiotechnik E8
  • Outboard: Bricasti M7; Neve 5045 PSE; Empirical Labs Distressor; Alan Smart C2; Waves MaxxBCL; Universal Audio UAD Live Rack; Waves DiGiGrid MGB + Extreme Server

MON GEAR

  • Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD10
  • Outboard: Waves Extreme Server
  • IEM Hardware: Shure PSM1000
  • Wireless Mics: Shure UHF-R

Michael S. Eddy is the editor of FOH’s sister publication, Stage Directions.

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