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Nine Inch Nails

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • January 2019
  • Production Profile
• Created: January 16, 2019

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings. Nine Inch Nails: Atticus Ross (keyboards); Ilan Rubin (drums, guitars, keys, vocals); Trent Reznor (vocals, guitar, keys); Alessandro Cortini (keys, synths, bass, guitar, vocals); Robin Finck (guitars, vocals, keys).

Before a final six-show residency at the Palladium in Los Angeles, Nine Inch Nails moved toward the completion of their “Cold and Black and Infinite” North America tour in early December with pounding rock solid performances for the sold-out crowds at a two-night stand in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. We caught up with key members of the audio team, including FOH engineer Jamie Pollock, monitor engineer Michael Prowda, systems engineer Andrew Gilchrest and content routing audio manager Chris Holmes.

FOH engineer Jamie Pollock. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         At FOH…

Jamie Pollock is mixing the tour on an Avid S6L-32D with an E6L-192 engine. Experienced in mixing a variety of consoles, Pollock chose to use this version of the Avid platform for this tour. He notes that Michael Prowda got him interested in the desk from his previous experiences. Pollock liked the idea of the gain sharing preamps and not having to go though a splitter. “It also reduced the footprint on stage for the amount of different-sized shows that we were up against. When I first started working on the S6L, the software felt very similar to me from the previous generation consoles. I liked having lots of controls available for event triggers and there was no loss of quality in the mix when pushing the console into zero headroom, which tends to happen with this band. The work surface has a great feel and everything on the strip from the preamp down to the fader was very responsive and I could really connect to it as an instrument.”

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

Pollock started with NIN as a system engineer in 2008 up until 2014. When this current tour cycle started in 2017, some of the people involved with the production over the years suggested Pollock for FOH. “I’ve traditionally been a FOH mixer and it was a great opportunity to do that on this level.”

Pollock has about 80 inputs from stage and 18 matrix outputs for P.A., backstage fills and various sends. He also has a MADI card installed on the E6L engine to feed a Focusrite RedNet system for up to 32 channels of stems that he can send down their fiber to the stage for broadcast situations. “There is RedNet D64R at FOH and two A16R’s on the stage end. I also use the other side of the MADI card to feed a DirectOut Technologies Andiamo 2 MADI converter for my analog outboard gear.

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

“I basically use what’s on the channel strip and plug-ins that run on the console. I love all the McDSP stuff, especially the AE600 for dynamic control and the 6050 Channel Strip for saturation and compression. Futzbox is used primarily for distortion as well as the EC-300 (McDSP Echo Collection) and NR800 (McDSP Noise Reduction) on vocals. Other favorites include the Sonnox Inflator, Oxford reverb, Crane Song Phoenix 2 and Empirical Labs Arousor.” Pollock also gets a lot of effects for specific songs out of the plug-in bundle that comes with the desk. These are based around distortion, filters, delays, pitch shifting, noise generators and modulation.

On the outboard side, Pollock has a mastering chain that lives on his L/R bus. One part of the chain that adds to his overall sound is analog equalization. “I’ve been using the Chandler Curve Bender for years — it’s a great tool to really shape the mix in different environments, especially when things change and you have to do it quickly. Other than that, I have a few special compressors for go-to inputs and a Bricasti M7 that I use on Trent’s vocal more for spatial placement in the mix than reverb.” Reznor’s vocal mic is a Shure Beta 58.

Keyboardist/bassist Allesandro Cortini packed plenty of toys for the tour. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

“I feel like I’m always around other engineers using new gear in either live sound or the studio. There’s a lot of great new stuff coming out that rivals some of the classics. When selecting gear choices for NIN, I went with a few things that I thought would be useful with my approach. Some of the new pieces are a tube compressor that a friend of mine, Chip Verspyck, designed with Henry Hirsch called the Clear Compressor. Trent’s vocal can be very dynamic and the unique design of this compressor allows me to have heavy amounts of gain reduction with little effect on the quality of his vocal — it’s been hard to use anything else. I recently got a Sonic Farm Creamliner 3 from Boris Drazzic and after using it in the studio on several tracks, it’s been part of my L/R bus in my live chain. It’s a great tool for adding depth and contour to the mix.

“I have an input that we refer to as Global Pink Noise. On stage, everyone uses IEM’s with subwoofers (four L-Acoustics’ KS28s) usually spaced along the upstage edge. I found that the LF response off the stage can really affect me out at FOH.” Pollock says they’ve come up with a system to have a Global Pink Noise input on one of the stage racks that he and Prowda can both reference for time alignment of the two systems. Once Prowda has his levels and sub configuration set, he turns on that reference signal so they can get various measurements in the room. “We capture these traces and then use that same input through the P.A. system so we can compare and adjust to the response we want. Andrew (Gilchrest) and I have found that in some of these venues, when you’re limited to placing subs mostly as a L/R, we can get a much more even sub response using the resources coming off the stage.”

The system for the cavernous 8,500-capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium show in San Francisco was this sizeable L-Acoustics K1 rig. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         The System

Firehouse Productions is the sound company for the control package, notes systems engineer Andrew Gilchrest. This includes the entire monitor system, FOH console and outboard gear. “We haven’t been carrying P.A., so we’ve either used in-house P.A. or brought in a system from a regional sound company. L-Acoustics is our preferred speaker manufacturer (included in this show’s coverage). As we played many different types and sizes of venues, we would come up with a system that would work for each place and then spec it out to the local sound companies. For most theaters, we ended up using 14 L-Acoustics K2 per side and six KS28 per side. Our front-fill package was typically four to eight ARCSII and six Karas. For the larger venues, we brought in K1 for the mains, added side hangs, and added to the sub count. Both Jamie and I are very familiar with the L-Acoustics product, so we were both on the same page from the beginning as to what we needed.”

The cardioid array of KS28 subs on the sides of the stage. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

For maintaining the P.A. system, Gilchrest has regular duties including designing the system at each venue. This includes taking measurements and inputting them into the design software. “From there, I make decisions on quantity of boxes, angles, heights, etc… Tuning the system, I use measurement microphones to test for timing and frequency response at various positions around the room to make sure of even coverage. During the show, I walk around with a tablet and make minor adjustments and also monitor the amplifiers for any problems.”

Systems engineer Andrew Gilchrest. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         In Monitorworld

Monitor engineer Michael Prowda has been using an Avid console on NIN since 2005 and is now on the Avid S6L. “The show files from the D Show/Profile platform were transferred to the S6L making the transition to the newer desk mostly seamless. There’s been a significant improvement in overall audio quality with the S6L.”

Prowda says everyone is on IEM’s — Jerry Harvey Audio JH16’s or JH16 V2’s. Some have stayed with their JH16’s and some are using the JH16 V2 due to personal preference. He started using a subwoofer array of the L-Acoustics KS 28’s spaced across the back of the stage a few years ago and the band has stayed with this configuration because it works so well.

A Shure Beta 91 and Audix D6 capture Ilan Rubin’s kick sound. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

Capturing drummer Ilan Rubin’s kit, the mics include a Shure Beta 91 and Audix D6 on kick. Snare top is a beyerdynamic 201 with a Shure Beta 98 underneath. All toms are Sennheiser e904s. Overheads and hi-hat are Audio-Technica 4051s.

“Technology in audio has improved in so many areas over the last decade,” notes Prowda. “The Avid S6L — as with other digital consoles — have made quantum leaps in improved audio detail. The IEM earpieces have improved, and I’ve stayed a loyal fan of Jerry Harvey Audio. The software and hardware that Shure has developed over the years makes operating multichannel wireless setups less of a ‘black art.’ I’ve been using the Shure AXT600 RF analysis system along with Shure’s Wireless Workbench to confidently do the wireless allocation for our 30-plus frequency show. Trent (Reznor) and Atticus (Ross) are two musician/engineers who have really embraced technology. There have been so many times where we have pushed the technology envelope to arrive at solutions to something we’re trying to achieve for the show. This has been an amazing opportunity for me to grow as an engineer.”

Content routing audio manager Chris Holmes (left) and monitor engineer Mike Prowda. NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Enter the Content Routing Audio Manager

Chris Holmes is the content routing audio manager for the tour. His position is a hub of sorts for MIDI to be sent/received, audio content to be taken and manipulated and — in the past — SMPTE used as a backbone for lighting programming. “There’s gobs of programming happening before we play a single show, and there are constant tweaks as we start performing in front of people,” says Holmes.

“So, going back to rehearsals, that means having the multi-track recordings for the songs we’re tackling available and ready for the band to pick through. Part of that prep is making sure we can change BPMs or keys on the fly. I’m also working on any in-ear specific content band members need to help with the performance. Once we’re digging in, we evaluate what’s missing and craft something I can send to FOH to fill in any blanks. All of this prep is done in Pro Tools.”

Around this time, Holmes is also starting to program patch changes, and huddling with the rest of the backline to see how seamless he can make their setup. “Anything I can do to help make their jobs easier during a show we’ll work towards doing. Once rehearsals are wrapped, I work on getting all of the appropriate files laid out in Ableton Live, which is the main software I use. In practice we’ve found it provides the most flexibility in our live environment. I can be running it, or it can be set up for Atticus Ross to take the controls and go to town. It runs on two Apple MacBook Pros and synched via MIDI launch notes,” Holmes explains.

Holmes does have a few secret weapons at his disposal. “The backbone of my audio setup is the Lynx Aurora,” he says. “We’re using 16 channels for various purposes, and are really happy with the fidelity and stability the Aurora offers. I’ll keep the rest behind the curtain. On a show day, I have a meeting with Trent and Atticus to go over the pacing of the set and make sure we’re able to achieve what they’re hoping. We’ll go over how the show’s going to start, what the lights are going to do, how fast are the songs going to come at the audience, etc. Come showtime, I buckle up, give a few fist bumps to our team, and we let loose.”

NINE INCH NAILS © Steve Jennings

Nine Inch Nails

“Cold and Black and Infinite” North American Tour

 

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Firehouse Productions

FOH Engineer: Jamie Pollock

System Tech: Andrew Gilchrest

Monitor Engineer: Michael Prowda

Content Routing Audio Manager: Chris Holmes

Monitor Tech: Tim Fraleigh

A2 & “Chaos Pit” Technician: Damian Burns

 

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: Avid S6L-32D, E6L-192, MADI Card

Outboard: Manley Variable Mu Limiter/Compressor; Sonic Farm Creamliner III; Chandler TG 12345 Curve Bender; Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amp; Dramastic Audio Obsidian Stereo Compressor; Bricasti Design M7 Reverb Processor

VH Clear Compressor; DirectOut Technologies ADNDIAMO 2; Focusrite RedNet D64R, (2) Focusrite RedNet A16R; Antelope Audio Isochrone OCX Master Clock; MacPro AVB Pro Tools System; Denon DN-700R

 

P.A. GEAR

Main System: Provided by venue or local sound company

Fill/Stage Sub Speakers: L-Acoustics X8’s, L-Acoustics SB18, L-Acoustics LA4X

Amplifiers: (3) L-Acoustics LA12X Amplifier/Controllers

 

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: Avid S6L with Avid Venue E6L mix engine

Outboard: UPS power backup; (3) Ansmann ACL 161 Fisher battery chargers; Furman M-8Lx power conditioner; (2) Focusrite A16R; Clear-Com PL Pro

RF Monitoring: Shure AXT600 Axient Wide-Band Spectrum Manager

IEMs: (9) Shure P10TR425CL Personal Monitor Dual Systems; Jerry Harvey Audio earpieces

 

 

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