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Iron Maiden Flying High with DiGiCo

FOH Staff • News • April 28, 2008

CHESSINGTON, England – Although it is not unknown for hugely successful bands to have their own aircraft in which to tour the globe, it is highly unusual for the band’s lead singer to be the pilot. Yet this is the case with evergreen hard rockers Iron Maiden and, as they begin another major tour, the ultra-compact size of Monitor Engineer Steve ‘Gonzo’ Smith’s DiGiCo D5 console means that there is plenty of room onboard for it to travel with him.

Touring in a Boeing 757 might seem like the height of rock star cool, but as the band’s Somewhere Back In Time tour rolls through India, the Americas and Europe, there are certain drawbacks. A major one is that when you are carrying not only the band and 50-strong crew, but also an entire 12-tom production suitable for venues holding up to 50,000 people, space is at an absolute premium.

Before joining the Maiden crew, Gonzo worked with reggae legends UB40 and it was during this period that he got to know Bob Doyle, who would later go on to join DiGiCo. So when the D5 was introduced, Gonzo was introduced to it too.

“When I went to work for Maiden, they didn’t want to use it at first, largely due to a bad experience they’d had with recording on a different type of digital desk,” he says. “But I kept on and I finally talked them into it and they’ve loved it ever since.”

With his D5 recently updated with the latest V4 software, making it even more ‘monitors-friendly,’ Gonzo is running 18 monitor mixes for the six-piece band.

“Maiden are very old school,” he says. “The only band member on in-ears is guitarist Adrian Smith. The rest are all on wedges, with sidefills and a number of full mono mixes through speakers placed by the onstage ramps, which the band runs around on.”
“Bruce (Dickinson, lead vocalist and 757 pilot) also has additional fills at the back of the stage, projecting just a vocal mix forward,” he adds. “Of course, wedges are essential for the classic Maiden ‘foot on the monitors’ pose as well!”

With the band’s material being considerably more complex than most non-metal fans give them credit for, Gonzo is taking advantage of the D5’s snapshots facility for certain songs, which means he can make major mix changes instantly. “It’s really to make things a bit easier for me, but it is a major help,” he says.

With the exception of one outboard graphic EQ for drummer Nicko McBrain’s drum fills, Gonzo is using just the D5’s internal effects, which he’s very happy with. “The effects are very user-friendly and sound great, especially the EQ,” he says. “The built-in comps and gates also help to save a lot of space, which is crucial on this tour. I have just one small rack with a couple of effects for the guitarists, the receiver for Adrian’s in-ears and the EQ for Nicko.”

Advantage is also being taken of the D5’s audio quality to record shows from it, the multitrack mixes being kept for a range of different purposes, including potential commercial release and putting on the band’s Web site. The console’s advanced gain structure means that a single cable is used to send a full 1:1 multi-channel recording from the D5’s MADI port to a computer, which can then be mixed down in the studio at some point in future, as required.

With thousands of fans on the tour, both old and new, taking up Dickinson’s infamous exhortations to ‘Scream for me,’ the DiGiCo D5 has become an essential part of the Iron Maiden touring rig.

“The console has been fantastic,” says Gonzo. “It’s very straightforward to use and very reliable. And if there ever is a minor problem, there’s worldwide backup 24 hours a day. You can’t really ask for more.”


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