Touring as FOH engineer for Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels band is a wonderful experience! Not only are they great people, wonderfully talented musicians, and have great audiences, but from a mix standpoint the show is highly challenging and therefore highly rewarding!
The band plays a wide variety of styles, and typically ranges from 98dB to barely over 60dB over the course of the night. Jeff’s voice will go from low and gritty, to full blown power, and back to a whisper all in one tune. The songs are so heavily lyric-based, it’s absolutely critical that everyone hears every single word he says.
We don’t carry any production except my little outboard rack, it’s different PA and a different console every night, so here’s what I use to keep the vocal clean, clear and consistent night after night.
Stage 1: Mics:
Jeff (and most of the band) sing through Heil PR35 dynamic mics.
Stage 2: Split the vocal
I almost always use a simple Y-cable to split the lead vocal into 2 channels (one for FOH and one for monitors if I’m driving both). I like to stay away from digitally splitting because so many consoles share input gain, it limits what I can do later down the signal chain.
Stage 3: FOH processing
Once in the console, I set up an analog insert patch on his lead vocal channel, and it’s routed through my JoeMeek OneQ channel strip. This gives me a nice amount of gain control, a good EQ, and a gorgeous opto compressor.
Stage 4: Bonus inserts
The JoeMeek has it’s own insert, and I use this to add my BSS 901 dynamic EQ as the last part of the vocal chain.
I always start with the console EQ flat, and bring up the gain until I’m just getting about 1dB of gain reduction on the JoeMeek compressor. If there are any major audio-warts in the response I try to remove them using the console’s EQ, then I enhance the sound to taste with the JoeMeek EQ (becasue the Meek only has 4 bands with very wide Qs)
So far so good, here’s where the fun begins!
Remember that part earlier about Jeff going from a low whisper to brutal raspy blues? Sometimes these major tonal changes in his voice cause the PA to ring like crazy, or they just happen to hit an area where the horns might be too harsh. If I just notch it out on the graph, I’m missing those frequencies when he’s singing softly. Sometimes, those harsh bits only happen on a phrase here and there, so I can’t notch the quickly enough. Is there a way to automate that? …Why, yes there is. Dynamic EQ!
For those not familiar with this wonderful gadget, the BSS 901 is a dynamic equalizer with 4 bands. “Dynamic EQ” is basically another way of saying “multi-band compressor”, it’ll attenuate 4 different frequency ranges independently based on the spectrum of incoming sound. However, this particular device seems to do it more transparently and more “musically” than anything else I’ve heard. You really can’t hear it working, but you can certainly hear when it’s bypassed.
So I find those trouble frequencies and set the 901 accordingly! Live saver!
Thankfully, the insert point on the JoeMeek is pre-compressor, so the 901 does a little extra leveling that the opto compressor doesn’t have to worry about, resulting in less compression and more overall control.
Ideally, I use the console’s compressor pre my outboard is insert. I’ll set up a fast attack, fast release, 8:1 just to shave off the big peaks, then I use the analog opto compressor to do more gentle squishing. If the inserts are pre-compression, I’ll reverse the rolls or just bypass the internal comp completely.
Here are some shots of the rack we travel with, you can see the JoeMeek with the 901 living together in tranquility!