SSE Audio provides Soundcraft platform for rock legend's European leg.
POTTERS BAR, United Kingdom — When Alice Cooper embarked on his current UK and European Theatre of Death tour, his long-serving sound engineer Randy Meullier was finally able to bag his first choice digital console — the Soundcraft Vi6â„¢.
And he says he largely has Pete Russell at the SSE Audio Group to thank. Taking over the European sound production duties from Phoenix-based Precise Corporate Staging (PCS), by the time Russell suggested that Meullier try the Soundcraft platform (with the Vistonicsâ„¢ II interface), the sound man — who has been piloting the legendary rocker's front-of-house mixes for the past seven years — had already served his baptism on the Vi6 in Norway and Cyprus.
“Earlier in this tour I did a fly-in show at the Skaanevik Festival in Norway and it was a joy to use the Vi6,” he said. “I was delighted when Pete told me he could make one available. In fact as a result of the Vi6 mixing has become fun again. The audio quality is breathtaking and after the first three shows on the board I had more people come to FOH to compliment me on the sound than any other situation I can think of. I feel like I have total control over the system instead of it controlling me.”
Equipped with the latest v3.0 software Randy is using 42 inputs, but he says the success of his mix owes as much to the support of his systems tech David Quigley as to the desk itself. “David and I first worked together in Australia. He's the best of the best — and would always be my systems guy of choice anywhere. He's constantly on things, always tweaking the EQ, listening to the system and walking around the room to let me know what is needed. An engineer is only as good as his support staff of systems techs. Anyone who doesn't think so is fooling themselves.”
The band generally uses a lot of pick-up PA's on tour in the States — sourcing racks and stacks locally while carrying their own monitors and control. This can bring its own problems, as Pete Russell acknowledges. “This is the fourth tour we have done with Randy, and I know how frustrating it has been for him to get consistency due to the inbuilt quirks of the console he was using prior to this — which won't handle the anomalies of different systems easily.
“The Vi6 is clean and fairly flat in comparison and he can get a better sound when different systems are put in front of him from show to show.”
The sound engineer agrees. ”I was an analogue engineer who was dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world. But the Vi6 is like an analogue board, and a pleasure to use.
“In Norway the house technician helped me configure the console to my liking from the basic input list I had created from the downloaded offline software.”
The concert was a big success and Randy had the show saved on his memory stick. When he arrived in Cyprus and found another Vi6 waiting for him, all he had to do was plug in his USB and load up his show file.
“After these few dates with the Vi6 you had to drag me kicking and screaming away from it, it sounded so good.”
He says the Alice Cooper band can be particularly difficult to mix. “They play loud and this year they have gone to in-ears. These cause Alice to sing softer but with much better quality — but Alice's mic isn't always directly in front of his mouth because of all the action on stage. I could never get the quality of his voice with my old desk whereas I can get it with the EQ on the Vi6 and can push him harder with no trouble to keep him on top of the mix, because audiences want to hear every word he sings.
“I try and do it with minimal FX, generally using just short slap delay and reverb.”
He admits that as a 30-year veteran of the sound board he was starting to feel jaded until being rejuvenated by the Vi6. And what feels particularly good, he says is the EQ. “On the Vi6 it is just so precise. I first noticed this on those shows in Norway and Cyprus — because of all the action on stage Alice's vocal mic will sometimes get pointed at various loud things on stage so I will tweak the EQ a bit at times; I noticed right away I needed minimal adjustment to do what I needed.”
Of the channel count, 24 of the inputs are dedicated to Jimmy deGrasso's drums alone. “Myself, Jimmy and his tech Lorne Wheaton have worked hard on the tuning and micing scheme for this drum set. Lorne is an expert tech who can really tune a set of drums so I use minimal gating and a touch of compression on the kicks and snare — but the excellent dynamics of the Vi6 do not colour the sound in any way.”
Because of the loud stage volume Randy also has successfully used some minor gating on the downstage background vocal mics. The dynamics section allows this better than any other console he has used.
“I now know what I'm going to get every day, and that makes me totally relaxed. It's just a case of loading last night's show, renaming it to today and tweaking it a bit … and off we go. The band rarely does sound checks so I have gotten used to some fast first song tweaking and I find I can do it as fast as any analogue console.”
Finally, using the MADI output on the Local Rack the sound crew are also ready to multitrack the shows.
With the established team of Cesare Sabatini and Toby Mamis handling production and tour management duties respectively, and sound engineer Paul Bostic again partnering Randy Meuillier at the stage end (with SSE systems tech Andy Yates assisting Paul), these latest dates have delivered high octane sound to Alice Cooper's loyal fans throughout Europe.
“It's vital that a legend like Alice Cooper can get the sound quality he deserves,” Randy concludes. And after his experience piloting SSE's Vi6 over the ten UK dates, he is determined that when the touring season resumes in Spring, and the entourage heads off around the world, a Vi6 will be at the top of his technical rider.
Soundcraft is a unit of Harman International Industries, Incorporated (www.harman.com).
Harman International designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment products for the automotive, consumer and professional markets, and maintains a strong presence in the Americas, Europe and Asia, employing more than 11,000 people worldwide. The Harman International family of brands includes AKG®, Audioaccess®, Becker®, BSS®, Crown®, dbx®, DigiTech®, Harman Kardon®, Infinity®, JBL®, Lexicon®, Mark Levinson®, Revel®, QNX®, Soundcraft® and Studer®. Harman International's stock is traded on the
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Pictured are Nick Muellier (Left) and David Quigley.