James McCullagh talks about the challenges and realities of being out on the road with The Queen Extravaganza Tour, the official Queen tribute show with musicians and singers hand picked by Roger Taylor and Brian May, original members of the band, in a nation-wide talent search. The tour celebrates Queen’s music, still hot more than 20 years after the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991. Check out their performance on American Idol:
Q&A with FOH engineer James McCullagh
Can you describe the "sound" you are going for, are you trying to recreate the actual "Queen" sound?
We spent a month in rehearsals with Roger Taylor and Spike Edney and they were very specific about they way they wanted things to sound. Musically the show is a great blend of recreating what they did in the studio and how they did things live. So my approach has been to try and get a good mix of their studio finesse and the raw power that you get with a stadium rock show. There is a lot going on, you need to be able to hear the little details but at the same time the vocals and guitars have to blow you away.
How does the show vary from venue to venue considering the various sizes of venue and PA you face at each stop?
The show is pretty much the same from venue to venue, sometimes the lighting guys might have to use an in-house truss with whatever lights the house provides, but they will then be programmed to give the same looks required. At some venues we may also have to drop down from three video walls to either one wall or smaller versions of the three, but again the content and the effect is the same. Using in house sound systems and picking up PA along the way, where we need it, can be challenging some days, but all other sound gear from mics, cables, and stands to power we carry with us so essentially all I have to do is try and match the PA of the day to the sound that has already been created and dialed in my console. It is our job to make sure that someone seeing the show is oblivious to the technical challenges and that their experience of the show is consistent from venue to venue.
Can you talk a little about the DiGiCo console, I imagine its flexibility helps out a lot in this kind of tour...
I'm using the SD10, it's amazing, I love it! I switched from a leading competitor’s console during rehearsals from to the SD10, which actually gave me a chance to A/B between the two consoles and the difference in sound quality was unbelievable, night and day. The stereo width and low end punch is far superior on the DiGiCo as compared to the other console I was using.
I have always been a big fan of DiGiCo consoles, I just love the way they are laid out and the work flow is right for me, it's just really simple. I also love the ability to use my go to Waves plug-ins on the console via the Waves sound grid, they sound amazing! On a tour like this I just don't have space for any outboard gear, as nice as it may sound. I have a lot of vocals going on and sometimes someone is a lead and the next song they are singing backup, to help with this I am using the snapshots on the SD10 to route and balance my vocals from song to song. All my BV's are routed through a Waves LA2A compressor via a stereo group, this helps to level the vocal blends and create more of a "wall of vocal's" sound. I have a Waves SSL Bus Comp over my L&R mix along with Waves C6 multiband Compressor to help smooth things out a little, other than that everything is pretty straight forward, nothing too complicated. My favorite thing about the SD10, is like the SD7 it has 4 banks of 10 smart keys, which can be assigned to just about any function, shortcut or setting on the console. They are multi color and make my life super easy. I have buttons for Tap Delay, Mutes, Save, Graphic's, Notes, Snapshots, Pink Noise and a whole lot more, if fact the list is continuously growing.
Are there backup singers in case someone is ill or loses their voice?
There are four lead vocalists and every member of the band sings as well. When the Lead vocalists are not singing lead they are doing backing vocals, that gives me nine vocal mics onstage pretty much most of the show. Luckily we haven't had to face that situation yet, but everyone is a pro so I'm sure were that situation to arise anyone of the other vocalists could seamlessly step in at a moments notice.
What is the estimated load-in time in each venue or does it vary according to size?
Our average load in and setup time is five hours.