Gearing up for a largely sold-out cross-country tour—and heeding the challenge of creating a compact touring audio footprint for a band in transition—this tour's FOH engineer and full-time production manager Daniel Hodges upgraded their audio outfit to a pair of DiGiCo SD8 consoles (plus an SD-Rack) provided by Solotech. Utilizing the streamlined Optocore network, as well as having the ability to share one stage rack between FOH and monitor world (managed by Justin Doucette), ultimately made the small trailer limitations workable.
“The band has a pretty decent-sized lighting package for this tour, as well as a few other big pieces of backline (upright piano, etc.),” Hodges explained, “but we are still in a 16x8x8 bus trailer, so I had to come up with a way to carry everything we need in a small space if everyone was gonna have a happy tour together. DiGiCo had always been on my radar, and while I had toured on the other major digital consoles, I was never really â€˜married' to anything. Having Optocore at FOH was kind of the only way we could get a proper rig on this tour without cutting into trailer space for the other two departments, and the way we have it laid out is just the coolest thing, as are the cabling options. The fact that I could share the stage rack was a pretty huge deal. We are feeding FOH with Optocore and monitors with MADI, and the SD-Rack works flawlessly as the master clock. I eliminated at least two good-sized racks for splitting, and there is no external CPU or PSU, so there goes another rack at each console. What would typically be a tub-full of cable to FOH is conveniently tucked onto two spools of optical cable that I could practically fit in a backpack. I am still running 50-plus channels of audio day-to-day, and my entire package—IEMs, mics, stands, wireless and all—is in 12 cases, barely taking up the front wall of our trailer! A lot of really important issues for me on this tour were solved with the DiGiCo consoles—without having to ask for any special treatment or additional trailer space. And the Optocore is my favorite thing to show off to the house engineer or system tech. I even told my (non-engineer) girlfriend all about it I was so excited!”
Hodges was also pleasantly surprised with the sound of the system as well as everything under its hood. “It's an amazing-sounding desk,” he enthused. “Most digital consoles, if not all of the others, I think you really have to be extra strategic about gain staging and making sure you're not over- or under-using your bit rates, etc. I haven't had to think twice about the preamps once we got them dialed up for the first time. The onboard dynamics and filters are of the same nature; I hardly think twice about what's happening with them, they just work. The band has been real excited about the way things sound for them… In fact, frontman Nate Ruess wouldn't stop raving about how much he loved his reverb, a built-in, plate-style reverb that I hardly had to touch to fit his needs.”
Managing 56 inputs and 24 outputs for a band whose instrumentation ranges from electric guitars, pianos and drums, to tracks, multiple synthesizers and MIDI consoles, Hodges has made use of the Waves SoundGrid bundle and was excited to have access to software on the road that he's been comfortable using in his home studio: “I'm using the V-Comp on vocals and the flugelhorn, TrueVerb for my lead vocal hall, and RVerb, a guitar-room-style effect, for a really big, explosive drum effect I use a few times in the set. The Waves doubler I use on my chorus-style background vocals, and also to do an octave drop for a couple of parts to re-create the record. I don't really favor any one thing to another; it's just great to have things at my fingertips that I'm used to using in the studio, without taking up more than two rack spaces on my drive rack. Another big thing is the fact that I can fit my whole show onto one set of faders across the desk. My main FX units return onto the same bank as my vocals, and because of the flexi channels, I can run the entire show without flipping a fader bank once.”
Daily tracking of every show was Hodge's way of maintaining a tour archive for the band, but also served as virtual soundchecking. “I started on a Pro Tools/Mac/SSL MADI interface at rehearsals and moved to a Reaper/RME/PC for the tour because of its compact size. Virtual soundcheck is an invaluable tool on a multitude of levels. I'm able to set up all of my snapshots, tune the system, get my FX's sounding just perfect for every part of every song, have filter choices ready to change at any given moment during the set—all without the band having to play the set for sound more than once. Also, when a new sound guy comes into the picture, I can hand over the files and they can be completely prepped without being in the same building.”
“Armed with only the knowledge of my peers and the instruction manual,” said Doucette, “I found this system to be very intuitive, and the interface is simple and attractive, offering an easy learning curve. My favorite aspect of the console is its layout and interface, which has more than accommodated my needs and can easily be manipulated for any task. I especially enjoy the ease with which fader banks can be assigned different values, and how pages can be changed quickly and easily. We're mainly using the onboard effects for vocal reverb, which has again, been easy to set up and use and sounds great. I think my experience with this console could best be used to educate and inspire new clients or aspiring engineers. My story is one of few headaches and a positive experience.”