Inside the Mix of the Jason Aldean Tour with FOH Engineer Chris Stephens

Live Sound Mixing

Inside the Mix of the Jason Aldean Tour with FOH Engineer Chris Stephens

FOH engineer Chris Stephens walks you through the plugin chains he uses to mix Jason Aldean’s live sound, with special focus on vocals, drums, bass and electric guitars. Chris uses DiGiGrid MGB, a switch, and two SoundGrid Extreme servers in a redundant setup in order to seamlessly integrate hundreds of plugins with his SSL Live console.

Topics include:

– Vocals

– Kick Drum

– Bass Guitar

– Snare Drum (Rim)

– Electric Guitar

– Drum Crush

– Guitar Crush


0:00:00 –>
hey I’m Chris Stevens and I’m the front of house engineer for Jason Aldean we’re in Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine California and we’re about an hour before sound check for the burning it down tour I’m probably using close to 200 plugins maybe more I don’t know I haven’t actually counted I’m able to run all of that on the extreme server and I actually have two units so that they’re redundant so in the event that one fails it will automatically switch to the other and I get to you know the show keeps going on so I’ll start with Jason’s with Jason’s vocal path which starts with the NLS bus and I’m using the nivo setting and I’m not using really hardly any drive at all but just a tiny bit of coloration you know the further that you get into the drive the more saturation you get which is you know means less transient response so you’re kind of trying to balance you know how saturated and full you want it to be with some clarity and some transient and trying to maintain some of

0:01:01.3 –>
that so it goes from the NLS bus to the de-esser I have the DSR first you know Jason can get really se sometimes and so it knocks off some of that before my other processing and takes that out of the equation in the compressors and eq’s that come later in the chain and then there’s an H EQ which is just doing some very very minor shaping the way I have the channels set up and we’re embossing all of these vocal mics to this one source this is kind of my one place to EQ all of those mics at the same time I’m doing some really minor cuts here but the RTA function of this you know when I you know can hear something weird in the room but I can hear that it’s only in his vocal being able to go to the H EQ and look and see that there’s a spike at you know 275 and then I can slide that filter down a little bit to catch this kind of weird thing that’s happening in a particular room going

0:02:00.5 –>
from room to room that can that kind of low range of the vocal can be a real trouble point in trying to maintain that clarity and then after that is the our Vox it’s a compressor does its thing and it gives you this present and makes the vocal seem to just kind of jump out of the mix and I’m I’m knocking off somewhere between two and four DB with that compressor that goes to the CLA 2a which again is knocking off one two three DB but it’s a really slow attack really slow release the idea in doing multistage compression is that your fastest attack and fastest release is first and your slowest attack is last so as the first compressor is releasing the second one is attacking and as the third the second compressor is releasing the third one is attacking and so you’re able to compress a lot more without hearing the grab enos of when you’re compressing too much with one compressor finally after that is the c6 the

0:03:03. –>
majority of what I’m using on the c6 is the low band which I have set from 250 Hertz down and I’m using that to compress a lot of the low-end out of his voice because Jason has a really wide vocal range and so in going from a really high note where I need that low end to a really low note where there’s way too much of it the c6 enables me to balance that out I’m using the two dynamic EQ filters kind of up here in the mid-range to make some more narrow cuts on some mid-range sections to kind of level out the top-end of his voice finally at the very end I’m using a V EQ and I’m just using the high band at the 4.7 K just to put a little air kind of back on it after all that compressions on the kick drum I’m starting with it with the NL s that I’m using spike setting is the kind of fun that it has the tightest low end of the three as they all sound a little different and

0:04:01.1 –>
they all work for different things but the NL s spike is kind of the one that I think sounds the best at least for my drums I’m doing a little bit of Drive here not too much and then that feeds into the H comp I’m doing a pretty slow attack medium release three to four DB of gain reduction on this just kind of lightly compressing because I’m going to compress it much more later on in my bus setup so it goes from there to the transacts wide to just add a little transient kind of back in and then the heq that’s the main EQ for the drum and then at the very end I’m using the c6 but I’m actually using it as an expander you can see I’m expanding the top-end here at 3800 really wide to get the smack of the drum and then I’m expanding the very bottom here at like 60 55 to kind of expand the low-end and I’m using different attack and release times well

0:05:00.5 –>
the attack is as fast as it’ll go but different release times for the top and the bottom because the bottom is a it’s a longer wave it needs to it needs more time to develop so I’m using a really kind of slow release there to let that low-end kind of travel through and then I can show you kind of how that’s interacting with the bass guitar both using c6 in the same range so if I go to the bass guitar here you can see there’s a dynamic eq band at the same spot here right about 55 and I’m actually sidechaining that band with the kick drum when he hits the kick drum the c6 is is sucking all the low-end out of the base guitar to make room for the kick drum to come through and then releasing that as soon as the kick drum goes away so then this is kind of my my bass chain as well which is NLS channel and then the bass rider I couldn’t make the show sound the way that it does without this plugin I mean having the ability to level out and get a consistent level from the bass

0:06:01.7 –>
having all those notes come out at a much much closer volume and not trying to do that with a compressor because what bass rider is doing is it’s it’s essentially moving the fader for me then I’m able to feed that into a compressor and have a much much smaller dynamic range that I’m trying to compress so I can take that and and really make the compressor do what I want it to do which is add some color and and and a small amount of gain reduction but not this huge amount of gain reduction because I have this really wide dynamic input base writer kind of puts me in a position to be able to control the dynamic of the base a lot more consistently so the base writer feeds into the c6 which is doing some light multiband compression its main job is that one dynamic eq band this band one which is externally keyed off of the

0:07:00. –>
kick drum and compressing the low-end out of the base to make room for the kick drum and then at the very end is the API 550 B that’s just one of those pieces of gear that adds so much color and tone to something I do find that the API EQs are great on the bass and I’m able to make small cuts and really make broad tonal changes to the bass without having to go in and deal with a million parameters because a lot of times you don’t need that many parameters my second input here which is clipping horribly right now because he’s playing the snare is actually the snare top mic but I have that double patched to a second channel which I call rim I have that channel double patch and then it’s processed separately eq’d separately and gained up a lot so that when he goes to the side stick or the rim of the snare I can switch to that and then it’s gained up and I can hear the side stick and it has its own reverb just inserted on that

0:08:02.1 –>
channel I’m using trans X and actually an l2 to just kind of level it off that enables me to toggle over to the side stick and you get that nice crack and this and the reverb tail behind that so that’s kind of one trick to be able to kind of toggle back and forth between the snare which is really loud and the side stick which is really really quiet I use three overhead mics so we have two overhead mics that are kind of down in front of the drum set rather than being up on top and I find it with that setup you get a lot more cymbals and a lot less snare and drum bleed and sometimes that’s a good thing but in this particular instance the drummer plays really hard and the less snare drum that I can get in the overheads the better that gives me more control over the cymbals and so I put those mics out in front there’s a third mic behind the drummer’s head that I use as like a mono kind of crush and so this is a stereo channel of the two front overheads which go through

0:09:02 –>
the H comp and the V EQ to do a little bit of EQ but then the rear overhead gets compressed quite a bit through the H comp and then goes through the c6 which has a pretty crazy looking curve to it but what I’m doing here is actually boosting a lot of low-end in that mic because I’m actually able to pick up a lot of the kick and and the bottom end of the snare drum and that microphone and so it’s a really interesting kind of mono picture of the whole drum set from this one mic and then it gets super compressed and kind of blended in with the other overheads and adds a lot of punch to all the drums because you know you can kind of hear the compression coming in and out and then there’s a V EQ on that again to just kind of at the very end add a little bit more top-end back into it some shimmer back into the cymbals and that’s kind of how I have the overheads

0:10:02 –>
set up there’s two mics on each guitar players cabinet so there is a ribbon mic and a and a dynamic mic each of the microphones has the same processing and with the exception of the in-phase being on the two dynamic mics those channels go through the NL s bus and then the renaissance acts which is just a great kind of overall guitar compressor and two maybe three dB at the most but again I’m going to compress those much much more later in the chain once I get to my groups and then at the very end is a c6 and I’m just doing one single dynamic EQ band at about a hundred on my stage right guitar player and that’s just to take a little bit of the wolf out of the guitars as you can see it’s it’s 1 maybe 2 dB and when they go down to a really low note maybe 3 but it’s just enough to kind of even it out and keep it out of

0:11:01.1 –>
the bottom end of the vocal and leave the bass guitar some room in that range to kind of kind of occupy that space this is the s in 57 that’s on one of the guitar cabinets and this being the closer mike is the one that has the in-phase on it so I can kind of show you how this how I use this this is sidechained with the ribbon so the a input is the 57 and the B input here at the bottom is the side chain or the ribbon Mike and so when I hit capture it takes and records a little 2 second clip and then shows me this graph and so what I can do is I can actually go in here and zoom in and go to the waveform level and then use the delay function to slide this back and forth and watch the correlation between the two so having those perfectly in phase makes such a huge difference in the tonality of the guitars and so that’s a tool that I use

0:12:01.3 –>
anytime I’m doing anytime you’re doing multiple microphones on any source this is a great thing each of the band inputs like all of the instruments go through two groups so each group each set of instruments has its own group so the drums so kick snare and the Tom’s have a group the overheads have a group the bass guitar is in a group by itself and then all of the guitars and the steel are in a group or two groups and so each of those groups is either a crush or what I call just a dry group which has no processing so the crush group goes out through multi rack through a signal path and then back into the console and to the band bus and then the dry group has no processing on it at all it is just the channel input straight through and out so I can kind of walk you

0:13:01.8 –>
through my different crush groups and how those are set up so this is the drum crush group which the first thing it goes through is the l3 and as you can see there’s very little compression here every once in a while the snare or sometimes the rack Tom hit it – to 3db I noticed that it enables me to kind of just kind of level off the snare drum so that I can get those snare hits to come through at the same volume and then that goes into the H comp which is doing about 6 DB of compression again relatively slow attack kind of medium release that’s about 6 to 1 the last thing in the chain is the tweak tech EQ p1a and that’s the majority of the tone of this entire bus and so what I’m doing is actually using that to basically make a huge scoop out of the mids by boosting

0:14:00.1 –>
a huge amount at a hundred Hertz and then another huge amount at 5 kilohertz so what that’s doing is kind of hollowing out the mid-range of this particular bus and really kind of boosting the highs and lows and what I find that that does is it kind of shapes everything around the vocal so you’re kind of leaving this hole in the middle of the mix so that there’s plenty of room left for the vocal but without taking it completely out of everything either because there’s the other bus the dry bus which is not eq’d at all and so what you’re doing is essentially accentuating the drums everywhere that the vocal isn’t which is right in the middle between 100 and 3k so this is the guitar crush group and it starts with the NLS bus and I’m using the mic setting on this on this bus and a little bit of Drive but not too much and then that goes through the h comp now the

0:15:01.2 –>
interesting thing about this is that because this is a post-fader bus as I ride the guitars up and down for the solos this amount of compression changes so when the guitars are at a nominal level there is very very little less than a DB of compression but as I push the fader up for a solo it compresses the entire bus what could be quite a lot 6:7 DB of compression in doing that in pushing up the fader and compressing all of the guitars I’m actually compressing the rhythm guitar and the steel guitar as well when the solo comes in so when the lead guitar plays or when the steel guitar plays I’m compressing the other two instruments as well and controlling their dynamic range a little bit more to make room for the solo to come out and so then it goes from there to the Bleak tech again and it’s very very similar

0:16:00.1 –>
settings to the drums I’m actually boosting lowered down around 3k on the highs on this band to boost that top end of the guitar the bite of the guitar and get that to cut out and then the lows as well to kind of fill in the bottom and again the whole time kind of leaving that mid-range hollowed out to leave plenty of room for the vocal and then at the very end is a 550 a and I’m just making a slight boost at 5k again to compensate for some of that high frequency that’s lost through the compression let’s uh kind of a walk through my set up with with waves and the SSL and I got to hurry up and do soundcheck the band’s gonna be on stage here in a minute so thanks everybody for stopping by and I hope that you know got some useful information you