John Cooper on Mixing Bruce Springsteen

John-Cooper Bruce Springsteen

FOH audio engineer John Cooper talks about mixing Brice Spingsteen. He gives detailed information regarding his plugin chains as well as his approach to mixing Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band live during the Wrecking Ball tour. Enjoy the video, below.


0:00:01.7 –>
hi I’m John Cooper and I have the privilege of mixing Bruce Springsteen’s wrecking ball tour and we are in Anaheim California today and we’re currently closing in on I think around 80 shows and looking forward to another pretty busy year coming up in 2013 I started mixing sound in 1975 and I gained a great deal of early experience on multiple different sound systems multiple different consoles in situations where you had fractions of seconds to you know if you got 10 seconds to EQ the bass drum you were very lucky he really had to get fast usually we’re doing this as they were opening doors back in those days says that’s the first act on a bill of three so but yeah way back in 1975 I started getting very interested in music and it

0:01:01.4 –>
bit me like a snake and I’ve never been able to shake the venom so here I still am at 54 years old so this show is full this the avid platform allows for 96 inputs of their pries I have an additional 8 preamps for audience mics so I’ve got a total of 104 preamps employed and there’s a dirt I think there’s two that are being used as talkback channels but the rest are actual inputs and again eight of those are audience mics we have four to stage position and four out here at the front of house position I’ve got the entire plug-in rack all 100 slots loaded and I’d say about 90 of those slots or with waves devices we record every single show out here we do two full multitrack captures out here everything that we do in this world is redundant there’s two of everything there’s two full sets of

0:02:00.5 –>
waves plugins there’s two front-of-house engines there’s two Pro Tools rigs there’s nothing we don’t have a backup system for and most backups we have backups for this show could go off the air certainly possible but it would take so many things failing sign all taneous li to make that happen it’d be it would be against all odds not saying it can’t happen but it would be unlikely you know we’ve got redundancy in the drive system as far as a AES and analog signals being fed both directions by directionally so there’s redundancy built into both of those again I have an A engine that’s mirrored to a B engine which this manufacturer particularly doesn’t build in but we’ve built it in through some creative thinking and I also have a mix coming from a monitor console and a vocal coming from a monitor console as an ultimate third backup if we’ve got into real trouble out here my mix goes everywhere tonight for example my record bus will feed to the press for the first three songs

0:03:01.1 –>
couple beta machines in back also in the Pro Tools environment both Pro Tools systems get tracked with the two-track mix as the last set of tracks on the mix so they’ve got scratch mixes to listen to when they go into the studio well the mix bus is it’s pretty straight ahead it’s a chain I’ve used for a long time I have a q10 as the first device on the master bus that feeds the PA this is the place I can go to grab a frequency if need be I basically wrote my own reset flat program so all the center’s were where I wanted them with with a little tighter bandwidth and what the what the bass preset was and then from there I go to the c6 and generally set it up at the band passes of the sound system so I basically can have a way of compressing each band of the sound system just a tiny little bit before it

0:04:01.8 –>
actually gets to the processing for the sound system this becomes really important when I’m working on other tours where I walk in with a given artist and a pre-show file but it might be a different speaker system every day so I’ll find out how that system is set up and this becomes my main tool as far as how to balance those sound systems in fact I’ve had system engineers look at me very startled when I’ve muted everything in her system except for the mids and dinner on women how did you do that you didn’t touch our crossovers and I said I don’t need to I can do it over here with the c6 and they’re going that’s nuts I said yeah it’s great isn’t it and it’s it’s it’s it served me very well in that application it’s always the final stage before the mix leaves a console my record bus has got a c6 on it and it’s set up completely different than the C sick of driving the mains this one basically just contains the dynamics

0:05:01.5 –>
just a little bit to allow for the recording to sound real and really live and to breathe and and to have all those great things that are you know that you want Millar performance in the audience mics in conjunction with that which are bussed essentially straight through with no processing at all allow for the real sense of live if there’s anything I’ve learned in in the last 10 years it’s you know board tapes that don’t have equal amounts of audience versus band are not very well received they you know they want them to feel as live and loose as they possibly can to the to the point of you know there’s always a fine line of how much audience mic you can use before you wash out a mix on this tour vocal is incredibly important he’s telling a lot of stories here I’ve run the gauntlet of every microphone on the planet and I’m using

0:06:00.4 –>
the same microphone I used in 1978 and that’s an sm58 you know anybody can buy one for $100 you know this is not there’s no there’s no there’s there’s no brain surgery going on here as far as microphones goes this is this is a basic drive and nail with it or sing into it you know it goes through the avid preamp in the end the avid rack and then I process that with the Renaissance eq6 I think it is and then we go to the c64 dynamic equalization and compression and then overall dynamics that channel is done with max volume tip of the engineers hat to my dear friend pooch for saying Cooper you need to be using max volume and the next day I was and from one friend to another he really pointed me in the right direction with this the primary vocal was bust through the l1 limiter just to kind of level it

0:07:00.7 –>
out and that feeds to the PA matrix proper also I do a little sub mixing in the matrix because the guitars are so loud coming off the stage and the show they’re into all the microphones so I have the guitar is actually dimmed down a little bit in the sub mix going to the PA matrix to where I don’t have them dim down going into the recording matrix like I say in between the input handle and the output matrix there’s the l1 compressor and they’re just kind of taking off a little bit at the top just kind of leveling it out managing things that might cause the output bus to clip an extreme extreme vocal input or the microphone getting swung at a wedge or getting slung at someone in the audience I mean oftentimes vocal might get slung like this in a sweeping fashion at the audience and if there’s girls screaming you just never know what the level is going to be and often times that

0:08:02. –>
happened so fast from a vocal part to you know singing not singing not and I am constantly managing the dynamics of that main vocal for tonight when we’re in the Los Angeles area it’s likely we’ll have a guest tonight the but beyond the guest vocal and so that’s when it’s nice that even though that doesn’t get used very often it still is set up exactly as the primary vocal to where it’s got the Renaissance EQ it has the c6 and the max volume so I can marry if there’s two two primary vocalists out there you know I can marry them up to where they’re responding in exactly the same fashion the kick drum for example I use the SSL 4000 module and then and in addition to that I use the Renaissance based module to add a little more low-frequency fundamental to the kick-drum very successful chain it frankly has not

0:09:00.1 –>
been touched in about 75 shows snare top I have a very ridiculous looking c6 patch set up for it and it works amazingly well some can say it looks crazy but it works and then I use max volume on the snare top mic as well which just again gives me a little more containment of the overall dynamics I went through 810 different devices in the waistline and ended up with the Renaissance axe on the cymbal mics you know I’m not one to get caught up in to what this is for guitar now this is just a compressor that might have some algorithms that are tailored for guitar but it might work someplace else so you know I would encourage anyone to try things in unusual locations you’ll be really surprised as to how well they can work we mic the overheads underneath about four inches from the cymbals so

0:10:00.9 –>
there’s a lot SPL hitting those mics there’s there’s tracks running from a previous performance you can see how much dynamic range is being contained there I mean it’s really getting crushed you know max volumes been a huge asset for me I use that on the toms we have a situation where there’s some songs where he’s playing brushes there’s some songs that he actually mutes the head with a towel and things like that so one song he’s playing very softly in the next one it’s just thunderous pounding that you have to control as well being able to gate this stuff is just not it within real reality you know so I might be able to close it down a couple of DV with with the gating function in max volume but that’s a very subtle gate that opens and closes very smoothly so you don’t hear it a hi-hat gets a renaissance ax of course anything is cut brass in it gets a renaissance ax and I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on with

0:11:01.1 –>
Renaissance acts but once you start crushing an input with it that input just comes to life it’s discoverable in the mix at that point main acoustic guitar compressor of choice is always an la-2a or CLA to a it’s a real warm compressor and and works nicely with the dynamics produced by an acoustic instrument generally in front of that is the vq4 in this case that’s generally my acoustic chain all these dynamics device particularly the vintage ones the modeling and it’s interesting it’s so accurate that it’s just like the problem I used to be faced with in the old days where if I employed 10 1176 is there was too much hissing noise because there was just the way those devices work you can get away with one or two of them but you can’t get away with 10 or 12 of them in a mix and interestingly enough the modeling so accurate with the wave stuff that if you’re going to run 10 la twos or CLA

0:12:00.6 –>
2’s you’re going to have to put them take them out of analog mode because they’re going to tell on you you know but they debt but they’re doing what they’re supposed to do that’s exactly what those devices used to do so that’s that’s the main reason that I’m a big proponent of the waves line it’s just they’ve just been very accurate on the modeling v3 lows of CLA to a very straightforward there be three high Renaissance acts on the top rotors in stereo and that Leslie sits in an ISO box so it’s a pretty clean source so that’s very nice accordions well of course we use the max volume on the accordions because what stadium rock show would be complete without four accordions the dynamic range of an accordion startlingly wide and this is a great device to bring some of the lower register stuff up and contain some of the higher SPL information that this tends to occur when you’re trying to

0:13:00.3 –>
localize or locally micro a device like an accordion of course our accordion is miked with two mics and it’s also Wireless so he could be in front of any number of things while he’s trying to play so it’s a great asset we move on to piano well guys there’s another Renaissance axe at work and as you can see it’s pretty well murder in net piano right now at about 90 be a gain reduction and it sounds fantastic you don’t even mean it doesn’t have any sound at all you don’t even know it’s there that’s the whole idea behind all this dynamic work is so nobody realizes anything’s going on we haven’t had a review yet this year that’s mentioned sound so that’s where you want to be you want to be in the background so the artists music gets delivered to the artists public and they don’t talk about audio and speaker systems and sound they say man that was a great show that’s what all this work is all about electric guitars well of

0:14:00.2 –>
course we’re back to Renaissance acts again and that’s the same for all my electric guitars we’ve moved to the horn section then and you know there’s a lot of Renaissance channel at work here because I wanted to have the ability to do a little bit of downward expansion and a little bit of compression at the same time plus I was running out of plug-in slots so that’s how we ended up there all the horns are processed in a similar manner it just slightly differently cues some with not much EQ at all there might be a little EQ on the input side but not on the plug-in side we’ve got percussion and again one of my best friends has become the max volume there it allows me to really I mean it’s tough to get congas and bongos in against three blazing guitars let’s go back up to background vocals and I think we’ll see a lot of renaissance channels employed here a little bit of subtle

0:15:02.6 –>
downward expansion and a little bit of you know 3 to 6 DB of gain reduction typically off the off the top and I’m about 6 to 1 on the ratio on the compression so it’s you know this is this is one of our background vocalist who is that tremendously strong singer and you can see it’s going into 3 to 6 DB gain reduction at any given time when she’s singing or Curtis or any one of the background vocalists are all extremely strong singers and know how to use a microphone and therefore give me a lot of dynamic dynamic range to work with I have a primary vocal reverb I have a primary vocal delay I have a background vocal verb I have a horn verb I have one I simply call space that is just open-air four or five second tail on a tambourine if I wanted or something like

0:16:01.7 –>
that and then I have drum one which is typically used for snare and then I have drum two which is typically used for toms the the H delay looks so reminiscent of my tape echos that I used when I was a much younger man that’s why I like them you know and that’s the request I get oftentimes from the stage on this tour is what’s the slap on it well he doesn’t want anything it doesn’t say it needs to sound like tape slap and that sounds like tape slap I mean most people look at me sometimes say you get your eyes closed I said yeah my eyes will lie to my ears I I don’t let my ears be fooled by what they what my eyes see in fact I’ll oftentimes if we’re making a decision on a particular thing with with low end in a room I said okay I’m going to close my eyes you bump it back and forth 20 times fast so I don’t know where it is now push it slowly and

0:17:00.5 –>
let me decide which one I like better and then so I say okay that’s the one I like and then he’ll tell me where it’s at virtual soundcheck is absolutely a paramount of paramount importance to me virtual soundcheck allows me to identify an input that’s been a problem the night before if we’ve had one it also allows me to sit and fine-tune an experiment with ten different waves plugins on one channel to find out what the best one is so I can spend a lot of time on a particular channel so it an invaluable tool and I can’t imagine not having it my main focus when I’m mixing is to forget about all the electronics and be involved to submerse myself into the music if I’m thinking about EQ during the show that I haven’t done something during the day that I should have done I mean I want to be sitting here grinning from ear to ear like like the people on stage are and enjoying it that much

0:18:01 –>
that’s the whole reason I got into this and in and I and I know that if I feel that good about it that it usually translates pretty well to the majority of the audience you know cuz I know my guys they’re putting the system in the room every day or doing a great job and making sure this the sound system responds uniformly throughout the environment that we’re working in the tip with although all the waves plugins is use them to contain the dynamics or do the process that you need for them to do but don’t let the listener have a sense of anything’s being done that’s the key to using dynamics the only thing that should come to their mind is man this is this is the most amazing piece of music I’ve ever heard you know this is the most powerful performance I’ve ever experienced it would appear that I put a lot of science into the end of the project here but I consider myself the art department you know and the science

0:19:01.7 –>
department starts somewhere back there behind me I I get to be intimately involved in the music which is really my goal that’s the great thing about the tools with with waves and in automated consoles and things we get to do now people would contend that you have been taken out of the mixing because of all the electronics and all the tools and I contend it’s just the opposite you don’t spend the last 30 seconds of a given song thinking about the first 30 seconds of the next song you can do that with the push of the switch as far as status in of a particular song fader levels and that sort of thing so it’s it really allows you to get back to mixing them.

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