Courtesy of Greg DeTogne via ProSoundWeb
After a Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, he’s mid-sentence, talking about stage input, when the call drops. I immediately re-dial but land in voice jail. Patience, patience, I’ve done a million of these, we’ll reconnect…
Eight minutes pass before the phone vibrates on the overbridge of my desk, drawing the ire of the chubby orange cat lying next to it. “Yeah, sorry man,” the voice on the other end says. “You started getting a little choppy and then I lost you.”
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “I think we can blame it on New York’s airwaves.”
“No,” he shoots back. “It’s me. I’m the monitor engineer. It’s always my fault, I have to take the blame.”
I’m talking with George Squiers, the person currently orchestrating the mix on stage for this summer’s Hall & Oates tour, which has the talented and prolific duo hitting a wide range of arenas along with Philly brethren Train. Squiers’ counterpart at front of house is Chris Salamone, and the gear used to make it all happen each night arrives courtesy of Firehouse Productions (Red Hook, NY). “I can’t say enough about these guys [at Firehouse],” Salamone says. “Bryan Olson, Chris ‘Radar’ Russo and staff have been amazing!”
The house system is headed by an L-Acoustics rig, with 12 K1s and six K2s per side for the left and right main hangs. Sixteen more K2s go airborne left and right as side hangs, eight KARAs deliver front fill, and 16 KS28 subwoofers in groups of four provide the low end in a cardioid configuration on the floor.
If you’ve heard of Fredericksburg, VA-based Salamone’s Recording Studio and are wondering if the Chris Salamone in this report is one in the same, you indeed guessed right. “I’m a live engineer first, 25-plus years and counting, who turned studio engineer along the way,” he explains. “It’s important to make that distinction as they’re two different skill sets entirely as we know, but there’s lots of crossover in how I approach both.
“Coming from a musician’s background, coupled with studio background, has really helped with shaping musical elements to fit together in a mix,” Salamone continues. “It’s also taught me the importance of subtractive EQ to carve room for all the instruments to live together and have a place in a recording. In live audio, there are not as many rules in putting together a mix because the dynamic range is wide open. The speakers can handle almost anything you throw at them. In the studio, we have to fit all of the elements into small speakers in order to get it to translate across many listening devices. I use these studio principles live in how I approach EQ, compression, level and panning, and it helps give the arena or room I’m mixing in a focus clear to the back of the room.
“This concept hit me years ago in my analog days. I was in one of the worst rooms I’d ever been in and I could not get the band to sound clear through the reflections [of the room]. Yet when I would play program material, the reflections became less apparent making the PA more intelligible. What was the difference? As I studied the reference material, it hit me. It’s the compression and the way it’s being applied that seemed to control the anomalies in the room. This concept of compression, with the combination of physical isolation and manual fader automation, changed it all for me and I’ve never looked back.
“Live audio brings in elements of splash and bleed,” he adds. “In the studio, this can be very cool but in a live situation, it is not welcome and I will go to any length to reduce this by physical means [such as plexiglass] and mix decisions. If I need to go further, I’ll turn to the musicians to aim things, or perform certain parts on a given mic, or just plain perform on-axis of a given mic. Sometimes it’s a matter of asking our monitor engineer, George [Squiers] to duck something in the monitors to reduce bleed and make it more manageable at front of house. I also rely on system tech Alex Fedrizzi to tune and align the PA each day.”
The tour also employs the talents of guitar techs Frank Robbins and Justin Stabler, drum tech Matt Fowler, keyboard tech Pepe Merconchini, PA tech Chuck Wells, and PA and stage tech Jeff Child. “This is very much a group effort out here,” Salamone notes.
A DiGiCo SD10 console working in conjunction with a redundant backup DiGiCo S21 serve Salamone in the house. Both are clocked at 96 kHz. The SD10 feeds a Lake LM44 processor through a pair of AES3 inputs for the left, right, subs, and front fill, while the S21 is also feeding a Lake LM44 through four analog inputs in the same configuration.
On the SD10, he uses a redundant pair of Waves SoundGrid Server One machines teamed with MultiRack SoundGrid through the onboard SD10 Waves port. A MacBook Pro is used to control MultiRack SoundGrid and to record multitrack for Virtual Soundcheck through Tracks Live.
“With this setup,” explains Salamone, “I can patch all of the usual suspects from the Waves Mercury Bundle across individual channels and buses. Additional processing is done with a pair of MacBook Pros going in and out of the SD10 via MADI with a Waves DiGiGrid MGB. Setting these computers up in a native configuration lets me use third-party plugins alongside my Waves plugins and have the best of both worlds. With this kind of flexibility, I can leave my analog processors at home and stay digital from front to back. A couple examples of how this works includes using an Eventide H3000 plug to replace my H3000S box and a Relab Development LX480 to replace my Lexicon 480L.”
All In The Mix
Both Salamone and Squiers stress that maintaining solid working relationships and communicating with the band are vital to their sound. “They literally help me mix the show,” Salamone confides. “Examples of this would be keyboard parts being pushed (level wise) from stage on a given part of a given song from Charlie DeChant and Eliot Lewis, or getting them to change the parameter of a sound that might in turn change the timbre, which most of the time works better than EQ from the console.
“Porter Carroll on percussion changes up how and physically where he plays parts to alleviate bleed into Daryl Hall’s vocal mic. while Shane Theriot switches out guitar amps and speakers to find the voicing that fits for me sonically. Brian Dunne and Klyde Jones’s consistent rhythm section coupled with Daryl’s voice never fail. John Oates is very much on the same page, pointing his amps away from his vocal mic, and from day one he’s encouraged me to do and ask whatever I need of the band. All of these little moves add up to a better mix and help these amazing songs translate.”
“The musicality coming from the Hall and Oates stage is second to none. Finding a way to translate that energy to the listener is challenging and is not as easy as just pulling up the faders on the console. Throwing a bunch of plugins at it is not the answer either. You have to use restraint and care in what you choose to process or not process. I try not to EQ and compress just because I can – every move is somewhat of an educated decision. The best metaphor for the finished result is like applying make-up on a model. Before the make-up, you see plain potential. After applying the make-up – EQ, compression and effects in my case – the features start to pop out and the model and hopefully the mix become extraordinary, with sophistication and sheen.”
There are 50 inputs on stage working with a traditional selection of microphones. Starting in the backline and working toward the front, a Shure Beta 52A [dynamic] is placed outside the kick drum and a Sennheiser e 901 [condenser boundary plate] is inside. Snare top and bottom get a pair of Shure SM57s, while hi-hat and ride utilize AKG C 460 pencil condensers, forming a nice complement for the Shure KSM32 side-address cardioid condenser overheads. The former supplies the desired brightness and the latter brings a darker coloration. An Audix D2 [dynamic] is on rack tom, while Audix D4 dynamics stand in for a pair of floor toms. SM57s once again show themselves for congas and bongos; chimes and toys go with a Shure SM81. Bass DI is a Countryman Type 85, bass mic another SM57.
All guitar amps are… you guessed it, SM57s, and the horn mic is an Audio-Technica ATM350 cardioid condenser. Keyboards are direct with more Countryman Type 85s. Backing vocals are all Miktek PM9 dynamics, while lead vocals are captured with Telefunken M80 dynamics. Everything is hardwired.
“I’m about spatial depth and imaging,” says Squiers about some of the defining characteristics of his mix, which he creates with the aid of a Yamaha RIVAGE PM10 (“it has girth, sonic quality, dynamics”), three racks of Crown Macro-Tech 36×12 amplifiers (“classic old school at its best, and I’m old-ish, so why not?”), and “Big Red,” an imposing rack-bound collection of outboard gear including his own I/O cage as well as Salamone’s, a splitter, Sennheiser 2050 RF transmitters used in conjunction with the custom Jerry Harvey Audio Lola in-ear monitors worn by every band memer except Daryl Hall (more on that in a minute), and two channels of handheld Shure UHF wireless, only for the times Pat Monahan of co-headliner Train drops in for a guest turn.
Hall will not part with his Firehouse 12 wedges. That’s non-negotiable, and right now spans across three different positions on stage – front and center, at his piano, or while he’s on electric keys. “He doesn’t want to wear ears, or a belt pack, none of that,” Squiers relates. “I did wedges for many years before people started shoving things in their heads. It doesn’t bother me. He likes to hear everything. I have a stereo mix in front of him – the outside wedges are left and right, and I pan things accordingly.
“All of the backing vocals are in their spatially correct places. The keyboards are stereo, and I have his vocals on the outside along with his vocal effects. So he has imaging right in front of him, it’s not like some mono mix beaming off his forehead. To alleviate some of the weight on the stereo mix I’ll put kick, snare, and bass guitar in the center wedge. There are three mixes really – left, right, and mono center.”
As for the band members wearing the JH Audio Lola IEMs, Squiers provides vocal prominence for everyone in their own mix, without developing an unhealthy sense of competition. “It seems like everyone sings in this band all the time,” he says. “There are so many harmonies going on in different registers. If I were to try to bring up individual vocals in everyone’s mix, I would wind up creating this volume war. Everyone would be going ‘I can’t hear myself, give me more.’ Each mix needs to be treated as a unique piece of real estate. I can tuck things in a lot nicer that way.
“When I start piling things on top of one another, the mix becomes convoluted, and you start screwing up your EQ as well. Start moving things off of each other, and it’s amazing what you can do with your EQ. The volumes change, there’s less competition. We have two ears, we’re blessed with imaging. You can hear things behind you, to the left, to the right, in front, and anywhere in between with spatial accuracy. Why take away from that experience when you’re onstage? It doesn’t make sense.”
There’s a celebratory vibe to the show, with fans embracing both the expected and unexpected. Those who come out to hear powerhouses like “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “Rich Girl,” and “You Make My Dreams” won’t be disappointed, plus they’ll hear so much more.
“There’s really solid musicianship going on here,” Squiers concludes, sharing a parting thought. “They take the time every day to go through all their parts, triple-check their harmonies, and make sure everything is spot-on and in its place. You’ll hear all the songs, sure, and the nice thing is they stage them for a live environment. You won’t just hear what you heard on the record. Certain parts will be extended, other parts change. The crowd sings along and loves it. They’re more of a rock band live, with a lot of heart and soul.”