DiGiCo Satisfies Professionals at Coachella, Belgium’s Ancienne Belgique, Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Meaning of Life’ Tour
DiGiCo is continuing to be trusted by important musical acts and festivals around the world:
Coachella’s 20th Anniversary
Although currently ranked as the globe’s fifth-largest music festival, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — or simply Coachella — remains unparalleled in terms of its prestige and status among Gen Y and Z social media influencers worldwide. For two consecutive three-day weekends in April —both of which sell out in mere hours — 125,000 fashion- and culture-conscious music lovers per day flock to Indio, California’s Empire Polo Club for a huge desert party with more than 160 artists and bands performing on multiple stages throughout the site.
This year marked Coachella’s milestone 20th festival and hosted headlining performances by Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, and Ariana Grande who, at 25 years old, made history as the event’s youngest headliner. With its characteristically diverse lineup—including Janelle Monáe, The 1975, DJ Snake, H.E.R., Weezer, Lizzo, Khalid, Zedd, CHVRCHES, Kid Cudi, Kacey Musgraves, and many more — one thing that remained unchanged was Rat Sound Systems’ continued reliance on DiGiCo SD-Range mixing consoles at nearly all of Coachella’s stages across the festival grounds.
Hired by festival promoter Goldenvoice, as it has been for many years, Rat Sound was in charge of supplying sound reinforcement systems for most of the event, including the seven largest venues — the Coachella Stage, Outdoor Theatre, Gobi, Sahara, Mojave, Yuma, and Sonora — as well as the Guava Theatre, which was a separate activation in the campground area.
With additional console inventory and support from Hayward-based Hi-Tech Audio, Rat Sound deployed a total of eight DiGiCo SD10 desks for FOH and eight SD12 desks for monitors. Two pair of SD10 and SD12 for fast set switchovers were utilized on the two main stages—Coachella and Outdoor—plus a single SD10/SD12 combo on Gobi, Sahara, and Mojave. All of the SD10 consoles were paired with a Waves package, and a total of 14 SD-Racks were deployed throughout. Furthermore, the smaller Yuma stage was supplied with a compact SD11 console.
Like last year, Rat also set up an identical FOH and monitor system comprised of a FOH SD10 with Waves, monitor SD12, and pair of SD-Racks in the Rat Sound production office for audio engineers to create, modify or just confirm their show files prior to their artists’ actual stage times. “We had 38 engineers visit the office, 17 of which programmed on the consoles,” says Rat Sound’s Melody Marie DePree. “The SD10 was in particularly high demand, and several of the engineers spent more than two hours on it. These desks were a big hit and everyone working the festival was appreciative of Matt Larson and Taidus Vallandi from DiGiCo/Group One, as well as Louis Adamo from Hi-Tech; they were all extremely helpful to take the time with everyone.”
DiGiCo took its well-known service and support one step further this year by hosting a pre-festival console training at Rat Sound’s headquarters in Camarillo that was attended by the Rat crewmembers that would be on site in preparation for 2019’s festival. “Our engineers love these trainings,” notes Rat Sound’s Jon Monson. “By the time you add in all of the other various desks that acts carried into Coachella with them—including some new Quantum SD7s and other DiGiCos—we estimate that nearly 75 percent of the festival’s audio this year was mixed on a DiGiCo. So it was great for our guys to have a pre-festival refresher on the SD-Range in order to really be up to speed.”
Bjarne Hemmingson, Rat Sound’s Crew Chief for Coachella’s main stages, echoes his gratitude. “I definitely appreciated the on-site support from DiGiCo,” he says. “And I like the flexibility of incorporating an engineer’s file to work with the festival patching ins and outs, and teaching inexperienced DiGiCo users how to operate the consoles was very easy.”
When asked why Rat Sound has come to regularly standardize on DiGiCo now, DePree sums it up by adding that there are many reasons: “The fact that it’s the first choice on most riders; the sound; the reliability; the manufacturer’s support… basically, all of the above!”
Ancienne Belgique is steeped in musical history and is arguably Brussels’ most important live music venue. A multi-application space spanning several floors and incorporating two live rooms and a recording studio, it is often the first stop on the touring calendar for most international acts, as well as a hotspot for up and coming local bands. Over the last 18 months, the venue has invested in two DiGiCo consoles in a bid to stay as flexible as possible: first, an SD5, which sits at monitor position and most recently, an SD12 which is now the venue’s go-to FOH board.
Ancienne Belgique first opened its doors in 1994 and underwent a massive two-year renovation to create a multi-purpose musical hub. Today, it boasts a superbly kitted out 2,000-capacity main hall; the club, which is a great sounding 280-capacity room dedicated to bands on the circuit as well as the Brussels local scene; and a state-of-the-art recording studio.
“All of our crew are capable of doing everything, and what’s nice is that we are also interchangeable between the main hall and the club,” opens Ancienne Belgique’s technical manager Mark Vrebos. “For example, a rock and roll show might be all-standing and full to the brim, but if we have jazz music we might choose to make it all seated, or half and half. We can also bring the capacity of the main hall down from 2,000 to 800 if needed. It’s basically a very versatile space. Then we have the club, which is a fantastic place for local acts to showcase their talents.”
“We knew we wouldn’t be able to use our good old analog boards forever; we keep them alive, and we still use them because it’s good to have both options. But it was getting more and more difficult, and we didn’t want to wait until it was too late to make a digital investment” Vrebos explains. “Today, we absolutely need digital. Sometimes we’re doing festivals with five bands on stage, all of them doing a soundcheck, so that is not going to work if we’re analog! And the age of engineers is changing too, so we have found the demand for digital is way higher than it used to be at festivals and shows.”
In addition to the sonic quality that comes with a DiGiCo, it was the familiarity of the brand with traveling engineers that drew Ancienne Belgique to opt for them.
“In my experience everyone knows a DiGiCo, so when they see one they’re happy and everyone knows at least the basics of how a DiGiCo works,” reveals Vrebos. “I also really love the analog channel strip feel – the whole ‘top down’ thing. It stays with analogue logic, top to bottom, and that is extremely important to me. And then there’s the flexibility of the consoles – the fact you can do anything on them, and that they’re so fast to navigate.”
The SD12 was chosen for its high power, functionality, and small footprint.
“All DiGiCo desks have that reliability, but the fact that the SD12 is more recent, with newer technology, was very appealing. That was the idea behind investing in it” Vrebos continues. “Also, the new 32-bit preamps are built into the SD12, which are incredible sounding; the noise floor is now so low, and you get a cleaner, better overall sonic, and a way cleaner signal to noise ratio, which is very important. And, of course, the small footprint makes them ideal.”
Ancient Belgique is very important in the Belgian scene, and across Europe: think Paradiso in Amsterdam, or London’s Aventim Apollo. But what is particularly impressive about the place as an organization is its unparalleled commitment to Brussels’s grassroots artists.
“Every year, we try to raise money from the local government to help some of our young bands make an inroad into the music business. That could be putting on a gig, providing a space to rehearse, or offering the use of our recording studio. We also have a full camera system, so we have helped bands with promo videos, too. Basically, we try to adapt to whatever they need” Vrebos concludes. “Artists and engineers really enjoy playing here due to our setup and production managers also love coming here. They know that we have everything they could possibly need and that they’re going to get a great sound thanks to our great PA systems and fantastic sounding consoles. It’s quite rare that a venue like this can guarantee that.”
Meaning of Life With Kelly Clarkson
Although Kelly Clarkson has performed numerous one-offs and festival shows since the launch of her eighth and most recent studio album, 2017’s Meaning of Life, this year’s eagerly anticipated two-month North American trek in support of it marked the artist’s first proper return to the road since 2015’s Piece by Piece tour. For Chris Michaelessi who has served as Clarkson’s FOH engineer since 2011, the availability of the new Quantum engine for DiGiCo’s flagship touring console couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’ve always enjoyed mixing on the SD7 and was really looking forward to having the new, faster and more powerful engine for Kelly’s Meaning of Life tour,” he says, getting his wish fulfilled by CLAIR Global, Clarkson’s longtime touring reinforcement provider. “Once I started the using SD7 Quantum, paired with the new 32-bit Stadius Pre-Amp cards for input, I was immediately struck by how much headroom the console has gained with the new engine,” he says, noting that the difference was immediately noticeable both in terms of overall sound and managing console gain structure.
Quantum’s major increase in processing power has also made his overall setup simpler. “The new preamps definitely have a more musical sound; I found myself using less channel EQ than ever before,” he notes.
When he’s not completely booked up with Clarkson dates, Michaelessi has juggled single shows and even full tours with other high-profile rock and country acts, including Miranda Lambert and Third Day. “In 2017, I worked full time for Miranda and managed to do all of Kelly’s rehearsals and shows, except for a small handful. The two schedules worked out in such a great way; I am sure that was a once-in-a-lifetime year! Since the beginning of 2018, I have been working full time with Kelly.”
In addition to those artists, Michaelessi has done full tours as a system engineer for more pop acts, including Sara Bareilles and worship artists Mercy Me. As such, he’s more than just a console jockey, and understands the intricacies of designing input/output schemes, including the fiber loop capability that became standard with the Quantum upgrade. “On this tour, we’re not sharing input racks,” he describes. “Bob Lewis, who has been at the monitor end of the snake with Kelly since 2017, is also on a SD7 Quantum and we’re each running a separate loop for these shows.”
Lewis reports that his experience with the new kit has been equally rewarding. “The lows, mids, and highs are all very natural and warm with the 32-bit cards and Quantum processing, and that amazing sound quality was immediately noticeable,” he enthuses. “Plus, with 13 band members and multiple guests joining us each night, Quantum’s Nodal Processing has been a great advantage. EQ and compression can often vary significantly from one in-ear mix to the next, and this new feature has made mixing monitors so much easier.”
Michaelessi and Lewis work with an artist who has avoided being pigeonholed in terms of genre for all of her now nearly two-decade career. The original American Idol winner’s catalog covers a lot of ground, including country (two Academy of Country Music awards in 2011 for her duet with Jason Aldean on “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” touring with Reba, and live duets with everyone from Trisha Yearwood to Vince Gil) and rock (a Grammy in 2006 for “Since U Been Gone). She also has buckets of pop hits, including Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” in 2012 when the album Strongertook home the hardware for Best Pop Vocal Album. Stylistically, she may be all over the map, but when it comes to audio, her early-2019 tour was a big pop show with the kind of input needs that have become de rigueur for pop’s top artists. Both FOH and monitor world each had a pair of SD-Racks completely outfitted with the new-for-Quantum 32-bit I/O cards.
“We had all 112 inputs full in the two SD-Racks we had for FOH,” Michaelessi explains. “That number includes all of the standard stuff for the band, plus talkbacks, guest mics, guest inputs and a few of what I call ‘once every third show’ inputs.”
Michaelessi also made use of another popular DiGiCo feature on some of his more crucial channels: “I used DigiTube on about ten inputs. I really like it for its ability to add warmth and a bit a growl.”
The FOH engineer further appreciates the robustness and dependability of the Quantum platform, because he knows—as do those designing future products for DiGiCo—that all of this ever-evolving tech is only important in service of an artist, their music and their fans. When he was recently in Las Vegas for Clarkson’s gig hosting the Billboard Music Awards, no one knew until after the show, but his artist was suffering a full-on, super-painful bout of appendicitis for the entire week, including during rehearsals, a mid-week one-off in Los Angeles, back to Sin City for the Billboard broadcast and then straight into emergency surgery the moment the show was over.
“She’s a total pro,” Michaelessi shares. “And if she’s going to get up there and do, not just a show, but a show that’s broadcast to music fans around the world when she’s in that kind of pain, then the technology that supports her needs to be as tough as she is. Fortunately, with the new SD7 Quantum from DiGiCo, toughness has never been an issue.”