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Hello and welcome to the Time Machine

Only published comments... Mar 27 2011, 12:00 AM by Brad Madix
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This month Rush gears up to head out on the road to finish their Time Machine tour. We’ve loaded into a space for a couple of weeks of expensive hotel-dining, evening hockey-viewing, NCAA bracket-busting, and band rehearsals—otherwise known as “preproduction.”


If you’ve poked around the blogs here—and I recommend it—you’ve read wonderful material about how VENUE and Pro Tools work together live. Greg Price’s posts from the Ozzy tour have offered fabulous insight into on-the-road workflow. I’d like to try to emphasize the power of these tools before the tour starts. Loads of valuable work can get done during this time, and the VENUE/Pro Tools combo has tons to offer besides sound checking with cardboard cutouts of the band, as extraordinarily useful as that feature is.


Fundamentally, the VENUE/Pro Tools combination offers an opportunity during preproduction that you won’t have for the rest of the tour—the chance to screw up big time without severe repercussions. Personally, once a tour is up and running, I develop a very healthy aversion to taking major risks. Everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes during a show are magnified, and big mistakes during a show are magnified in a big way. This isn’t to say one shouldn’t try new things—just that one might want to try them when one is alone.


Preproduction is the perfect place for experimentation that you can’t do on a show day. You can try a new mic or you can try several new mics at once. You can ditch the mics and try a DI. You can set up a truly blind listening test on playback and humiliate yourself by picking the cheapest mic as the best sounding. You can feel your sense of self worth restored when everyone else picks it as well. You can try a plug-in you’ve never tried without fear of retribution when it sounds bad and still take credit when the band says it sounds good! The chance to take chances reaches its height in this environment, and you can never do this again, until the next tour.


Furthermore, there’s never a time quite like preproduction to focus on the finer points of the mix. It’s tough putting on a great-sounding show in a hockey rink or convention hall even when it’s well rehearsed and refined. Building that mix from scratch in a preposterously bad sounding environment is orders of magnitude more difficult. You will likely have your hands full making sure the vocal is even audible. In preproduction, you can forget about riding the vocal for a time. Heck, mute the thing! Go work on equalizing the guitar in such a way that you might find a place for the vocal later. Adjust the tom gates. Correctly! When you do get into that echo-dome, you will find your job made easier having properly laid the groundwork.


One other significant thing: preproduction is the one chance you’re going to have to sit down with the artist and listen to things together in a controlled environment. This cannot be overstated. Handing the band a CD is simply not the same thing as being together in a room and affecting the mix in real time. Needling issues that are hard to communicate (“I listened to the CD last night, and the guitar still sounds a little blue and glassy”) are suddenly trivial when you can spin the knobs with the artist in the room. I’ve even watched as an engineer politely told the artist to go ahead and EQ it how he wanted it, and he did! The input wasn’t touched for the rest of the tour! Potentially weeks of grief, frustration, and bickering over some little sound that bugged the poor guy evaporated in a minute with no hard feelings! Don’t play down the power of playback in preproduction!


Over the next several weeks, I’ll cover the time between loading in to preproduction and the end of the first leg of a tour. Specifically, I hope to consider: setting up a room, the console, and Pro Tools to record and play back, including implementing VENUE Link’s features; tracking the band and some tips for monitoring and playback; listening back to audition mics, presets, and plug-ins; listening back to adjust inputs and plug-ins; listening and communicating directly with the artist; building a preset library and using it on other projects; building snapshots for songs and within songs; recall scope and recall safe dos, don’ts, and maybes; taking a near-field mix to the big PA; tracking a show and tweaking it the next day; and getting off and running for the tour.


So wave goodbye to the conductor and disembark the Crazy Train. Step into the Time Machine and let’s go back and explore the weeks leading up to the first call of “house lights, go!”



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About Brad Madix

I grew up playing keyboards and attended Berklee College of Music in the early eighties. I got a chance to tour with the Psychedelic Furs as the keyboard tech and worked my way up (or down?) to FOH guy. I've worked with Rush, Shakira, Jane's Addiction, Jessica Simpson, Rage Against the Machine, Shania Twain, Def Leppard, Marilyn Manson, Queensryche, and Bruce Hornsby.

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