How I Mix Big Rock Sound with Polished Pop Vocals on a MacBook Pro While on the Road with Avril Lavigne. By Jason Decter
Greetings! I’ve been a longtime customer of Avid live and studio products. I’ve recently been mixing front of house for Avril Lavigne’s South American/Mexico tour and want to share an inside look at how I mix and the preparation that went into getting this tour up and running. When I got hired on to mix FOH for this tour, Avril and I talked about what she was trying to achieve sonically. Since I come from a background of Pop/Punk mixing, the approach was a bit the same—mix it with a big rock sound but with a polished Pop, up-front vocal. This would be along the line of the band Paramore that I used to mix.
The first thing I did was to spec an Avid Profile for my mixing desk. It’s a great sounding desk with the opportunity via plug-ins to bring various studio
elements to the arena. I have used many digital mixers and have found over the years that the VENUE workflow is my personal favorite. Not trying to start a debate—just stating my personal opinion. Another personal favorite feature of this desk is the ability to multi-track record to Pro Tools with ease. As we were going into rehearsals I brought up the ability to record and review with management, and the verdict was a big “YES!”
A long history
Digidesign/Avid have been a part of my life since I can remember. The first Pro Tools rig I bought back in the day was a Mix Farm system with 16-bit converters. I then ungraded to the 888/24-bit converters and then followed suit with the purchase of an HD 2 Accel system. So when this job came up, I decided to go mobile, and upgrade to a Pro Tools | HD Native Thunderbolt system with Pro Tools HD 11 (let me just say AMAZING). I now have the ability to record and playback 64 channels of HD-quality audio with my MacBook Pro. 2014-09-02_How-I-Mix-Avril-Lavigne-JD-early-studio-shot_604x547 It’s simply amazing that I can show up with a fully functional HD rig in my backpack. It’s a win-win for me since I am always on a plane or tour bus, so being so small and portable is a huge benefit for me. And it goes without saying that the audio quality is hands down second-to-none with great headroom. Some of the new features in Pro Tools 11 software are mind blowing. If you’re not familiar with this latest version, do yourself a favour and download the 30-day free demo.
Putting the show together
We set up and rehearsed for a week at Third Encore in Burbank. The first day of rehearsals was a great day to try everything before everyone arrived. The system was as simple as it comes. The HD Native box has two ports on the back which connect to the two ports of the VENUE HDx Option Card in the Profile System—each port handles 32 channels of audio, for a total of 64 channels of recording and playback. PT launched and recognized the HD interface right away.
I created my 48 tracks, went to the I/O page and visually confirmed that my inputs were sourcing from the VENUE Stage Rack. I armed the tracks, hit the spacebar and was off and running recording HD Files on my laptop without a hiccup. Before Avril even came into rehearsal, the band needed to work out various arrangements and an intro for the show. I recorded these sessions using my new HD Native rig, and Avril’s Musical Director, Steven Falazo, would come into the control room to listen. I would then bounce a stereo mix out that he would email to her for approval. By the time Avril came in everything was worked out, and she started working on the vocals and harmonies. After they would get a song down I would record it, and they would come into the control room to listen. This process was much different than my first tour with Avril, where we had little pre-production time and Falazo worked out all stems at home or in a hotel room by himself. How I Mix Big Rock Sound with Polished Pop Vocals on a MacBook Pro While on the Road with Avril Lavigne After getting the band dialed up, we started working on the FX plug-ins for the show. I am using Sonnox and the Eventide Anthology II Bundle to handle most of the effects, especially reverbs/delays/pitch/etc., along with assorted Waves plug-ins. On one song (Bad Girl), I use SansAmp for a filter distortion vocal effect.
Taking it on the road
When we got to our first show of this South America/Mexico run, I tuned the PA and then broke out my Pro Tools laptop and did a Virtual Soundcheck before the band arrived, just to make sure my mix translated on the system. The playback quality is stellar—totally amazing to me. I would record the every night’s show then use it the next day for my Virtual Soundcheck. Now my guitar player is convinced he doesn’t need to come to sound check anymore. He says, he is in the box—what do I need him for?
On the road with Avril Lavigne
The shows on this tour are going extremely well. We are now on our way Stateside for a tour with the Backstreet Boys. This will bring on all kind of new challenges, as we will be moving from a headlining position into a support or opening slot. This will mean no sound check at all. I will get 10 minutes to work with the PA system and 5 minutes to line check all my inputs. Then the doors open and people come streaming into the venue. The HD Native system will come in very handy to help deal with this short turnover time. As I sit in the airport waiting for my plane, I can’t help but think of my plan of attack for the upcoming tour. How to deliver the same sonic value of the show as it stands now in 15 minutes prep time?!? One thing’s for sure—my Pro Tools | HD Native interface will be a key player in this process.
Jason Decter has worked as a live sound engineer and studio engineer since 1990, touring the world multiple times with bands such as Blink 182, Avril Lavigne, Weezer, David Cook, Paramore, Panic at the Disco, and Plain White T’s. He can be contacted at [email protected] For more information about Avid products and services, please contact [email protected], or visit the website www.avid.com.
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