Long-time RAH resident Paul Weller (pictured) broadcast his penultimate performance live over the internet to a worldwide audience spanning the UK, US, Australia and much of Europe with the help of Tim Summerhayes, part owner of Red TX. Weller was promoting his latest studio offering Wake Up The Nation which was released in April 2010.
Summerhayes, who has worked with Weller and his FOH engineer Ange Jones many times previously, most recently at this year's NME Awards at Brixton Academy, mixed the show using a Studer Vista 8 from the Red TX Mobile truck. After over 10 years working from his trusted Euphonix console, he revealed that he recently decided to embrace the digital age.
“I was a real fan of the Euphonix system; we had the analogue console that is digitally controlled, and to me it's the best console in the world,” he says. “However, it was time to move on and the Vista 8 seemed to be the way forward; it's well supported and beautifully built as well as being sonically excellent, so we went for it.”
Summerhayes says that if he'd had the chance to pre-record the concert, he would have spent show day setting start snap points for every song, which he believes is one of the main advantages of using the digital console. Once all of the tricky internal routing is completed, he says the Studer is also very easy to operate and very intuitive.
He went on to explain that setting up to record at the legendary venue was a tried and tested process.
“To prevent sonic interference on stage, Annette Guilfoyle (Weller's monitor engineer) suggested they used XTA active splits for the tour,” says Summerhayes. “This helped a great deal, because all we had to do was patch into an output and no one would feel a thing; it was a totally seamless interface.”
The show was broadcast in stereo and simultaneously recorded onto 96 tracks using two Pyramix multitrack recorders. Summerhayes used 75 inputs in total; 66 for the musicians - which included an eight-piece string section - and nine were dedicated to individual microphones assigned to capture the audience from the venue - a technique he has mastered from working so frequently at The Royal Albert Hall over the years.
“We put two steel cable slings across the whole arena and suspended nine microphones from it,” explains Summerhayes. “Three Sennheiser 416s at the front, two Sennheiser 816s at the back and at the side because they have a tighter polar pattern, and two AKG 414s mounted near the front PA infills which gets you that nice presence on the audience sound.”
Summerhayes says that Jones was having some problems with the string section initially because they weren't going to be screened off exactly as he wanted them to be, so he opted for Schertler contact mics, which provided total separation. He says the sound was compromised because of this, and a bit of lateral thinking from Jones came to the rescue.
“Ange had this idea of putting the Schertlers on and then using standard DPA clip-on mics to generate a bit of sparkle at the high end, which I thought was an interesting concept,” he reveals. “I've used both mics extensively but never together - and I was really impressed; I am definitely going to use that combination in the future because the Schertlers gave a separation and body to the sound of the instruments, and the DPAs just put a little bit of sparkle on the top.”
But it wasn't just a case of 'throwing it to tape'; he also had to create “a reasonable broadcast mix”, and so arranged a two-hour soundcheck with Weller, then managed to knock off a lot of his cues by liaising directly with Jones.
“I sat down in catering with Ange and [Paul] gave me an extensive cue list as to who was singing and who was playing what and that helped me to keep it as clean as possible,” he explains. “We had eight open vocal mics and various people singing at various times - and they all moved about, so it helped me enormously to mute who wasn't in use.”
When mixing a live concert, Summerhayes believes a broadcast engineer always has to be on his toes and must never try to emulate the sound of a record; to him, it's all about giving the artists and audience what they want.
“If I hear the record beforehand, that's good; it gives me an idea on solo levels and you get to know the songs, but I know people who try to emulate a record for a live broadcast and, to be honest, it just sounds like a cheap record,” he explains. “What you've really got to do is portray the live concert. Don't worry about the musical intricacies; just try to get the energy across.”