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Bell & Williams: mixing Tinie Tempah

Nikoma Bell and Rafael Williams mix FOH and MON respectively for Tinie Tempah. Paul Watson catches up with both engineers during the Brighton leg of Tempah's current headline UK tour to see what's going on behind the consoles...

Nikoma Bell and Rafael Williams (pictured) mix FOH and MON respectively for double Brit Award-winning sensation Tinie Tempah. After just a year on the scene, Tempah has flourished, opening for huge international artists including Usher, Pharrell, and Rhianna, and is now on a headline UK tour. Paul Watson caught up with the two engineers – who are also cousins – at The Dome in Brighton to find out what’s going on behind the consoles… You’re both mixing on Soundcraft Vi6s… NB: Yes. I do a MADI multitrack recording of all the channels every night so that I can do a virtual soundcheck the next day just to get the system set up as I want it; then when the band gets here it’s just a case of fine tuning it. RW: The Vi6 is so warm; and it sends just what you’re giving it – it’s that simple. Eventually I will need to get a separate pre or compressor as Tinie likes the mic quite hot, but everything at the moment comes from inside the console, and it sounds great. So you need a fair bit of headroom for this kind of show? RW: Yeah definitely – and we’ve always used Sennheiser microphones. We used to use the G3s, but when we expanded to the USA we decided to move to the 2000 Series – not to change the sound, but because it offers a wider frequency band, which obviously makes a big difference. Is the Sennheiser tone the stand-out point for you then? RW: It’s the tone, the headroom, and just the sheer quality really. They have a real warmth about them, and Tinie’s material requires real clarity, which we can easily get using these mics. Other manufacturers seem to sound tinny in comparison. Tinie often cups the microphone too – and that doesn’t help anybody! [Laughs] But we’re OK with that, because we’re using Sennheiser. NB: I put his vocal through an Avalon 737 and a distressor at FOH because he shouts; he’s got a very powerful voice. It’s the only compressor that gets the right results. The band is very loud and it’s a very loud show in general; and people are amazed that I still manage to get so much headroom. The diaphragms on other mics just don’t move as well as they do in the Sennheiser mics; and the way I have it EQd, you can’t even tell when he has got it cupped and when he hasn’t; it’s a great microphone. I see he uses a very ‘blinged’ Model…! RW: [Laughs] Yeah, he loves the fact that his mic is customised. I gave him his spare the other day in soundcheck and he was all ‘where’s my mic?’ and I said ‘this is your mic’ but he wouldn’t have it even in soundcheck without the bling! He’s also got blinged IEMs! I haven’t seen that done before…does he wear both in at once? RW: He does now, yeah. At festivals he didn’t used to feel that he could connect with the audience so he’d often drop one out, so now we make sure we put up enough ambient mics on the stage so we can get some of the atmosphere of the show into the ears; and he really loves wearing his ears now. You say it’s a loud stage – do you use the IEMs to keep the noise levels down, or more for adding clarity to the individual monitor mixes? RW: Both really; clarity and noise reduction. The ears give that definition and direction and eliminate injury to others. If you want to deafen yourself that’s your choice! Then we have sidefills which create weight on stage and subs on the keys, the DJ, and the drums. What’s your touring PA system? NB: SSE has provided us with a VDOSC system for this tour; you just know a VDOSC will sound good. We haven’t soundchecked yet and as it’s quite a small venue it can be tricky getting it loud enough so the energy is still there but the crowd aren’t being killed by the noise; but that’s part of the challenge.