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Bringing the house down at a crowded Apollo

Angus Davidson was FOH engineer for New Zealand band Crowded House at the band's recent appearances in London. He's also live sound sales manager for Avid. Here he reveals the secrets of his success from both sides of the console…,

Angus Davidson was FOH engineer for New Zealand band Crowded House at the band’s recent appearances in London (at the HMV Apollo and in Hyde Park at Hard Rock Calling). He’s also a live sound sales manager for Avid. Here, he reveals the secrets of his success from both sides of the console to Paul Watson. PW: How long have you been working with Crowded House?

AD: I started working with Split Enz in 1976; and that was very early days, when they first came over from New Zealand. Neil [Finn] joined the band when he was 17 and I was 17 when I started working with them. I actually auditioned for the band first of all, but didn’t get the gig! Bad luck; is it a family gig then?
Oh yeah, very much so. Paul Jeffery (monitor engineer) has known them for well over 30 years as well. He just bailed out of New Zealand’s biggest production company Oceana Audio to come back on the road – you know, relive his childhood! And Dee McLoughlin (tour manager) has been here for 17 years now. It’s a family which revolves around a guy [Neil Finn] that I think is one of the greatest songwriters of all time; an unbelievable talent. I agree – and what’s the new material like? Is it still as strong?
Unbelievable – it really is. It’s funny – some songwriters get tired and give up; go and live a comfortable life with the wealth they’ve generated, but Neil has the most astonishing work ethic. The other day we did a show and it wasn’t great for a number of reasons, and afterwards he said “The set wasn’t right, I made a big mistake” and he stood there in the dressing room staring at the set after the show when everyone else had gone – and this guy’s been doing this for 35 years! He’s got a massive commitment to the whole process which makes it a joy for us because there’s never laziness; we still soundcheck every show even though we have virtual soundcheck available on the Avid Profile console. So what’s the main advantage in using a Profile?
The plug-ins are the most profound advantage that we’ve got; anyone who says “I’ve still got a favourite valve compressor” well, you’re fooling yourself! All I do now is press recall – that’s it; and it sounds great. The Sony Oxford stuff, the TC stuff – actually all our [Avid] stuff, the Reverb 1 and the Revibe, is brilliant. We’ve also had great reliability; if you’re mixing a show in front of 100,000 people, it’s stressful enough without wondering whether the thing is gonna last the gig. And you record every show to Pro Tools?
Yes, for archiving purposes. I also cut two CDs each night and after the show I take them to Neil and we have a listen. So, your sales role with Avid and your FOH role – how do you have time for both?
Well, David Gibbons, who is VP of the live sound incubator – the growing ‘foetus’ that is Avid Live Sound – he’s a visionary; he really understands that live sound is like a drug to people like me, and as much as I like the challenge of selling the stuff and enjoy teaching people about it, I really missed doing live sound. I saw this tour as a great opportunity for a number of reasons. Firstly to talk to people about their experience with the gear, because they’ll tell me things as an engineer that they won’t tell me as a sales guy; secondly, being able to candidly talk to people about the board. When we did Jools Holland, there were four Profiles on the floor so I got a chance to talk to the operators without them knowing who I was; for me, that’s gold. You’re using Earthworks mics on everything; why do you rate them so highly, and being condensers, how do you manage them all in a live application?
What I love about them is that they’re so unbelievably flat that you can do anything with them; they’re unbelievably tight. I have 28 in total. There’s three DK25s, which are the original three from the drum kit I bought back in 2008 – they’re on guitars at moment; and I bought a whole bunch for this tour – a load of SR30s that are on instruments – hi-hats, kick drum, the Leslie [speaker]; pretty much all except vocals; and I have a pair of the new SR40 mics on the overheads – they’re just divine, with so much space and clarity. I have never found an overhead mic where when a drummer gets really violent with his cymbals they just stay incredibly pristine. There’s no distortion in them, no harshness in the 5-10kHz region, all they do is get louder; they’re remarkable. I have a bunch of DP 25s and 30s which are the drum periscope mics. We’ve got them on all the drums: two of the 25s on top and bottom snare, four DP30s on the toms, then the SR40s on the overheads and an SR30 on the hihats. I also have a pair of SR30s as audience mics. And you believe the SR40V to be the best vocal mic you’ve heard?
Absolutely. I bought six SR40Vs and they are phenomenal. When we evaluated these with every other vocal microphone, although there are other microphones that had great audio characteristics, there was nothing that was as tight as this thing. When you spoke into it there was no colouration and you could hear the transient response; all the intonation and detail in the source was there and that was what I wanted to achieve. People should be able to close their eyes and reach into the mix – pick things out of it. I guess I’m old fashioned; there’s a lot of guys pulling much better sounds than me, but I am about trying to be a little more authentic. So you take a logical and fairly simple approach and use the skills you’ve got to make the sounds you desire? Essentially you’re working from a fresh palette and you add the colour you want to it?
Yeah, exactly – as and when it’s needed. Because they’re so flat, you can do anything you want to with them. People go “Ah, they’re not interesting sounding – they’re dull sounding” and I say “Well I can turn this into whatever mic I want because it’s so flat and it’s so tight.” They’re really that versatile?
Unbelievably versatile, and if I do feel that I need to do things to them, like rip a huge amount of low mid out, then I can do so without screwing up the sound. I took a fairly big risk both for the band and for myself by investing in these mics, but it’s worked out great. What is intriguing as well with the SR40V is that when I put it in the mix it sits there clearly and I don’t have to have a lot of EQ or excessive volume to make it work. It’s funny because I loved using a BSS DPR901 on Neil’s vocal because when he sings quietly he has some harshness around the 300 to 400 range and when he sings louder, like a lot of singers, 3kHz cuts in and it gets nasty. Now I’m using a Massenburg MDW version 3.0 five-band parametric – which for my money is the best sounding EQ on the planet – into two Serato compressors in dynamic EQ mode and then finish it in a DSP 4030 Retro compressor as a traditional peak limiter. You could say for plugins on a vocal is ridiculous, but the Seratos only do a single band of dynamic EQ, so I am using one for the low mid frequency and one for the high mid frequency. I just find that there’s nothing I can’t do inside that console now. It’s not a complicated show; I use 48 channels and a bunch of those are stereo; I have the standard drum and bass channels and don’t need to bother using a bass mic, just a DI because the ashdown bass amp has a fabulous output; I just run it through a DSP R4000 and a Smack! compressor and it sounds gorgeous. I can use the band gain on the 4000 to tweak the bottom end without having to affect the sound much. Your touring PA is a V-DOSC; how is it configured in The Apollo?
Yes – it’s all from [Liverpool’s] Adlib Audio. For the Apollo show we’ve got two hangs of eight V-DOSC and each hang has three boxes of dV-DOSC to cover the downfill. For subs we use the 218s; five each side with four ARCS on top of each. We stacked the ARCS upside down because they’re designed to kick up and if you flick them down then they will kick down, which is what we use them for. And finally, what about the monitoring? Are the band on IEMs?
Paul Jeffery also has a Profile, set up pretty much exactly like mine. He’s got a bunch of d&b wedges on stage with ARCS and 218s for sidefills; Nick [Seymour, bassist] is on Ultimate Ears and Sennheiser packs, so is Matt [Sherrod] on the drums. Mark Hart on the keys is looking at them also but he’s on wedges, so is Neil. Neil will never go to IEMs because he’s a vibe merchant! He likes the volume on stage and being totally surrounded by sound.