Trey Smith, FOH engineer for Sara Bareilles, mixed the singer/songwriter’s Little Black Dress tour on a Midas XL-4—a change of pace from the Pro9 he’d used for her shows over the last few years. NEW YORK, NY—Bringing a solid dose of traditional pop smarts to the singer/songwriter genre, Sara Bareilles has made a name for herself over the last few years, and with good reason. Since kicking things off with her 2007 hit, “Love Song,” Bareilles’ career has only grown stronger, as shown by her most recent album, 2013’s The Blessed Unrest, which debuted at number two on the Billboard album chart. Supporting the album after its release, the songstress’s touring cycle hit its highpoint with last summer’s U.S. leg—a 24-city jaunt dubbed The Little Black Dress Tour—which was her highest-profile headlining effort yet.
“This tour has definitely taken it up a couple of steps as far as venue sizes and production go; for instance, this is the first time she’s carried video elements and PA,” said her longtime FOH engineer, Trey Smith, speaking inside The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Carrying an audio system provided by Spectrum Sound (Nashville, TN), the production was Bareilles’ most modern yet, but at its heart was an FOH position that was a surprising throwback.
“I’ve been working with Sara since 2008,” said Smith, “and the last few years, we’ve had a Midas Pro9 console at FOH. This tour, I decided to take out an analog desk and go that route; I chose a Midas XL-4.” Smith relished the opportunity to go old school, noting that “you can’t always do this nowadays because of tours becoming more complex. Due to large amount of inputs coming off the stage, it’s tough to fit everything on an analog board.”
The decision wasn’t made for novelty’s sake, of course. “Her music is really fitting for the analog sound,” he said. “Going from digital to analog has been a welcomed change, adding some nice mixing benefits. Unlike digital, you can actually feel the vchanges made while making EQ or fader adjustments, for example.”
Nonetheless, going analog meant giving up some conveniences as well: “I don’t have snapshots for songs like I used to. On the Pro9, I utilized the console automation to provide starting points for each song, as well as large changes during the show; they were basic fader moves and different mutes for inputs I wasn’t using on a specific song. Now that I’m on analog, I don’t have that, so I have to adjust on the fly—for instance, we’ll go from a ballad to something where I need a completely different mix with the drums and the different instruments on stage. It keeps me on my toes where I’m really busy out there and I don’t have the luxury to just hit ‘Next,’ but it’s been a fun experience to do more mixing again.”
For the Blessed Unrest touring cycle, Bareilles’ band was bulked up, seeing the addition of female multi-instrumentalists who provided backing vocals as well as cello, violin and keys. “It’s been really cool,” said Smith, “because on the albums, Sara does a lot of her own background [vocal] layering. In the past, it’s only been guys singing up there and they’ve done great, but it’s a different sound with girls now. It’s nice to have their voices and the strings to fill out the sound and bring back some more elements of the album.”
Those backing vocals were captured on Shure Beta 57As, and as a Shure-endorsed artist, there were plenty more of the company’s microphones on the stage. “She’s always used Shure,” said Smith. “Sara started off on an SM58. Then for a while there, we were on the Beta 57A; it sounded nice on her vocal, but we eventually went to the KSM9 and I love it for front of house. It’s the original KSM9 capsule, set on the super-cardioid pattern, which helps eliminate a lot of the stage noise while still capturing her vocal. The KSM9 is very smooth on Sara’s vocal, and adds a perfect amount of brilliance and warmth to her voice.”
Guitars were captured with an SM57 on the pedal steel guitar amp and KSM313/NE ribbon mics on the guitar cabinets. Over at the drums, a 57 and a KSM313 miked the snare top and bottom, respectively, while a Beta 91A half-cardioid condenser mic was used inside the kick drum. The hihat and under-heads for the ride and crash cymbals were grabbed by Beta 181 ultra-compact, side-address condenser mics. Elsewhere on the drums, a Beyerdynamic M88 could be found on the kick, and a Sennheiser MD 421 on the tom. Meanwhile, DPA d:vote 4099 mics captured the strings, and Radial J48 DIs were used for bass, keys and other instruments.
The Shure presence continued in monitorworld, where monitor engineer Wesley Crowe used a DiGiCo SD10 console to send mixes to Shure PSM 1000 and PSM 900 personal monitors worn by the band and techs. Bareilles sported Ultimate Ears UE 18 ear buds, while the guitar, keys, bass and violin players chose UE 11s, the cellist went with JH Audio ear buds and the drummer supplied his own Westones. In addition to her in-ears, Bareilles herself also had two d&b audiotechnik M4 wedges in case of emergency—one at the piano and one at her standing position.
The audience, too, got an earful of d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers nightly, as the tour carried a V-Series PA built around left and right hangs of V12s and V8s with V-Subs flown next to the PA and a dozen J-Subs on the ground in a sub arc formation across the front of the stage, providing even low-end distribution. Powering it all were new d&b D80s amplifiers.
While the tour is over, Bareilles has remained as busy as ever, and soon her fans will get the chance to experience her music live in a new context outside the concert venue, as she’s continuing work on a stage musical adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, Waitress, which expected to premiere at the American Repertory Theater in 2015-16.