Kid Rock belts nightly in a Shure SM58 on UR4D wireless.When Heraclitus said, “The only constant is change,” odds are that he wasn’t thinking about Kid Rock. The chameleonlike performer embodies the truism though—Rock may have made his name rapping over a metal band, but catch one of his shows today and you’ll find him backed by 11 multiinstrumentalists who play everything from Southern Rock to Country to Gospel to Bluegrass to you-name-it. Probably the only music they don’t play are tunes Heraclitus would’ve gotten down to back in 535 B.C.
While Kid Rock (aka Bob Ritchie) puts on quite a show, he also puts on quite a lot of them; his Born Free tour kicked off January 11 and wraps up this month. Tackling sound along the way is audio provider Sound Image (Escondido, CA) and engineer Steve Cross, who’s manned the FOH post for the last four years.
That first show back in January was no piece-of-cake, warmup gig either—Kid and Company jumped in feet first with a Birthday Bash show before a sold-out crowd of 40,000 people at Detroit’s Ford Field stadium. “It was a new crew, new sound company, new sound system—a lot of unknowns coming into the first show,” recalled Cross. “He wanted an extended soundcheck before the show, but it all came off without a hitch—it was beautiful.”
As for the PA itself, Cross has no complaints: “The K1s are very nice and extremely repeatable. The variety of venues that we play is all over the map, but once it’s up and time-aligned, it sounds like it did yesterday. It doesn’t have a particular sound to it; it’s just a very neutral, natural-sounding PA and you can get out of it almost anything you want to. Like at the show at Ford Field—it’s a domed football stadium, and I’m told shows just do not sound good in that building. We had a tremendous amount of K1 in there, and it sounded like an nearfield monitor to me; the room was no issue at all.”
A typical stop on the tour finds the stage flanked by hangs of a dozen K1s with three dV-Dosc beneath for underfill. Next to each hang are eight flown K1-SB subs, and beyond that are hangs of six Kudo boxes, aimed to hit the far edges of the audience. Augmenting all that from below are four SB28 frontfill subs on the ground. “We tune the PA so that everything is coming out of the air from the main hang, and we just bring on the floor subs enough to feel them in the front few rows,” said Cross.
The typical Kid Rock show runs two hours in order to fit in all those different genres, and with 11 musicians onstage, Cross spends his time at FOH behind an Avid Venue Profile mixing 80 inputs. “I’ve probably got 120 songs worth of snapshots in there—it becomes very necessary because there’s so much to keep track of. For instance, if the percussion isn’t being played in this song, that’s 12 inputs I can turn off or fade down so that I can just keep the mix clean. Layering becomes really important with that many inputs. You have to keep everything moved out of everybody’s way in the spectrum, and it’s easier to do it all in snapshots.”
FOH engineer Steve Cross (left) and crew chief/systems engineer John Tompkins, with L-Acoustics K1 (left), K1-SB (center) and Kudo (right) hangs.Most of the plug-ins on hand are standard issue from Avid, such as ReVibe (“It’s a great reverb; I use that for everything”) and the Digi- Rack Mod Delay, but then there’s a few musts, such as the Crane Song Phoenix. “I’m a big fan; I use it a whole lot, probably more than I should,” laughed Cross. “It has a nice way of pulling something forward in a mix without turning it up, if I want something to be a little more present but I can’t afford to give up any gain for it and block something else.”
A typical Kid Rock show doesn’t rely much on effect plug-ins other than vocal delays, with Rock getting most of what he wants out of the band. “I don’t have to create a lot out front,” Cross noted. “There’s one or two reverb burst effects that are over the top and a bunch of vocal delays, but effect-wise, it’s pretty low-maintenance.”
Miking the musical mélange on stage are a slew of Shure microphones, ranging from wireless SM58s for vocals to KSM32s on guitars to SM98 and 57s on drums, aided by AKG 414s for overheads and an Audix D6 on the kick drum. A pair of Shure wireless packs are also used to send sound from a keyboard inside a grand piano shell. Cross noted that a 12-volt car battery also sits inside the shell, on hand to power the packs and keyboard: “We always joke about getting jumper cables out to start the piano.”
The most exciting microphone news coming out of the Kid Rock camp, however, is that the tour spent the summer with Shure’s highly anticipated Axient wireless microphone system on hand—but at press time, it hadn’t been used during a show yet.
“We plug it in everyday and play with it,” said Cross. “It looks amazing, sounds completely transparent at line check. Shure sent a guy out who talked us through it all, set it up and it really does look bulletproof. It looks like you just cannot fail with this thing, but I cannot say that I’ve put it in a show yet, so I don’t know. Bob uses a chromed microphone, but the rechargeable battery shell on the Axient is plastic and they haven’t figured out a way to chrome that plastic yet—so at show time, we can’t hand him this mic yet.”
With so many musicians on hand, one might expect Rock to perform his albums note-for-note every night, but as Cross knows well, that’s just not the case: “We start out trying to recreate the newest album as close as we can, but Kid Rock, he’s constantly retooling songs. By the end of the tour, the song is rearranged, instrumentation has changed, tones have become something different. He’s involved! He listens to board tapes every single night and, you know, he’s as much a part of mixing the show as I am. I guess most musicians I’ve worked with are just not that hands on— it either sounds good or it sounds bad to them—but he gets interested in the little details and ‘Can we do this with this?’ He is all in, which is nice.”
Sound Image (Escondido, CA)
Crew Chief / Systems Engineer:
Vince Luchetta, Mike Bangs
Avid Venue Profile
Avid Venue Profile
L-Acoustics K1, K1-SB, Kudo, SB-28, dV-Dosc
Marshall MA2x12; Sound Image PD1x15; JBL VerTec VT4889, VT4880; L-Acoustics dV sub
Shure PSM 900
Crown I-Tech HD12000
Crane Song Phoenix; McDSP MC200
AKG 414; Audio-Technica AT 2500, 835; Audix D6, SCX1; Beyer M88; Sennheiser 902, 904, 602; Shure Beta52, Beta57A, B91, B98, KSM32, SM57, SM58, SM81, UR4D