Toby Francis manning Ariana Grande’s mix on one of her tour’s two DiGiCo SD7 desks.
Los Angeles, CA (October 2, 2015)—Toby Francis may be best known for mixing hard rock acts like Kiss, Aerosmith and ZZ Top, but the versatile FOH engineer can’t be tied down to one musical style. Take the current 88-date Ariana Grande world tour; you’ll find him nightly mixing the pop spectacle behind the DiGiCo SD7 console supplied by the production’s audio vendor, VER Tour Sound.
Francis switched from his typically preferred SD10 desk to the SD7 in order to better accommodate the show’s 90-input channel count. “It’s a blend of track and live inputs, with the emphasis on live inputs,” he says, including multiple keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and a small string section. “The only thing that is obviously track is her background vocals. She did all of the backgrounds on the record, so the only way to make it sound right was to continue that.”
The SD7’s snapshot capabilities are pressed into service: “It’s pop, so the levels are pretty drastically different from song to song. On a lot of the songs, there’s an intro section, then into the regular song, so I use at least one snapshot to set up each song. A couple of the songs have more than one,” he says.
The DiGiCo’s multiband dynamic equalizers and compressors are also essential to his mix, says Francis, who groups drums, bass, keyboards and other instruments separately. “I take all of those groups into yet another group of all the music and create a separate path that’s all of the vocals. I treat the two paths completely separately, then I combine them into the Meyer Sound LEO/LYON PA system.”
He continues, “I use a lot of layers of compression. I use the Waves C6 on Ari’s vocal, then go into a group with the onboard three-band compressor and take her vocal and the background vocals and compress them together there. It sounds so polished. My daughter came to a recent show and I put her in the front row. She was showing me videos she had made and the sound was crystal clear.”
Monitor engineer Justin Hoffmann also uses an SD7 for the show, and the two engineers share one large rack. “We call it our ‘execution rack.’ It has two DiGiCo SD-Racks, a MADI converter and word clock distribution to all of the external digital devices,” Francis elaborates. “It’s also got all of the wireless receivers and ear transmitters, all hardwired. The stage rolls at about two o’clock, the monitor console rolls under the stage and the rack rolls in. The cabling is pre-laid when they build the stage so we’re literally checking things ten minutes after the stage rolls.”
Tracks from two Pro Tools computers pass via Antelope Audio interfaces into a D.O.TEC MADI switcher that selects machine A or B and sends it to an Optocore converter. “That shows up like a stage rack,” explains Francis. “Of everything we tried, that was sonically the best way to do it, and it gave both front-of-house and monitors the most versatility.” The system also enables timecode distribution for the show’s video, lighting and laser automation.
He adds, “We don’t use a splitter, which is a huge sonic advantage. By eliminating a splitter, you keep your impedances as pure as possible. By having the SD-Rack at the stage, you cut your copper link to 100 feet or less on every input. Then the sonic advantage of the console really itself takes it to a whole new level.”
VER Tour Sound