NEW YORK, NY—As an experienced sound engineer for over 20 years, I’ve worked with all genres and styles, mixing for acts including Scissor Sisters, PJ Harvey, Spiritualized and now 5 Seconds of Summer—who just wrapped a global tour and dropped their latest album last month.
Ben Booker, monitor engineer for 5 Seconds of Summer, sporting his Ultimate Ears UE 11 Pro ear monitors. My work with the band started in 2013, when John Delf, owner of Edge Studios and a good friend of mine, invited me to mix shows for a young, up-and-coming, Australian band fresh off their arena tour with One Direction, called 5 Seconds of Summer. Using the classic Midas XL3, my choice desk back in the analogue days, in place at London’s Islington Academy, and the Ultimate Ears 11 PROs that the band had already been fitted for, I began to look after their mixes. Within a song or two, I became a full-time member of the 5SOS family.
With that comes a lot of touring. While on tour, I use a world-standard DiGiCo SD10 live digital console, an important factor for an international tour visiting different territories. Able to handle a great number of inputs and outputs, the SD10 has macro keys that can be programmed to do any task during a show, including individual talk back to the artist or swapping vocals in mixes as the performers switch sides of the stage. Using multi-band comps on the outputs plus another compressor with a very low 1-1.5 ratio, I gently compress the mix during shows, a technique to glue mixes together.
To create the perfect sound alongside the UE-11 PROs and the SD10 console, I use the clean sound and wide turning range of the Sennheiser’s 2000 series, with 12 channels in two different ranges. Band members Luke, Calum, Ashton and Michael each have two IEM packs, with one in each range, just in case something happens mid-show. Also employed are Sennheiser 3732mk2 receivers with 5200 handhelds using 5235 dynamic capsules. Just as with the tight seal of the in-ear monitors, the 5235 Dynamic capsules are to keep crowd noise out, as a condenser capsule would let too much sound spill in.
Mix-wise, 5SOS is very straightforward. I pan drums, vocals and guitars in the stereo mix to create space, and occasionally delay one side of the stereo guitar by 8ms to create a larger guitar sound. In my past work, I’ve had to EQ the output of in-ear monitor mixes to give a flat sound, but with the UE-11s, I can run outputs completely flat and trust the sound I hear.
Each member of the band and I have relied on our three sets of UE-11s during rehearsals, tours and shows. Utilizing Ultimate Ears’ impressive laser ear-scanning to create the band’s newest pair led to perfectly fitted custom in-ear monitors. A great fit is the most important factor for in-ear monitors because when they fit perfectly, they give a full, solid sound in the ear, as well as form a tight seal, stopping the impressively loud screaming of teenage girls, known to reach 136 decibels.
And to further help with those screaming fans, I have a crowd noise VCA, if required, a FX VCA to kill reverb sound and a vocal VCA, allowing me to turn each member’s vocal up to the remainder of the band, without affecting each member’s own vocal. All of the band’s own vocals pre-fade to their own mix and post fade to everyone else. Useful during sound check, or when the band wants to speak to each other in-between songs, we have several talkbacks located around the stage with push to talk foot switches.
In my 5SOS mixes, I stay away from snapshots and mix the show as we go, making changes as needed. Live sound constantly changes, and it is necessary to listen and pay attention at all time. During performances, I hardly ever look at the console; rather, I look at the band and am sure to give a big thumbs up if Luke, Calum, Ashton or Michael ask for anything.
To allow the audience to hear the great sound that 5SOS does, I always carry my own microphones to keep a consistent sound. Utilizing the same microphone system, mixing desk, console and IEM system from show to show makes all the difference, and in the end, to ensure the best sound quality for each member of 5SOS and their sold-out arenas of screaming fans, I never leave home without my Sennheiser microphones, WSM software or UE 11 PROs.