On the current No Doubt tour, AKG D7 RF mics
are used for background vocals, while the bass
guitar is miked by a Sennheiser MD 421.
Photo by Stephanie Bergmannby Clive Young.
In 2004, it would have been easy to figure No Doubt was going out on a high note. The band wrapped up a quick tour to support a "greatest hits" album, the group announced it was going to take off an undetermined amount of time, and lead singer Gwen Stefani headed off to a multi-platinum solo career. Fast-forward five years, however, and the band is back, touring sold-out amphitheatres across the U.S., complete with an opening act, Paramore, that's been pegged more than once as "the next No Doubt."
In the five years since the last go-round, things have changed at the front-of-house position, too. It's still manned by longtime engineer John Kerns, but these days, the analog mixing rigs of yore are history. "I've traded about 2,000 lbs of weight for five computer screens," he said with a laugh, talking before a show at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, NY.
Tour sound provider Sound Image (Escondido, CA), supplied the audio system for the journey, and could have easily given the production any equipment under the sun--but even when faced with limitless choices, one still has to choose. "There was a conscious decision," said Kerns. "I could have a few XL4s and all the stuff I used for years, but there's a lot to be said for getting incredibly close using just this console, three rack spaces and a DSP key."
The console in question is a Digidesign Venue Profile ("It's pretty cool--even easier than the D-Show to get around on"); within it, Kerns employs a collection of plug-ins that include Crane Song's Phoenix; Digidesign/Trillium Lane Labs' TL Space; TC Electronic's NonLin2; and a slew of plugs from McDSP such as Analog Channel, Channel G, ML4000 and the DE555 de-esser.
"There are some plug-ins out there that I'm using to get a little more analog out," said Kerns. "Sometimes, you do things to emulate what you used to have, but it's the wave of the future. I use the stock Digidesign delays, and there are a fair number of channels where I just use the on-console things--it doesn't take any brain-space out of the DSP, it's easier and it's on the surface. I don't use the plug-ins for the sake of using them."
Not everything is done in the desk, however; adjacent to the console sit an Empirical Labs Distressor, applied to the half-dozen bass guitars used throughout the show, and a Buzz Audio SOC-1.1 used on Stefani's vocal. "I've used that for ages; it's a super-fast optical compressor made by a little New Zealand company," said Kerns, who lives in Australia these days. "Not a lot of people in North America know about them. They do primarily studio stuff, but I also own the compressor and one of their channel strips; it's all really good-sounding and not crazy priced."
Perched on either side of the Profile are a pair of JBL LSR28P studio monitors, as Kerns avoids using headphones when possible: "I tie them into the PA, and since we have a JBL VerTec rig, I use these because they seem to translate well. I have enough horsepower that I can actually hear them during a show or line checks. If I carry a V-Dosc rig, I use L-Acoustic MTD-108s instead, just so it keeps to the same family, tonality-wise. Having monitors around also gives me something to use on the days that I have time to play around with Pro Tools. I record every show, but I've only kept three from the whole tour so far--I just listen to the previous night and then dump it right away."
No Doubt FOH engineer John Kerns, pausing with
his Digidesign Venue Profile desk, joined by
JBL LSR28P studio monitors, during line check.With such an influx of new gear--and five years between tours--is mixing the band an entirely different gig now? "They've changed a bit," Kerns concedes. "There's more sequenced material going on that ties to the visuals on their giant video wall. The pieces have more space as opposed to before, it was 'Go' all the time. Other than that, it's pretty much the same--same musicians, same delay cues on songs we've done before. The only automation I'm doing on the console is mutes; everything else is manual."
"Manual" is the name of the game over in monitorworld, too, where Jon Schimke oversees a Midas XL4, packed to the gills--and then some. "The snake's full and that's 54 lines, so it's in the neighborhood of 50 inputs or so," said Schimke. "That was the biggest challenge early on, because we ran out of holes pretty quickly. Usually I'll do an additional Midas XL3 sidecar when I run out of channels, but we were so close that I crammed it all in there. I've got some stuff coming in the line inputs, so in the middle of songs, I have to press the line inputs in and out to share inputs for similar instruments."
Sitting alongside the console are racks featuring old standbys like an AMS RMX 16 reverb on the drums; an Eventide H3000 and a Yamaha SPX990. Schimke added, "I've got a Lexicon PCM91 that's very Gwen-specific--the previous No Doubt monitor engineer had that setup; she likes it and also likes the TC Electronic D-Two. Her mix is essentially her vocal with a lot of reverb and delay, a little keyboard and a bit of snare drum."
Stefani's vocals are heard through an Audio-Technica 5000 Series wireless with a T6100 handheld, which has been her mic of choice both with the band and throughout her solo tours. The rest of the onstage vocals are captured via AKG D7 mics through RF; other AKG gear on stage include wired mics on toms and wireless C 519s, used capture the trombone and trumpet played by backup musicians. Meanwhile, an Audio-Technica AT4050 and AT4047 grab the guitar, and the bass amp pours into a Sennheiser MD-421.
While No Doubt vanished after only a brief tour in 2004, the current jaunt seems designed to cement its return. Having hit the road in May, the journey won't end until well into August, by which time the band will have played for thousands of fans, young and, ahem, moderately old. Despite the economy, the seats are still packed on the well-priced tour--as witnessed in Wantagh--and perhaps because of the economy, the fans are more than ready to have a good time. "The tour's doing great business," agreed Kerns. "We're seeing a lot of parents coming with their kids--kids are up and jumping during Paramore while their parents sit, and then everybody's up doing the No Doubt thing. It's pretty cool."