UNIONDALE, NY—Marking the band’s first extended run across the US and Canada since 2009, Metallica’s WorldWired Tour 2017 is playing stadiums across North America in support of the group’s recent release Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. Along the way, there are a few special events, including a recent stop at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. Pro Sound News caught up with long-time Metallica front-of-house mixmaster “Big Mick” Hughes to discuss the tour and the challenges of working a last-minute arena date into a tour of massive stadiums.
Big Mick—who has manned the front-of-house helm for Metallica since 1984—considers the show at the Nassau Coliseum to be a bit of a curveball. “It’s a one-off amongst a load of stadiums,” he begins, “and it’s in the round. We had to completely reconfigure the PA system. Believe it or not, there’re actually a few more boxes in here than there are for the stadium shows, because you cannot otherwise get the required coverage. It looks like a lot of boxes, and I suppose it actually is a lot of boxes, but you’ve got to cover floor-to-ceiling, and that’s really difficult to do with a line array.”
Difficult—but not impossible. The PA for the WorldWired Tour is a massive Meyer Sound rig provided by VER Tour Sound (Glendale, CA). The stadium system is based around four main hangs, totaling 80 Meyer LEO Linear Line Array Loudspeakers.
“The biggest portion of the audience in stadiums aren’t on the floor; they’re on the sides” continues Hughes, “all down that long way until the PA meets the delays. So the outer hangs are actually bigger than the 18-deep main hangs, and they are higher, to cover the height of the audience seating area. I think we’re at 22 deep on the sides and we could probably be at 24.”
Low end for the PA system is generated by Meyer 1100-LFC (Low Frequency Control) subwoofer elements and Metallica’s new low-frequency weapon, the Meyer VLFC (Very Low Frequency Control). The VLFC—making its global debut on the WorldWired Tour—handles the frequency range from 32 Hz down to 10 Hz.
Stadium shows employ flown arrays of 1100-LFCs as well as two end-fire arrays, each consisting of 21 VLFC cabinets.
“The VLFCs are normally under the stage for the stadium shows,” reveals Big Mick, “which means you haven’t got huge blocks of subs stacking up really high. It’s like a bass canon, really powerful and very impressive. By delaying columns of them, we can make the coverage area wider or more narrow. Most of these football stadiums aren’t that wide, but they’re quite long and you also want propagation in the vertical.
“We use the VLFCs mostly for effects. There’s a surround audio track that we run around the arrays for the song ‘One,’ and an LFE track from that is sent directly to the VLFCs. Then there’s an Akai MPC live sampler that we use for pyro concussion sounds, and the VLFCs produce the explosion sounds. The sampler plays a canon shot, but we also added a bit of a tuned note around 12 cycles. It’s very powerful and you can really feel the air move!” At the Nassau arena show, the VLFCs were ground-stacked three high by four across.
Deployment of the 1100-LFCs at the Nassau show was also different from the stadium configuration. “We normally use the TM (Thomas Mundorf) array,” Mick explains, “which is four columns of ten 1100-LFCs flown above the drummer like a big stick. The boxes are placed as closely together as possible to help the phase-alignment. They radiate the low end like an antenna and provide the same amount of low-end energy everywhere in the room [the TM array functions as a line array in the vertical and a point-source in the horizontal]. But here at Nassau Coliseum, the center of the roof is not substantial enough to support the TM Array, so we’ve got four columns of ten flown in between the eight columns of LEO/LYON.
“At stadium shows, the subs are flown behind the video screens. Originally, we had an 18-deep array with 12 subs behind it—all in front of the screens—but it was an eyesore. When we looked at the tower weights, it was OK for us to move the sub package and literally put it behind the screens, so it just fires through the screens.”
“Big Mick” Hughes, Metallica’s FOH engineer since 1984, mixes the band’s current stadium tour on a Midas XL8 digital console.
Of course, having a PA system that produces audio down to bone-rattling frequencies is only useful when the front-end feeding it can also reach down to those depths. “My Midas XL8 goes down to 8 Hz!” boasts Big Mick. “We measured it because what’s the point of having a speaker that goes down to 10 Hz if the electronics cannot produce those frequencies? We checked the chain to make sure that we had the integrity of the signal and of course we did. I think that for EDM artists, the VLFC will be spectacular because their program material contains those frequencies.”
Hughes’ XL8 handles 94 inputs from the stage (including two drum kits) plus playback. “Almost all of my processing is handled inside the XL8,” says Hughes. “I have a TC Electronic D-Two because I like the sound of it, and a BBE Sonic Maximizer—a throwback from the analog world—that I use across toms. I could probably get the same results by EQing more each tom channel individually if I needed a bit more snap or bottom on a given night, but it’s quicker for me to go for the BBE’s contour controls. The delayed pitch effect for ‘Master Of Puppets’ comes from an old Korg DRV-3000.”
Hughes takes an interesting approach to his kick drum sound, using two microphones, but not in the traditional way. “I use an Audix D6 for the oomph and then I have a flat plate (Shure) 91 that does the ‘tkkk.’ I just bias between the two. I’ve set them up a little bit differently than most people do—I treat them like a crossover. I’ll low-pass the one and high-pass the other. The 91 doesn’t do the low frequencies that the D6 is covering, and I don’t allow the D6 to do the high frequencies that the 91 is handling—so there is no fear of phase problems between the two microphones. It works very well.”
Regarding his successful tenure with the band, Big Mick comments, “I think that if you can gel with the band as an engineer—if you can get the right vibe for how the band should sound—then people will enjoy it. That’s been my approach with Metallica for the past 33 years. I guess it must be working because people keep coming to the shows. I didn’t scare them away!”
Steve La Cerra is the FOH engineer and tour manager for Blue Öyster Cult.
VER Tour Sound