PASADENA, CA—Music Mix Mobile (M3) has been on the road with Coldplay this summer, providing remote recording and broadcast mix services for the band at venues both big and small on the U.S. leg of its A Head Full of Dreams tour. Leveraging its fleet of vehicles based out of the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, M3 was able to provide a streamlined workflow to the band’s audio team through a standardized equipment complement that provided consistency to the mix engineer and significantly reduced set-up times.
“We know Coldplay and how they work; we’ve worked with them for years,” says Joel Singer, M3 cofounder and engineer-in-charge. “So the whole point was, how we do this in a simple way that is going to translate down the line?”
The challenge was to deliver the same equipment set-up and workflow at each venue to the Coldplay team, including broadcast music mixer Rik Simpson, the multi-Grammy Award-winning producer, engineer, musician and songwriter who has worked in the studio with the band since 2008; Dan Green, Coldplay’s longtime FOH and studio engineer; and technical guru Tony Smith, the band’s head of audio. The shows ranged from an iHeartRadio broadcast from MetLife Stadium on the tour’s opening night, to a “secret” performance at the tiny Stephen Talkhouse music club on the far eastern end of Long Island for SiriusXM satellite radio, to a concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, that was beamed to China.
M3’s two flagship trucks, Eclipse, based on the east coast, and Horizon, on the west coast, are almost identically equipped with 48-fader Lawo mc²56 consoles, Avid Pro Tools rigs and 5.1 M&K 5.1 monitoring systems. That standardized gear complement allows a mixer such as Simpson to move between trucks with easy familiarity.
“He walks into the truck, it’s set up, it’s operating, it’s exactly as Tony Smith spec’d it,” reports Singer, noting that the console configuration can be carried between trucks on a USB thumb drive. “This is exactly the way we left it in the Hamptons” at the Stephen Talkhouse show, he says, during setup for the Rose Bowl show. “Rik said, save this, it sounds frickin’ great. That’s workflow, to me.”
Having Horizon available, operated by M3 West partners Mark Linnett and Bob Wartinbee, probably cut set-up time by as much as 50 percent. “If we did this from scratch in another truck, that other truck would have to be online two days at least,” says Singer. But in just one equipment set-up day, M3 can run cable, set up additional audience microphones and be ready to hit record with hours to spare.
Also key to the workflow is the network transporting signals from the FOH position to the truck. Using a combination of a DirectOut Technologies (D.O.Tec) M.1K2 16x16 port MADI router and MADI I/O boxes in a rack at the truck end, plus a smaller rack at FOH containing a D.O.Tec Andiamo 2.XT MADI converter with SRC, the audio sources are transported over Reidel RockNet.
“We have four MADI SRCs; we’re getting seven 32-channel, 96k feeds from them,” explains Singer. M3 picks off 190 channels, or three single-mode MADI streams, converts them to 48k and lays those out across the Lawo.
The broadcast music mix and the multitracks that are archived for potential DVD release are recorded at 48 kHz at Simpson’s request, he says. “He said, ‘When we get into editing, there are so many tracks at 96k that I can’t get the Pro Tools machine to keep up.’ He has to do it at 48k so he has twice the resources.”
M3 supplemented the band’s shotgun mics, intended to feed audience and ambience into the in-ear system, at the shows. “Shotguns are very focused. So we choose to use large diaphragms, cardioid pencil condensers, plus a couple of shotguns. We get a blend of 14 mics, so when the audience roars, you hear a roar,” says Singer.
It was not so simple at the Stephen Talkhouse, he continues. The tiny venue, with a capacity of less than 150, has a very low ceiling. “I couldn’t put large microphones up as overheads, so I used Audio-Technica Pro 35 condenser microphones, clipped onto pipes and cables around the room.” Having the M3 West operation is valuable for a number of reasons, says Singer. It allows the company to support shows such as the Coldplay broadcast or the Grammy Award telecast. “If it wasn’t for a truck like this sitting on this coast, we couldn’t do it,” he says.
But Linnett and Wartinbee have other resources at their disposal. “Mark owns some flypack systems; they have a number of different ways to service a client in different economic modes, so it doesn’t have to be the Horizon truck,” Singer comments.
Indeed, the M3 team is up for almost any challenge. Having previously worked with Taylor Swift on a moving subway train, Sheryl Crow flying cross-country on a 777 and Mariah Carey on a boat—“Planes, trains and automobiles,” laughs Singer—they recently handled Nick Jonas’ segment from the Tick Tock Diner, opposite Penn Station, on this year’s MTV VMA telecast.
“Here we are, able to do Coldplay on a thumb drive,” says Singer. “I want to push the envelope, and with Mark and Bob’s help, that is what we want to keep doing.”
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