We’ve written a lot of posts on the PSN Blog, but the most popular one ever, hands down, was from 2011: “The ‘Freebird’ of Pro Audio” looked at how every FOH engineer on the planet seems to use either Steely Dan or its singer Donald Fagan’s solo track, “I.G.Y.” to tune a PA. Heck, it was so popular that it was even quoted in the Wikipedia entry for the album "I.G.Y." is from, The Nightfly. After the post, in the comments section, reader Sam Bryant joked, “What does the FOH guy for Steely Dan listen to when they are tweaking their system?” As it turns out, we found out the answer.
Last summer and fall, Steely Dan hit the road on its Mood Swings tour, and you’ll find full coverage of it in our February 2014 issue, covering everything that FOH engineer Mark Dowdle (Elton John, Gloria Estefan, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac) did to make the show sound perfect each night. But naturally, we had to ask what he was using to tune the d&b audiotechnik J-Series PA every night—and here’s his reply:
“I’ve been tuning PAs all over the world with Steely Dan songs for almost 40 years,” said Dowdle with a chuckle, “but I chose not to do that on this gig—you know, just didn’t seem quite like the thing to do! I use a couple of things: Thomas Dolby’s Aliens Ate My Buick—there’s a cut on there called ‘My Brain is Like a Sieve’—and I also use a cut off Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, ‘Lucille.’ That has a great, very natural sounding vocal, and that helps me get the PA close to where I want it.
“But primarily I use a microphone and talk through the PA. Every record’s mixed differently, every cut is going to have a different frequency response, none of them are going to be the same, and to think that they’re going to give you exactly what you need in a specific room? It’s not going to happen—but a microphone’s consistent, it’s going to be the same every time you talk into it, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best way to voice a PA.”
Have a favorite song for tuning or demoing a system? Share it below in the comments!