The July, 2015 issue of Pro Sound News features a Live Sound Showcase on the current Volbeat world tour; what follows is a longer, extended version of the story than the print edition.
Volbeat may have been founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, but the heavy metal band’s hard-charging sound has caught on around the globe—a fact proven by its current world tour, which included a run through arenas and theaters across North America that ended last month. Providing audio for the journey was Denmark-based Victory Tour Production, with support from Montreal-based Solotech; at the controls were FOH engineer Mads Mikkelsen and monitor engineer Kristoffer Hinrichsen, joined by systems tech Theis Romme from Victory, and Étienne Lapré and David Barriault of Solotech.
Speaking at the end of the six-week run, Mikkelsen looked back to its start, explaining that after two years of roadwork for the current album, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, things are nearly down to a science, no matter where in the world Volbeat’s playing: “Rehearsal is not something we spend a lot of time on; we built control in Denmark and then we had a three-day production build in the first arena. The band played the set one time and that was it—we have been touring on this album for a long time so everybody knows what to do.”
That’s not to say Volbeat is on autopilot, however. Setlists start with the same song but the group mixes it up, calling audibles on the fly as the mood strikes. “It doesn’t affect me that much,” said Mikkelsen. “Since I do not mix with snapshots, I can easily adjust to a different song.”
That level of comfort comes from knowing both the music and his console well; ever since the band started carrying its own production, Mikkelsen has opted for DiGiCo desks, initially starting out with the D1 (“lovely little footprint with a lot of horsepower”) before moving up to a SD7 for big festival gigs and arena shows, a SD8 on club and theater tours, and a SD9 for B-market fly-in festivals. “But ever since our markets have grown to be the same size, I have chosen the SD10 for my overall desk,” he said, adding pragmatically, “There are plenty of good desks out there, and their sound quality is very good as long as you buy high-end, but there are no desks that allow me to customize my workflow like the DiGiCo stuff. DiGiCo desks never tell me, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ and that is how a professional desk should work.”
Mikkelsen’s SD10 is well-connected, and by necessity: “I am mainly running my desk as a big patchbay to get in and out of Waves—all my dynamic processing, most of my EQ and all of my effects are done in Waves MultiRack SoundGrid.” As a result, MADI port 1 is connected via a DiGiGrid MGB interface to an Apple Macintosh running Waves Tracks Live—used for recording “official bootlegs” and material for virtual soundchecks—and Rational Acoustics’ Smaart v.7 software. Meanwhile, MADI port 2 connects via another MGB to a SoundGrid Server One, used to run Waves plug-ins. Another Mac Mini is outfitted with both SD10 software and 10EaZy sound level measurement software.
Key among the plug-ins is the C6 Multiband Compressor, used variously on the bass and electric guitars, vocal and LR main buss. “I also have some C6 just processing key vocal channels, to sidechain into my main vocal gates, because Volbeat is extremely loud on stage and I need to gate the vocals a bit to get rid of the bleed from the rest of the stage,” he noted. Other Waves plug-ins on hand include MaxxBbass for adding heft to guitars and bass; the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor on drums; Renaissance Reverb on snare; TrueVerb on toms and vocals; and Doubler and H-Delay on vocals, too.
“Then there is InPhase,” he said. “I use that to align the kick trigger with the kick mic, align the top and bottom snare mics, and to widen the stereo image of the guitars. I do not pan the guitars—that way you won’t miss some guitars if you are only listing to one cluster of speakers, but you still get a big ‘wrap around your head’ mix when you are in the center of the venue or sitting between the main and outer hangs—and with those, we always do as a reverse L-R. As a rule, I never pan a mono source—it will be lost for half the audience if I start to pan stuff left or right.”
Getting all that sound to North American audiences was a sizable Meyer Sound Leo and Lyon-based loudspeaker system, comprised of dual front hangs that each sported 12 Leo-Ms over two Lyon-M main and Lyon-W wide-coverage line array loudspeakers. Meanwhile, two-dozen 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements are split between flown and ground-stacked arrays, side hangs each have eight Leo-Ms over two Lyon-W loudspeakers, and front fill is provided by eight M’elodie loudspeakers. Keeping tabs on all that is a Galileo loudspeaker management system with one Galileo 616 and three Galileo Callisto 616 array processors for drive and optimization.
“Since the band is an international artist, we needed an international speaker manufacturer to make sure we get the same quality all over the world,” said Mikkelsen. “The system has been performing fantastic, and I think the way Theis and I designed it for this tour worked very well—it is nice to know that the people in the back, on the side or on the floor get the same kick in the chest and big smile on their faces that I do when the band strikes the first note.”
Even though some band-members use Sennheiser in-ear systems monitors, most of the mixes Hinrichsen creates on his SD10 at stageside are delivered by a plethora of Meyer boxes, including 16 MJF-212A stage monitors, four1100-LFC elements, one 500-HP subwoofer and six JM-1P loudspeakers. The result is, as Mikkelsen put it, “Loud! The center vocal position is around 125 dB, just vocal. I have to work around the fact that there is a lot of noise on stage; that’s actually one of the reasons I like to do a L-R sub configuration under the main hang—so I have as few delay times in the system as possible because I have so many different times coming from guitar speakers, sidefill, wedges and so on.”
The band has been on Audix mics since day one, said Mikkelsen: “We use the OM7 for vocals—it has a very narrow pattern so you have to get in really close, but you can be extremely loud on stage before feedback and that is something we need with this band.” Drums are captured with a D6 on the kick, I5 and D3 on the snare, Micro-D and Adx51 on cymbals, and D2s, D4s and D6s on toms, internally mounted to prevent stage bleed. Guitars and bass come direct out of Palmer PDI03s and a TC Electronic bass amp for the same reason.
All of this adds up to a signature, real-world sound that Mikkelsen aims for at every show. “We are not in a studio,” he said. “This is very much a live band, so I mix it to sound live— but I try very much to make it consistent every night. The fans that come to hear and see Volbeat love rock and roll, and so do I , so I try to make it a big-sounding rock show. I make sure that all the little guitar riffs and lyrics are audible, but I still make sure that the audience is blown away!”