In this second part of his interview with Rasmus Bom Anderson, The Guv’nor asks Ras to get technical and discuss monitor mixing, the benefits of in-ear monitors and how singers should approach soundchecks.
The Guv’nor: Now, at both the Diamond Head shows I saw, you were very much involved with your own monitor mix. How did you learn how to do that, and how important is it for a singer to learn how to do it?
Ras: Well I take it to a level above what some people would think would be necessary. But at the same time, it can never not be necessary enough! Because regardless of whether I am doing 14 gigs in 14 small, scrappy venues or 14 gigs in 14 huge, gigantic venues, I am still going to need to preserve my voice and maintain it all the way through. And as a singer, if you don’t have a good monitor setup, you will risk overblowing them pipes and pushing too much to hear yourself. So this is why I say: go with in-ear monitors, because then you will know what you get. But the problem there is, sometimes you don’t always have someone with outputs from the desk, or there might not be a mixing desk just for monitors or its only a front of house setup and they might not be able to send you a mono or stereo mix or even a mix at all.
I’ve been through various situations, have had mixes done by other engineers, and it just never, ever, did it for me. So because I work as a producer and because I spend a lot of time in the studio, I know as a singer how singers feel the need to hear the music and feel the need to hear themselves, I know how to set up a good monitor mix for other singers, but also myself. So, for me, I decided I wanted to hear myself in my ears as I would hear myself in the studio. So I have this perfect, pristine vocal sound that cannot be beat and a great sounding monitor mix to support my performance. I am sure that if we were doing a giant stadium and we had a full day to do a sound check and I had a crew that knew exactly what I needed, it would be done in no time and would sound amazing. But most of the time, you don’t really have that unless you have a really big budget and a big road crew.
So for me the DIY method works fine and I know that I’ll have a great sound at every gig and that’s one of the most important things for me personally. What I do, basically, is I bring a Universal Audio Apollo interface with me, because they run in real time without having any latency issues. So no delays on your voice–you actually hear what you are singing, but through some fantastic analog emulated plug-ins. A lot of different companies do this, but Universal Audio seems to be one of the better ones, to my ears, at getting that proper analog sound.
I usually run my wireless mic and anything else that I want to run into my mix through a splitter. I’ll maybe split the guitar mics or bring extra mics and put them on the guitar and bass cab or bass DI [direct input] and get that all into my Apollo Virtual console mixer where I tweak the mix to my liking.
Ideally you want everything in your mix so you can do your own complete mix. But in a quick scenario, like most of the time, I just do guitars, bass, my vocals and maybe another vocal if I need it or a spare vocal for myself in case the wireless breaks, and then just get a stereo mix of the drums sent to my mix. Once its setup its usually just a few tweaks form the previous night’s gig to have a great mix again.
My vocal chain usually consists of an LA-2A compressor last in the chain and I’ll have a Maag EQ at the front of the chain. Then I’ll have a couple of other things maybe a harmonic exiter, but not too much–a nice Lexicon reverb, a slapback or a stereo delay going on top and boom there I have a quick studio sound in the in ears and it is a priceless tool for any singer.
Now the one thing people forget to do sometimes is ambient mics, Because if you have good in-ears, you are actually isolated from the crowd and the band, so a couple of ambient mics are sometimes really helpful. I like that and makes the sound more live.
So that’s the way I run my in-ear mix, which means that every gig I can set it up and I’ll know I have the best mix of my voice at least straight to my in-ears. And I can control it all.
The Guv’nor: What in-ears do you use?
Ras: Well, I did some research, had a chat with various people, and narrowed it down to JH Audio and 64 Audio, where I was lucky enough to get an endorsement deal. They are a fantastic company–so helpful, so easy to work with. I got a 3-D scan of some molds I had done here in the UK and sent them over to them in the US and wham, bam, thank you ma’am, Karl got them in the mail and they were waiting for me right there and I had them ready from day one.
So I highly recommend them. It’s crazy–when I tested them out, I was like, “Holy shit!” The stereo width of them, if you pan all the way from the left to the right, goes so far in the sound stage that it actually almost feels like it’s binaurally behind you. That’s how wide the stereo image can be, so you can get an insane, complex mix with those kind of ears. I mean, I don’t need it because I don’t have a horn section or a string section–we’re straight-up rock and roll, bass, drums and guitars, you know–so it’s pretty simple, but they do the trick for anything.
The Guv’nor: So, explain how you do a soundcheck
Ras: Because I know what it’s like to be a front-of-house engineer, I know what they need at every venue, at least from a vocalist’s point of view. They don’t just need you to go “Check 1, 2, 3. Check 1, 2, 3” or sing a song. Actually, what they need help with is to see where your voice will resonate within the room. So I will do a siren on the mic–I will slowly go “Oooooo” from my lowest to my highest note and find any frequencies that need to get killed, basically.
Most desks these days, especially digital desks, will have a spectrum analyzer that will show you where there are certain peaks either in the room or coming through in general. And that way, the engineer can go “Oh, that frequency at, say 320 or 580 just needs to have a notch on it so it won’t cause feedback” or ring harshly in the room. Because if you’re not on in-ears and you have front-of-house monitors smashing you in the face, then feedback is very likely to happen. But if I’m on in-ears, I don’t have to worry about that and neither does the engineer, because it’s all in my ears and there’s maybe a little bit in the front of the stage in case someone else wants to walk into the middle and they need to hear me or themselves.
So the reason I will do that is to help out the engineer to single out these frequencies. It’s actually what they need for the soundcheck–it might not be what you need, but it’s what they need and if they’re happy, they’ll make you sound great.