DiGiCo Consoles Boost Concert Sound for The Smashing Pumpkins, Iron Maiden

Front of House engineer Jon Lemon’s initial association with The Smashing Pumpkins stretches back almost 20 years to 1995, when the US alternative rock band first really made its mark. His use of DiGiCo consoles with them starts just over a decade later, when he took a D5 Live – a desk he had been using since DiGiCo first launched it in 2002 – on their 2006/07 world tour.

DiGiCoFor their current tour, which started in April and runs until mid August, Lemon has opted for the UK console manufacturer’s current flagship model, the SD7, supplied, along with the rest of the PA system, by audio rental company Eighth Day Sound.

“The D5 Live came out in 2002 – I had one of the prototypes,” says Lemon. “I’ve always used DiGiCo consoles. For me, they are the best sounding of the digital desks and the SD range is very reliable.”

Promoting their new album, Oceania, the Pumpkin’s current tour has taken in a large number of festivals, starting in the US during the spring, travelling through Europe – including the UK’s iconic Glastonbury Festival – and finishing in the Far East with Summer Sonic in Japan and Good Vibes in Kuala Lumpur. The schedule has been challenging for both the crew and kit and reducing the amount of equipment required, by utilizing a console that delivers almost everything Jon needs without the need for much outboard, has been a definite advantage.

“I’ve used just about every one of DiGiCo’s SD consoles now,” he says. “When the SD8 came out, I used that because it’s a smaller, lighter package and we were flying around a lot and we didn’t necessarily want to fly an SD7. Then, when the SD10 came out, I used that for a while. But the SD7 is my personal favorite.”

Being able to integrate Waves software within the SD Range came as something of a revelation to Lemon.

“When it first came out, DiGiCo sent an SD10 to my house in Chicago with a brand new Waves Soundgrid so I could get to know it,” he recalls. “I had started working with a band called The Fray and I had some multitracks of their songs. It was pretty interesting being able to set up and mix, just with the console at home and a set of monitors. So I decided not to use any outboard at all and simply use the onboard DiGiCo compressors, gates and dynamic EQ in conjunction with Waves plugins.

At that point a light went on in my head. The way gigs and tours work now, we do a lot more fly dates, so I knew I needed to jump on board with this and get away from the analogue outboard racks that I’d always taken with me.” , this can save production a lot of money in freight costs.

The system worked well with The Fray, so when The Smashing Pumkins’ tour started, Jon knew he could take this experience and make it work to his advantage.

“The Oceania album was different to anything we’d done before,” he says. “There were quite a lot of sequences on it, with things like analogue synths in the backing tracks; we had around 10 backing tracks of Pro Tools and they wanted to play the whole album.

“For safety’s sake, I decided I was going to go with the SD7; that way I would have built in redundancy – I had to build many snapshots to make the album work with the video, so I needed to know I had backup. However, the big updates from both DiGiCo and the Waves V9 plugins means that everything is very stable anyway.

“I just use 56 channels, or rather 55 channels and keep one spare, which keeps us to one 192kHz SD Rack, with monitor engineer John Sherman having his own 192 rack for his SD10. I use a lot of the SD7’s internal effects, but there is one bit of outboard I still can’t get away from: which is a Manley Voxbox but I do use that in conjunction with a Waves Renaissance compressor mainly for fast compression.

“We archive every show and record it straight from the SD7 via the MADI split into our Pro Tools rig. The recording is used for the live album and for virtual sound check. We’ve been on the road for so long now that I don’t really need it for virtual sound check anymore, but when we were starting up of course I used it all the time.”

Now, Lemon utilizes it more for archiving. “Having said that, there’s a 5.1 DVD coming out some time around September that we recorded at Jay-Z’s arena in Brooklyn,” he adds

Lemon has found that the digital domain has a multitude of benefits for touring live.

“If we’re going to a festival, we let them know upfront we’re not going to give them analogue splits and that it will be a 48kHz or 96kHz MADI split. It works out better for everyone that way, because they have a basic mix from the FOH console to start with and the gains are all correct, so there’s no load on any of the microphones. That’s one of the real benefits of digital and having so much MADI I/O.

“I find that digital audio simplifies things in a big way and the benefit of having all the onboard plugins is huge; when you need stuff, it’s just there and you can transfer from mixing a show for the website, for radio, for TV, or a festival by just taking the settings from the plugins and having them on your DAW. That back and forth between console and Pro Tools really has made life pretty easy over the last year.”

DiGiCo SD7 Delivers the Beast Sound for Iron Maiden
Back in the 1980s, those who dismissed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as a passing phase obviously didn’t reckon on Iron Maiden still selling out stadiums and arenas 30 years later. The band’s enduring appeal means they still tour with a huge production, so a DiGiCo SD7 at Front of House is a match Maiden heaven.

Despite not touring at quite such an intense level as the two-year long marathons of the late 80s, Maiden still hit the road every year, visiting countries across the world. Huge audiences enthusiastically comply with Bruce Dickinson’s cry to scream for him, as the six-piece tear through a large catalog of classic rock songs.

Front of House engineer Martin Walker has a long history of working with hard rock bands, including Judas Priest, Slash, Whitesnake and Californian thrashers Testament. He began working with Iron Maiden last year, bringing his console of choice, a DiGiCo SD7, with him.

“I really like DiGiCo consoles and was using an SD8 with Judas Priest,” he says. “The first time I was involved with the SD7 was when I sat with Lars Brogaard on the first Rod Stewart residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. I moved up to one with Judas Priest two years ago and I haven’t looked back.”

Maiden generate about 40 inputs, plus another dozen from various outboard units and playback at FoH. Outputs comprise main left and right, with subs on an aux and vocal fills. Martin also does a multi-track recording of most shows on to ProTools with a JoeCo system backup.

“I have nothing but good results from the SD7. Sonically it’s in a league of its own, it sounds natural, warm and has a rock’n’roll edge without you having to overdrive, over EQ or over anything,” says Walker.

“I love the onboard multiband compressor – it’s an absolute necessity with Bruce’s voice – but one of the most important features for me is the video screen. There is a camera dedicated to following Bruce throughout the show and I have a feed from it, which I literally watch all night. It shows me where he is on stage, so I can mute his mic when necessary, it also shows me how he is handling the mic and I can see from his performance how much input I am getting. It can vary a lot, so a smooth vocal mix would be impossible without being able to keep a constant watch on him. It remains a big challenge, but the close up video eases the task.”

He continues, “I treat the desk in a very old school way. Everything is mixed on the fly apart from using snapshots for midi-triggering outboard and to recall notes. I have a few notes that remind me of input peculiarities for particular songs and which guitarist does what lead line or solo and when. At my age the old memory is not as good as it once was, so any help in that direction is a positive plus!”

The band continues its Maiden England tour with two shows at London’s The O2, before moving on to the USA and South America in September and October.

“The SD7’s roadworthiness couldn’t be better. It’s like having a friend out on the road, helping you achieve what you are trying to do,” says Walker. “The support from DiGiCo is also second to none, whether it be from the guys in the UK or the USA. Any issue – however major or minor – gets sorted quickly, quietly and efficiently within the time frame one needs in a 24/7 touring environment.”