Following the release of their latest EP, Post Human: Survival Horror, Bring Me The Horizon (BMTH) and their new-look touring team hit the road for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic with a dynamic and sustainable live production. As the dust settled on a successful run of shows in the UK, TPi checked in with core members of the audio crew to reflect on mixing live music with fans in attendance, setting up a sound system ideal for mosh pits and digitising studio-quality outboard gear while on the road.
Advancing for a tour post-lockdown brings an additional layer of challenges for bands, production management and venues to consider when it comes to navigating the shifting goalposts associated with curating a safe and COVID-19 secure environment for live music. For Queensland, Australia native and FOH Engineer, Jared Daly, “simply getting out of the country was challenging,” he said, adding that he was eventually able to arrive on UK soil a week-and-a-half before production rehearsals took place.
Two COVID-19 officers were brought into the camp during pre-production and toured with the band and technical production crew. Mandatory PCR and LFT was the order of each day, with specific bubbles created for each department – all of whom always operated in masks, with hand sanitiser aplenty and a closed-off backstage.
“I had a particular route for my journey to FOH, which minimised the number of people I came into contact with, in the audience, who were not a part of the touring bubble,” Daly said, detailing the precautions put in place to ensure the safety of the performing artists and technical production team.
The FOH ‘cage’ was completely locked off, with no external visits other than touring engineers within the bubble. “It took some time to acclimatise, especially when we were communicating with local crew and venue staff while loading the trucks with masks, but we found our way around it,” he said.
With his home country still grappling with the Delta variant of COVID-19 – Australia is, in his words, “half in lockdown” – getting back to the UK meant guaranteed work for the first time in 18 arduous months. “It was strange hearing the volume of a PA for the first time in a long time – especially coming from Australia, where half of the country is still in lockdown. The first show at Hull’s Bonus Arena was a surreal experience,” Daly said, speaking with a sense of disbelief. “It was great to be surrounded by screaming fans, enjoying live music again, but it took a few shows to acclimatise to the experience and volume of the crowds.”
Daly mixed on an Allen & Heath dLive S5000 paired with a DM64 mix rack. The FOH rig comprised two Mac minis, one running Waves SuperRack and a second running third party host, LiveProfessor. The outboard rack to his right comprised an SSL Fusion, a Waves MaxxBCL, an Avalon VT-737, paired with a Neve 5045 and a Bricasti Design Model 7.
“The final stage of my mix lies here with the analogue rack,” Daly said, pointing out the size of the impressive, studio-quality gear. “The band has a sustainability goal they want to reach to lower the footprint of their touring, so on this tour I’ve added my own personal Universal Audio Apollo X4.”
Daly put an Avalon VT-737 in bypass after the first show, harnessing an Avalon VT-737 plug-in through Apollo X4. “Next year, that analogue piece will disappear and I’ve also got a Bricasti reverb as a plugin session within the Live Professor session, which is an emulation, so that will also go,” he said, explaining how he is starting to put more and more elements of the physical outboard gear in bypass to trial a host of plugins which, essentially, do the same job – behold, the slow but sure digitisation of the outboard rack.
“We are constantly fault finding and exploring the limits of audio networking on this tour,” Daly said, referencing the latest Allen & Heath dLive V1.9 software update, which is set to change his existing configuration. “The point is to keep the analogue gear we need and digitise everything we can to create a more sustainable touring package.”
Daly also explored increased snapshotting and automation on this tour. “I’ve been touring with BMTH in various roles since 2014 and over time their live shows have become more theatrical and jump across different styles and tonality,” he added. “It’s been cool from an audio perspective to dig in and play around with the vocal elements of this tour.”
Like most of the crew, this tour marked Systems Engineer, Jack Murphy’s first large-scale production since returning from the hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone was looking forward to getting back to work, but you forget how gruelling three shows can be,” he laughed, adding that despite the long days, it was “invigorating” and “liberating” to see the release of the audience. “Gigs provide escapism for the audience, so it’s great to play a part in that. We’ve all had that experience taken from us.”
The highest specified d&b audiotechnik PA system featured 16 GSL on the main hang, 14 GSL8s and two GSL12s. Side hangs came in the shape of 16 KSL cabinets, 12 KSL8s and four KSL12s with six SL-SUBs flown behind the eight V-SUBs across the floor and eight Y10Ps as front fills/lip fills across the front of the stage. “This design was curated in close collaboration with Jon Brooks and support from Nick Lythgoe from SSE Audio’s Live Productions department,” Murphy explained. “Their support is invaluable on the road.”
The main hang, side hang, and subwoofers were formatted in an arc, with the latter situated behind the PA and aligned in order to be time coherent and deliver equal coverage throughout the venue. “The band always wants to be as close as possible within safety regulations, so not having a huge sub array in the pit allows them to get closer to the audience,” Murphy stated.
To that end, the team used eight V-SUBs across the front to fill in the first 10-20m before the six flown SL-SUBs per side came in to ensure even coverage for the entire audience with plenty of headroom. “This allowed me to choose the right amount of system and be sustainable as opposed to a giant PA system and arbitrary numbers of boxes,” he remarked.
The PA system relied on d&b audiotechnik ArrayProcessing to get consistency across the venue. “Once you get your design correct, ArrayProcessing and the EQ and filters available in D80 amps do a lot of work for you in terms of control and evenness throughout the venue,” Murphy said. To drive the system, Lake Processing LM44s at FOH ran Audinate Dante to DS10 output boxes, primarily for transport and the ability to switch between BMTH and the support band.
Summing up his experience, Murphy said: “After such a difficult lockdown, seeing the relief and enjoyment of the audience watching their favourite band perform live was a reminder of why I love this job and why the long days are worth it.”
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‘LIVE MUSIC STILL CONQUERS ALL’
Having been kept busy teaching educational seminars for DiGiCo during the lockdown, approaching a mixing desk was not a daunting prospect for Monitor Engineer, Matt Napier, however, being away from his family after “digging out and dusting off” the kit bag from the attic”, he found, was particularly difficult. “As a freelancer, failing a PCR test before joining the tour would have meant I’d have lost out on a paid gig, so I was isolated for 10 days prior to the tour,” Napier said, acknowledging the crisis that the sector’s deep pool of freelancers now face.
From line checking to testing the mics, the team ensured that only one designated engineer would touch a performer’s mic and stand, until it was on stage, to break any possible link in transmission.“As a tour, we had COVID-19 protocols in place, but each individual department looked into it to support the efforts and make the tour safer,” he explained.
Despite being a new face to the camp, both the band and management, Napier said, were hugely receptive to his specification of a DiGiCo SD12 console for monitor world. “It’s a great console, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. The other great thing about DiGiCo infrastructure is its ability to expand,” Napier said, pointing out the ability to integrate the SD12 on stage with an Allen & Heath dLive at FOH and playback using Optocore DDR4s. The band harnessed their own Shure PSM1000 IEMs.
Backline used a Shure Axient Digital system networked into the monitor world, with lead vocals on AXT400 for RF coordination. “It was a new genre for me to mix so it was a good experience. You learn something new on every tour, and this tour required quite a lot of compression and learning how to get their sound perfect,” Napier said, adding that it was more exciting to see fans reacting to the show. When I look back to my youth, some of my greatest moments are at gigs and concerts, losing yourself in the moment.”
Napier said he felt sorry for this generation, particularly 17-to-18-year-olds, who haven’t had the chance to experience the “exhibitionism” associated with a live gig, given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Live music, Napier believes, is a rite of passage and a visceral experience. “The energy and impact of a production from lights, sound, to video is emotionally empowering,” he commented. “I’m almost 50 years old, so watching a whole generation of kids experiencing a circle and a mosh pit – which is where I would have been 30 years ago – the first time and connecting with the music was fantastic. After all, I think most of the industry lives vicariously through audiences.”
Daly, a picture of bemusement, said he still felt like he was in shock from the whirlwind of a tour. “It feels unreal in the sense that the band managed to pull this tour out of the bag, despite having so many things against them,” he reflected on the unique experience. “A lot of my friends, family and colleagues back in Australia thought that this tour wouldn’t happen,” he revealed.
This is a demonstration of how a tour can operate safely, with all the measures put in place – it just takes a lot more work. I think this experience will sink in later… It was exciting and a relief that live music still conquers all.”
This article originally appeared in issue #266 of TPi, which you can read here.