Sky van Hoff trades the studio for the stage

Composer, music producer and sound mixer, Sky van Hoff recently jumped from zero live sound mixing to mixing monitors for Rammstein guitarist, Richard Zven Kruspe, during the German metal titans’ first stadium tour [TPi #243]. Ahead of one of live music’s biggest tours of the roaring 2020s, van Hoff and his ‘padawan’ Marco Bayati daringly manually programmed and operated the 330 snapshot-heavy monitor mix on an Avid S6L in line with timecode to provide Kruspe with a full scale music production-style mix in a monitor world. Speaking exclusively to TPi, the 35-year-old studio wizard reflects on trading the studio for the stage.

“Everybody said don’t rely so heavily on snapshots via timecode” van Hoff laughed, reflecting while admitting it to be an “insane” approach. “Thankfully, there’s an accomplished and professional audio crew who worked their asses off in the touring trenches to make this a possibility and so a reality. I only had to show up on show-days while I was standing on the shoulders of giants being taken care of by one if not the best audio crew in the business. Monitoring Assistant, Manu Schröder, Audio Crew Chief, Nick Pain and Nils Knecht always helped me out if there was anything to be figured out or prepped made it possible for me to come to the desk with an artist kind of approach without having to know the whole technicality behind the network/setup etc.” 

How did you find yourself on the road with Rammstein?

“I have been a live music fan ever since I can remember and a guitar player and composer since the age of 15. I toured with bands until I was 23, and then I became a music producer, and found myself stuck in the studio all of a sudden. Rammstein was my first tour as a real live-mixer, before that I was on tour myself or with friends. I first met Richard [Zven Kruspe] at his recording studio to take care of his live (Kemper Profiler) guitar tones before he asked me to come on the road with him, after collaborating on two record productions (Emigrate’s A Million Degrees and Rammstein’s self titled record). While I’ve sat at a mixing desk before, the possibilities are endless with Avid S6L in a live music setting, so while I was daunted as a music producer and not an out and out live guy, I was excited by the prospect of getting on the road with the console and finding my feet as I went along.”

How does Avid S6L integrate into your workflow?

“I basically recreate a FOH mix on the desk for Richard, who is the stage left guitarist for the band. S6L’s integration of Waves plug-ins are incredibly integral to my setup. I describe the mix as a ‘studio-full production mix’ – it is as dry as possible with the least amount of bleed from all the external noise sources that come from a Rammstein show. However, I enhance the mix by feeding in the response of the crowd, captured by ambient microphones, during the appropriate times of the show. Richard’s mix sounds very similar to a record mix with a crowd, which I didn’t know was possible until I started tinkering around with the mixing console through many nights in pre production.

Could you highlight your mixing process and approach?

“I started programming snapshots for every part of the song, and that wasn’t enough, so I then began programming a snapshot for every cue, such as microphones being able to automatically mute and unmute via timecode. My faders ride like in a ProTools mix, and my cues ride, sometimes either in realtime to fade into the next part of a song. During the last tour with the band I was in the higher 200s when it comes to the snapshot count, this time around, I’m on over 320 snapshots. Every part has its own mix setting, so if something goes wrong, I can jump on and the desk is still gonna be ghost riding all the way through.” 


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How important is the support around you on the road?

“We have an insane audio crew on the road. They check everything from lines and faders to units and sections of the desk, so when I rock up I’m good to go. The support of Avid on the road is invaluable as well. There’s life outside of the studio and there are lots of Rammstein fans out there! With the S6L’s buss routing updates, there are always avenues of creativity to be able to explore and take advantage of.”

What is your advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?

“This tour my padawan [Marco Bayati] went on tour for me during the European dates, as I was busy in the studio. Marco has worked with me for seven years. He went from working in Reaper to ProTools, and he’s an insane guitar player. Through production work his ear has developed and we now speak the same music language. Our tastes are similar and he understands my sound. It was great to have him take over this giant responsibility and witness him grow and develop as an artist/mixer. It’s also cool to see how awesome and intuitive the Avid S6L is, and if you are familiar with ProTools, you could theoretically hop on an S6L and acclimatise fairly swiftly. The possibilities within the console are endless. I had found myself with lots of DSP headroom within the Waves server and the desk itself, while mixing. In addition, Avid and Waves offer brilliant support.

“My advice to others thinking of taking the leap from the studio to the live circuit is to go ahead and be bold with your choices as an engineer. – I was quite fortunate for this to be my first gig as a live-mixer yet I paid my fair share while working as a producer / artist in the studio world. I believe that the person who does more than what they are paid for will soon be paid for more than what they do. Always keep forcing the standard, raising the bar and pushing the envelope.”

What is the biggest difference for mixing live, as opposed to studio?

“Live music is much different than the studio mixing. I was thrown into cold water with this project but with an amazing audio crew around me, it was a pleasure. I was in great hands, and I was able to solely focus on Richard. I respect the grind of every touring professional, from those grinding in clubs right through to stadium sized spectacles. It isn’t an easy job. When it comes to mixing and sound quality, as a band, Rammstein are always trying to push the envelope to provide the best possible experience for live music fans. I showed my capabilities to one person in the studio and all of the sudden I found myself mixing for him in front of 70,000 people, and cracking jokes in between songs. I’ve listened to Rammstein ever since I was a teenager. At 35-years-old now, it feels like something’s come full circle.”

How important is relationship management, in addition to technical skills, when it comes to mixing monitors?

“I manually control the guitars, crowd and Richard’s vocals within his in-ear mix, and almost everything else is controlled by timecode to not just sit around kind of stale but come on… there needs to be some excitement. Every show is different because stadiums are built differently, either with or without a roof, or how tough the ground underneath is and all those things, right down to the reception of the audience in each city you’re visiting. As a monitor engineer, you can have a big influence on how the show goes for the person you’re mixing for. You have such a psychological impact on their performance and you can be the first port of call if something goes wrong. I believe the secret lies within every little detail leading up to show day. For each step on the way to the stage, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, so as a team, we make sure every step is taken into account. We’re constantly assessing and evolving in-ear options and equipment capabilities.”