Prog Rockers Kansas Carry On Marking 40-Year Milestone
Wayward sons and legendary prog-rockers Kansas carry on by commemorating their 40-year anniversary with a one-off special concert on August 17th at Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Selling out in a matter of minutes, the show was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for loyal fans (“Wheatheads”) to celebrate the milestone, but also to see the band in a unique setting. Accompanied by a 41-piece symphony orchestra in the first act, the next offered a traditional, rockin’ set of their classics. The event brought together original members for the first time in 30 years: the five touring members (original members Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Richard Williams, and longtime members Billy Greer and David Ragsdale), as well as guest spots by original members Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope.
One day prior, the production crew—Chad Singer PM/FOH engineer; Derek Papp, monitor engineer; Darian Cornish, audio tech; Chris Evans Benedum, A1; Jeremy Vig, guitar/violin/bass tech; Eric Holmquist, drum tech; Rusty Banks, equipment relocation specialist; and David Manion, LD—embarked on a massive lighting and video load-in followed by backline and audio for the band in time for an afternoon symphony rehearsal.
The Benedum house PA was comprised of 18 Meyer M’elody’s and two 700Hp subs per side, supplemented by front fills, out fills, a center cluster, and balcony fills. FOH engineer Singer opted to go with a DiGiCo SD10 at FOH (running on an Optocore fiber snake) with a DiGiRack (on a MADI snake).
“We’ve been using an SD8 for FOH since 2012,” says Singer. “We typically do 60-70 shows per year so the console was out with me throughout the year that time. I rented the console from Rock N’ Road Audio in Atlanta GA, who have a wide selection of DiGiCo consoles available and have been big DiGiCo fans for a long time now. For this show, I needed more inputs than our usual band only inputs, so the natural choice was the SD10—especially since the new converter software was able to take my existing show and load it into the SD10. Immediately, I was able start to building the extra inputs. The transition was seamless. In general I have enjoyed using DiGiCo products because they have great preamps/ converters with plenty of headroom. The routing and layout of the consoles hardware and software has the most analog feel of any digital console out there. I don’t find myself ever having to dig though menus or pages especially during show time when all I want to think about is being creative. The consoles just make sense. I think my favorite part of the DiGiCo line is having 12 faders per bank. I had to do a fly-date show with a different console a few weeks ago and had only eight faders per bank. It felt like I was getting cheated!”
For the occasion, Singer managed a total of 92 FOH inputs and 10 FOH outputs (Left, Right, center fills, lip fills, subs to the Galileo Processer, TB, stereo symphony mix, and stereo band mix to monitor desk), with the SD Rack handling the 44 band inputs (14 drum channels, two bass, six guitars, two acoustics, six keyboard, two violin, four vocals, intro music, guest inputs for guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals, plus four audio from video channels, and four emcee mic inputs. The orchestra consisted of 41 members and the DiGiRack handled all 46 symphony input channels (20 DPA 4099 string mics, six woodwind channels, 10 brass channels, four tympani mics, three percussion mics, harp, and a stereo keyboard.
“Even with a pretty controlled stage volume,” recalls Singer, “the only way to have a fighting chance to clearly hear the orchestra without a large phase spear from the drums is to avoid sectional area mics and close mic everything.”
The monitor desk only received the split inputs from the band inputs so Singer sent him a stereo string mix, a stereo band only mix (Derek combines it with his ambient mics for the band’s ear mixes), and a Talkback channel. “The only tricky part of the mix was creating a band-only mix and a symphony-only mix for returns to monitor world,” he says, “the desk was pretty quick making two more stereo auxes and dialing up post-fader sends of the appropriate channels.”
Singer says, much like his trusty SD8, he found a lot to love about the SD10 to boot. “The desk can do so much. Even with all those inputs I did not need any extra gear to make audio life any easier. In addition to the 12 faders per bank, I’m a fan of the 12 CG’s. You get 24 on the SD10, so grouping can be real specific. Also, the dynamic section is very versatile and with some channels such as the tom-tom channels, I’ll use a normal comp followed by a gate. I’ll then send the 6 toms to a group where I can have a multi-band to catch low-mid frequencies and follow that with another comp set more like a limiter at the end of the chain and then blend that group in with the original tom channels that are already assigned to the master bus. All controlled with one CG. Then other channels like the symphony violins I use the multi band to catch upper mid frequencies and or the de-esser to knock down some of the shrill factor. I like using those to bring down cymbal and snare bleed without beating up an EQ and therefore altering the sound of the violins or cellos as well.
“The dynamic EQ is cool too. I use it on bassist Billy Greer’s vocals. He mostly sings in upper registers, so I find myself padding the upper mid-range and hi- frequencies while he sings with EQ and compression. But when he talks to the audience in between songs he speaks softer with a low voice. So instead of always cutting low-end and adding high-end to the EQ manually, I just set the dynamic EQ to do it for me.
Singer makes use of spill sets to handle all of his outs, pink noise and iPod music all in the same fader bank. “I have a ‘Dust in the Wind’ spill set for when they switch from loud guitars and drums to soft acoustics with only a few channels. It just makes organization of channels easy. Also, the DiGiTuBes on acoustic guitars and violin are pretty cool. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, but I slam the drive on the acoustics until the noise floor gets to be just too much. Then back it off a bit. It seems to make finger picking have some life and make it sound like it is just on the edge of taking off. It’s just cool!”
He’s making use of all the onboard effects for reverbs, delays, and chorus effects, using mostly plate reverbs for drums, acoustic guitars, violin, vocals (and single tap delay and double effect for vocals), as well as a chorus on the acoustic guitars.
As for outboard gear, Singer uses the Waves SoundGrid bundle for instrument specifics. “I’m using Renaissance comp/exp on kick drums, Renaissance AXX comp on guitars, C4’s on snare, vocals, and violin, and an H-Comp on toms and keyboard groups where I can really clamp down on the compressor and then find the right blend between the compressed and original sound with the mix knob. On my master bus, I have a chain that’s the H-comp, C4, L1 limiter, then an analyzer. It’s nice to have two insert points on each channel so you can really put the out board processing where it needs to be placed exactly in the signal flow either pre or post EQ/dynamics. It’s also great to have parameter control of those through the SD 10. Since they all change from day to day depending on the venue, new strings, new drum heads, or even if the performer is playing stronger or softer than usual.”
After many weeks of preparation, the band, the entire production crew, and even the fans brought their “A” game to this show. “The show went off without a hitch (except for the confetti… but that’s’ another story),” sums Singer. “In the 13 years I have been with the Kansas organization, this was truly a one-of-a-kind Kansas show. With all the variables in a production like this, the one consistent factor that I did not have to worry about was the SD10. And above all, having one console and one 10-space rack that fitted under the side of the EZ tilt sure helped condense the footprint of the FOH area allowing more seats to be sold... and promoters really like that!”
Rock ‘n’ Road Audio: http://rocknroadaudio.com
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I have enjoyed using DiGiCo products because they have great preamps/ converters with plenty of headroom. The routing and layout of the consoles hardware and software has the most analog feel of any digital console out there.