Rushing Into Something New

Foh Meets Dvd On The Rush European Tour

By Dan Daley, FOHlonline, January 2005

Brad Madix leans over an 80-input Yamaha PM1D inside the cavernous Festhalle, the centerpiece of Frankfurt's Messe convention complex. He's tuning the sound of a pair of white industrial clothes dryers that have been carefully miked with a pair of Audio-Technica AT4047 condenser microphones. They stand next to a revolving vending machine which, for whatever reason, the band Rush has chosen to make part of the soundscape for their R-30 tour, celebrating the Canadian power trio's 30th anniversary.

Halfway into the three-hour show, the clothes in the dryer begin to seem like they're tossing around to the thump of Neil Peart's kick drum. The machinery is quirky but seems oddly congruent with what is otherwise a stark set that comes to life with a startling array of video projected onto slices of screen surrounding the main video monitor above the band. The lighting, by LD Howard Ungerleider, is complex, and about as bright as you'll see for a rock concert by the time it reaches its climax.

What sets this show apart from the others on the tour-aside from laundry machines on stage-is that Madix is mixing with more than the show in mind. A crew of 14 cameras is shooting footage for what will ultimately become Rush's second DVD music video. The fact that the cameras are HD, shooting in 1080p, indicates the band and its management plan a long and profitable revenue life for this project, well into the arrival of the next generation of high-density disc formats (HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc) and the proliferating number of high-def broadcast outlets in the U.S. and elsewhere. These are the sort of media considerations that the music business-and FOH mixers-will have to keep in mind as it tries to find new economic avenues in a downloadable world.

Indeed, according to the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, music on DVD accounted for the vast majority of the nearly 47% increase in music video sales just last year, as well as for most of the expected more than 100% increase this year. By 2006, it's expected to account for about 10% of a global $30 billion-plus business.

Madix has had some experience with DVD shoots before. A Marilyn Manson tour he worked on included one at a show. "The first thing they did was fly the P.A. higher to keep it out of the camera frame," he recalls.

That would not be the case with Rush-the goal is creating a video very much meant to reflect the concert experience. Prior to the show, video director Pierre Lamoureax, who has directed similar DVD projects for the Who, Harry Connick, Jr. and Aimee Mann, consulted with Madix, emphasizing the need to keep the room level at a certain volume. "The key in a production like this is to understand that everyone is part of a larger team, and that we're all working towards the same goal: to make the artist look good," he says. "Specifically, in terms of the FOH mixer, we want to be able to feel the audience presence. The trick is to balance it so that the crowd still feels the power of the performance, but the performance doesn't overpower the microphones on stage."

The sound system is Clair Brothers, out of the company's Switzerland base. The line array is comprised of 28 I-4 boxes and 20 I-4B enclosures, augmented by eight Prism II sublows and six P2 front-fill boxes. The system is powered by 10 Clair C/Q house amp racks (two Crown 3600 and a QSC 9.0) with control handled by a Clair IO 96k digital system drive with wireless remote control. Monitors were a pair each of Clair's P2 and 12AM enclosures, buttressed with six MB215 subs and powered with eight Crown 3600 amps.

Brent Carpenter was the monitor engineer working a Showco Showconsole. An 80-point split at the stage sent separate signal to the FOH and to the video and audio trucks in the parking lot outside the venue. "First and foremost, no feedback," says Madix of the hierarchy of needs that the DVD shoot imposed. "Geddy Lee will often sing in a low register and then soar," says Madix. "I need to be especially careful about riding the vocal and keeping the overall level down so that the truck gets a printable feed. A key thing was to not overwhelm the audience microphones, because the audience response is a big part of what the DVD mixers have to work with." Lee's vocal microphone is an Audio-Technica AE5400, which Madix says sounds great but isn't the best at gain-before-feedback. "We get away with it because we're using personal monitoring for the vocals," he says. Additional control was attainable in part by the use of Palmer speaker simulators on stage instead of massive amp cabinets. As a result, the truck was also able to get direct feeds from the guitars and bass.

Madix was present for the surround mixes done for Rush in Rio, the band's first music DVD, which was released in 2003. He observed mixer Jim Barton at work in Los Angeles and provided guidance about the dynamics of the live show mixing.

While the trucks would be getting their own direct feeds, an array of house microphones would pick up not only the crowd but also the ambience of the show itself. Madix had a few tricks to keep the live sound bright for the recording. "There's a lot going on for just three guys on stage," he says. "Neil's drumming is intricate. Getting the splash cymbal to pop takes some program limiting using a Smart Research C-2 compressor across the drum mix." Madix also had two separate stereo subgroups, one of which he passed through a Distressor, a touch of which he says also adds definition to many of the upper-frequency details.

"I learned that one from Journey FOH mixer Kevin Elson," Madix admits. "Limiting across the submix is a great way to tighten an entire group mix."

The video shoot was financed by the band and its Canadian management company, Anthem Entertainment, and will cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time post-production and 5.1 mixing are finished. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising if the evening's emphasis naturally tended to be on the shoot over the show. Part of Madix's brief that night was to keep the show as uncompromised as possible, given the video crew's needs. "The video is expensive, true, and it will be around for a long time in the form of a DVD," he concedes. "But the people in this room"-he gestures over his shoulder towards the throng of ripped-jeans and T-shirts now flooding the hall-"aren't thinking about that. They're here to see a show. That's what we're going to give them."