by Cat Strom.
Photo Credits: Troy Constable.
The Give Me My Name Back Australian tour, presented by triple j, opened at Sydney’s The Enmore Theatre to a sold-out crowd and continued around Australia and NZ.
For many years Michael ‘Smasha’ Pollard has been a regular on the touring circuit mixing for acts such as Ross Wilson, The Black Sorrows, and Jon Stevens. Whilst they are all incredible performers they are acts that are basically heading towards their pension!
However in 2017, Smasha was dragged into young people territory when he was asked to mix FOH for Australian singer-songwriter and musician Meg Mac, and, whilst it is a bit of a departure from a four-piece, guitar-based band, he is thoroughly enjoying the experience.
“The first show of the tour was also our biggest, so the pressure was on!” laughed Smasha. “Meg also had a new band, but the Enmore show was great, the venue is always a pleasure to mix in – the system performed well with plenty of headroom, great coverage and a lovely response in the subs, which is important for Meg’s show sonics to really shine.”
Smasha is particularly enjoying the excitement of being amongst a crowd that are genuinely enthusiastic for the songs and the meaning of the lyrics by a young artist.
“I’m enjoying the honest crowd vibe with fans at the start of their music loving journey in life, as opposed to the older artists I work with that draw a crowd that is revisiting memories from their youth when they first started that same journey,” he commented.
“Both are equally potent, however it’s refreshing to be reminded about the simple power of music and the excitement it brings the listener. In fact it’s hard to ignore when in the middle of the room at the console.”
The downside of this is that at some of the shows it is somewhat challenging for Smasha to hear the actual PA mix whilst thousands of people are singing along with Meg. Mixing for Meg is all about the vocals from start to finish of each song.
“It’s all about Meg and the identity and power of her voice,” added Smasha. “A lot of her songs are written around keyboards so there’s a heavy element of synth and piano sounds to compliment the vocals. There’s also layered percussion with acoustic kit, sample triggers and MPC pads, which is the more contemporary end of her sound.
“Then there’s a strong, almost retro-soul vibe in the drum and bass sounds which all combines into an enjoyable mix. Basically there’s something happening sonically in each song that keeps me working hard to ensure the vocal is above it all.”
Much of the touring audio gear was supplied by Melbourne based engineer Josh Barker, who is both Production Manager and Monitor Engineer for the tour and an integral part of Meg’s production. The flying tour package includes two DiGiCo SD11 consoles (one supplied by Travers Chesney) for each end of the digital core, all microphones, DIs and a full Sennheiser IEM system.
FOH boxes are in-house as provided by venue.
Smasha’s DiGiCo SD11 features a Waves Soundgrid server running DiGiGrid Waves plugins and although he usually opts for an Avid console for pure familiarity and reliability, Smasha has enjoyed getting to know the small DiGiCo console.
“The Waves plugins have allowed me to own back elements of how I like to mix and it has been fairly smooth,” he remarked. “The compromise for me has been not having such a large control surface. I’ve had to design the custom fader layout of the console to facilitate a show environment that keeps my priority signals such as CG (Control Groups) and FX together.”
Smasha’s Waves Multirack is loaded with key plugins to offer primarily dynamics processing across busses, including drum busses, keys/synth busses, backing vocal and Meg’s vocal buss.
Essentially they supplement what is on the console and provide him with a sense of familiarity, with processing he knows he likes to hear and can rely on the outcome.
“With Meg featuring a really dynamic vocal style, I am taking care to allow her voice to lift and soar, which is a real highlight of her performance, but also maintain intelligibility when speaking between songs,” he explained.
“I ride her fader a lot, plus use a chain of processing that offers some additional control including dynamic EQ on the SD11, Waves C6, LA2A and Pultec EQP1A and this combination is working really well so far. FX are all from within the SD11 rack offerings, and together with my song snapshots, offer the ability to give each song some detail in the mix processing.”
The microphone package is mostly standard Shure, Sennheiser and Radial DIs with a few favoured exceptions.
“Josh has some lovely AKG 535EB on overheads, the bass cabinet has an Audio-Technica AT2500, backing vocals are on Audix OM7s to help with minimizing stage spill and Meg is on a Shure radio with B58 capsule,” revealed Smasha.
A highlight of the tour was the gig at Miami Marketta on the Gold Coast, a venue that is allegedly haunted. “We had some strange happenings at the stage and monitor world that can’t be readily explained,” said Smasha.
“Equipment settings changed on the console and IEM rack with no clear explanation. It’s a great venue and fabulous vibe but has some strange anomalies which apparently haven’t only happened to us. The venue owners have actually had paranormal investigators in, so who knows? I’d be interested to hear of any similar experience of other touring acts in this venue.”
At the end of the Meg Mac tour Smasha rejoined his age group and went straight onto the APIA Good Times Tour.
Lighting design for the show was originally by Steve Granville who wasn’t able to tour so he handed over the reins to Bryce Mace who promptly set about adding elements and changing some fixtures types.
“Steve drew the tour design to which I added a festooned, white polyester cyc from The Look and a black scrim in front of it for a bit of depth,” said Bryce. “I added the scrim because I didn’t want to see the cyc when it wasn’t being lit up.
“I also substituted the Martin MAC Vipers for Ayrton Ghiblis, the Claypaky B-EYE K20s to MAC Quantum Washes and the SGM P5s for Chauvet Q40s!”
Six Ayrton Ghiblis are located on the ground, three per side of the stage, with Bryce adding one more to the middle of the front truss solely to spot Meg. “The Ghiblis do some nice break-ups through the band and also project some great gobos onto the cyc for a different look,” said Bryce.
“I really like their animation wheel too so I use it in a couple of songs and they are incredibly bright. The zoom is awesome, I can point them out towards the crowd and zoom out really wide for some really nice looks.”
Seven GLP JDC-1 on the ground are used to light the cyc up or Bryce tilts them forward to silhouette the band in a large flood of light.
As you would expect with Meg’s music, they are hardly ever used as a strobe. Chauvet COLORado Panel Q40s are situated to the sides of the stage from where they are used to side wash Meg with one placed behind each riser to silhouette the band. Another two Q40s are located in front of Meg which was a fortunate choice as Bryce didn’t know she would be wearing a large brimmed hat for the entire performance!
“I only found this out on the first show and I thought ‘holy crap’!” he laughed. “If she didn’t stand where the Q40s were, she had a shadow on her face. So after the first show I added nine GLP X4 Bars across the front of the stage! Now she can be uplit wherever she walks!”
Seven upright pipes hold three Acme Stage PAR100 each and Bryce is particularly impressed by these LED fixtures. “I really like the Acme PARs, in fact they’re awesome,” said Bryce. “Most people don’t realise that they are not real PAR cans and they use 1/10th of the power consumption. Plus of course you don’t spend a bunch
of money on globes.
“They’re designed exactly like a PAR can and you can’t see any pixels. We have added gels to them as I wanted them a bit warmer. You can even set different modes so you can have different dimmer modes such as having them fade out like a PAR can would with a bit of a glow or just snap.”
Twelve Vintage Blazes are mounted on some upstage truss uprights and originally Bryce programmed the show so that they first made an appearance in the sixth song for a bit of a wow factor. Last minute that song was moved up the playlist and so they are revealed earlier.
“I use them sparingly and there are a couple of songs where I might use only three of them in an abstract manner,” added Bryce.
Six MAC Quantum Washes, chosen for their brightness and reliability, were on front truss to light each person onstage. However, although the band are lit, it’s all about Meg so often they are lit darker then her unless of course if they have a solo.
Bryce also programmed the show after immersing himself in Meg’s music for several weeks. He took out an MA Lighting MA3 light in order to get his ‘muscle memory’ ready for when the MA3 software is released and says he was used to the MA3 hardware by the second show.
“I did most of the pre-programming at home on a MA onPC which was hard because my young daughter comes in and always wants to make everything pink on the visualizer,” remarked Bryce. “I’ll be half way through a song and I’d have to change it all to pink until she went to bed.”
CX Magazine – June 2019 Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand – in print and free online www.cxnetwork.com.au
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