Sneaky Sound System @ U Street Music Hall
Last night I had the chance to work with the Australian dance duo Sneaky Sound System here in DC at the U-Street Music Hall. Angus McDonald (the group producer and guitarist) was handling DJ duties for this show, with Connie Mitchell out front singing and generally getting the crowd involved in the party.
U-Street Music Hall is known for having a very capable Martin Audio sound system, with a HEAVY emphasis on stupid amounts of low end in the DJ system. The system is switched between the club rig, which utilizes speakers surrounding the dance floor on all sides, to the live sound only rig that is on the stage end of the room.
As you can see in this photo, there are three mid/hi cabinets (flown) per side. I believe these were the W8LM from Martin, but I didn’t get up and look at the exact model. Flown outside of those are Martin subs, with additional subs recessed into the stage deck. Needless to say, with a room that’s apx. 25’x75′ total size, this was plenty of rig for the gig. All amplification was handled by nice big Macrotechs. The system sounded pretty hyped up when I got there, just tons of muddy bottom and a really harsh top end. I checked the graphic in the console that is inserted for BE use, and it was in-fact jacked up pretty good. Setting the graphic back to flat took care of the majority of the funkiness, leaving me to make a narrow cut on the parametric EQ to clean up things just above 200Hz and a wider but shallow cut up top to take a bit of the harshness out around 8k. These cuts were both only 2 or 3dB each, no major hacking required at all.
The monitors shown in the photo above were EAW SM400iH dual 12″ boxes, bi-amp processing was handled by a DBX4800 with an Ashly Protea 4.24G (with remote control) for monitor EQ, although I used the parametric in the desk for monitor EQ. The monitors were all powered by Crest CA series amps.
Here’s the view from the mix position, which is 75′ or so back at the most. A bit off center, but walking out to the dance floor a couple of times while mixing the show, the mix translated well between the two positions… which was a bit surprising honestly. Obviously, the console installed at the club is a DiGiCo SD9. The SD9 is a fantastic platform for this purpose and gives the operator almost anything you could think of when mixing a show of this size.
Behind and to the right of the console position is the FOH amp rack, which contains all of the Amps and House DSP. The rack also contains two DiGiCo D-Racks along with XLR fan-out whips from the various sub snake heads located on stage, this in turn creates a patch bay for getting in and out of the console easily from the FOH position. This is very handy here as the FOH position is located on the end of the DJ booth area. You can see in the photo below, looking over to my left from mix position is a long booth capable of handling 2 or more DJ’s performing at the same time, all requiring multiple inputs and monitor feeds. In this shot, DJ Remote CTRL is rolling some pre-show music while the club is filling up.
The input list for the show was pretty simple, just a vocal and a DJ. I was able to keep this show on the left fader bank all night, and take care of all the other DJ input and output needs on the right fader bank, which was super handy in a fast paced show situation. Here’s what I ended up with for the show, as shown on the first fader bank shot below.
1- Lead Vocal (Main input from RF HH [in-1] / Alt input from wired SM58 [in-2])
2- Monitor Vocal (same input structure as above)
3- DJ Program Left
4- DJ Program Right
5- DJ Booth 1
6- DJ Booth 2
9- iPhone for walk-in etc.
10- Talkback / VOG
11- Stereo CH return from Vocal Verb
12- Stereo CH return from Vocal Tap Delay
Below is a shot of the console as we finished soundcheck. The group was super easy to work with, knew exactly what they wanted to hear individually and together and knew exactly how to communicate that to me without any confusion at all. The mixes were again, pretty simple, but at dance club volume levels in a small hard surfaced room, getting a vocal to sit nicely takes a little bit of work.
The mixes were broken out as follows:
Mix-1 Downstage wedges / Vocals Only
Mix-2 Upstage Right wedge / DJ Booth 1
Mix-3 Upstage Left Wedge / DJ Booth 2
Mix-4 Mono IEM Vocalist Mix [apx. 80% vocal / 20% DJ program mix]
We ended up getting a really nice balance onstage with the vocal sitting at a really nice comfortable level, and although I spent more time on the IEM’s and was quite pleased with how they were sounding, we ended up going without them at showtime.
With such a dynamic performance coming from the stage, I made good use of the multi-band compressor available on the master bus of the SD9. This allowed me the flexibility to follow along with the DJ, helping to keep the energy moving in the right direction. A popular effect these days is for the DJ to kill an entire pass band to release and build tension throughout a song, which does work well when done correctly. The issue you run into is when a band is dropped and the rest of the mix gets pushed to keep the energy up. This is generally a good thing, as pushing the level a bit keeps the vocal from seeming out of place all of a sudden, but the downside is occasionally the top end can run away on some specific sounds. I used the multi-band comp to smooth out the very top and just a touch on the hi-mid. The bottom band was not engaged at all. This really helped me to deliver a much tighter overall experience… just a few dB reduction here and there was all it too, but it made a big difference where I was standing. This really was a fantastic tool to have in a live setting, something I’ll be looking for again and again in the future.
Here’s one more poor photo of the show just getting started… the rain kept a few from getting out for the very start, but everyone who came out was super attentive and there to really party. Everyone had a great time and a pretty easy night at work.