Since hitting the scene in the mid-90’s, Canadian rockers Nickelback have established themselves as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. In that time, they’ve sold 27 million albums worldwide thanks in part to the 2001 breakout single, “How You Remind Me” (from Silver Side Up), which propelled them into the mainstream. Legendary helmsman, Mutt Lange, produced the band’s new album, Dark Horse.
With audio partners Clair Global (spearheaded by Roger Gibbons), Nickelback hit the road in early 2009 with dates both in the States and in the UK. Monitor engineer Mike Mule specified a SD7 for the current tour, having cut his teeth on DiGiCo D1’s and D5’s on previous tours. Mule – who has amassed over 25 years of mixing credits with groups ranging from Dashboard Confessional and Rush to Van Halen and Whitesnake – started with Nickelback in ’05 on the “All The Right Reasons” tour.
“I first used a DiGiCo console on A Perfect Circle tour in 2003,” Mule recalled. “I thought I was using a Midas until I was told we’d be using a DiGiCo D5… I had a day to learn it before the band walked in. Needless to say, I was very impressed and from there and have used one ever since (whenever possible), on other tours with Aerosmith, Evanescence, two Cyndi Lauper tours, Engelbert, and now on two Nickelback tours. The SD7 is a natural progression for me, having worked on a D5. I truly believe this is the best sounding, standalone digital console on the market.”
In a training session with DiGiCo’s Pro Audio National Sales Manager, Matt Larson, and the Clair Global crew in the Nashville office, Larson walked the guys through some of the nuances of the new console. “Matt gave me some pointers on some of the new features, like being able to structure your mixes and how to assign the Madi racks now that there are no socket files in the software. DiGiCo obviously took recommendations into consideration with the new console, like having graphic EQs pop up when you solo a mix.”
On the current tour, Mule is handling over 50 inputs coming off the stage, including include 8 vocal channels, two drum kits, and various electric and acoustic channels among other things. “With 8 vocal positions around the stage,” he explained, “it was important to grab the main vocal dynamics, EQ and sends and spread them to the other positions and be able to follow around [lead singer] Chad Kroeger and [lead guitarist] Ryan Peake with their own distinct settings to any mic they walk up to. Also, allowing me to configure my console when needed is a big help with opening acts and when the ‘oh-by-the-way’ changes come. A case in point was with opening act Saving Abel, who started on wedges and then brought in an in-ear package. We were able to reconfigure the console and add all the new mixes and arrange them to the engineers liking without losing any of his previous settings. And as stated, this console handles the ‘oh-by-the-way’ situations with ease.”
The SD7’s built-in processing enables the work surface to come already loaded with features including 4-band parametric EQ on every input and output and its dynamics allow for every input and output to operate as a full multi-band compressor… none of which was lost on Mule.
“Let’s face it, if you need to augment your console with plug-ins to make it sound good, what’s the point?” he muses. “I’m old-school in the fact that we try to get everything to sound good from the source and not have to overcompensate with EQ and dynamics. I use them where needed and try not to load every channel up with unnecessary ‘signal diminishers’. That makes the amazing dynamics, such as comps and gates on this console, that much more ‘un-noticeable’. The EQ section is amazing. There’s no plus-or minus-18 going on, if you know what I mean. The changes are small and precise.”
Additionally, the big-features-to-small-real-estate ratio is definitely an added bonus. “I get a feed from video world that pops up on my console that enables me to see the stage from under my monitor world. It’s great in the fact that it eliminates yet another piece of gear such as an external video monitor. “But beyond that, because I’m handling in-ear mixes, there are now no racks of comps and gates and FX. Just my console, the split, the Madi racks and my RF rack. I fit in a small 8×8′ world under the stage left wing.”
But perhaps the biggest boon to Mule is the feedback from the band-or rather, the lack of it. “Daniel Adair, Nickelback’s drummer commented to me, ‘Not that the monitors ever sounded bad cause they have always been good, but… what the hell have you done? It sounds amazing up here!’ The other band members haven’t said much, which means they are extremely happy. And that that’s really what it’s all about, giving your band one less thing to think about when they are onstage. That means everyone else down the line is happy.”