4 Days, 4 Shows, 4000 Miles
Liam Clifford, JMC alumnus and boss of Howlaround Entertainment, tells how to maintain consistency across crazy fly dates.
I always open tour-routing emails with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. This December when I got the dates for Elle King’s string of back-to-back Christmas radio shows, I immediately went into attack mode. Getting consistency across this crazy schedule was going to take some figuring out.
First, we were heading 1000 miles west from the Great Lakes to the middle of the country, then scooting down south to Florida, before returning to pretty much where we came from for a final date in Chicago. Meanwhile, the four dates would include three of the main touring food groups — large clubs, an arena and an open-air amphitheatre.
Keeping consistency on and off stage with varying gear, an ever-changing venue type and size, with little to no sound checks is always going to be a challenge. Adding a rather intense travel schedule of late nights and early mornings, plus the looming threat of winter storms across the USA, and this run was looking tough. Thankfully, the travel gods smiled on us; we managed to avoid any major delay and the airlines didn’t lose any of our fly kit.
Apply for JMC Academy’s Audio Engineering and Sound Production, or Masters of Creative Industries courses, to get qualified with hands-on experience, study abroad options and internship opportunities. Intakes in February, June and September. Check the courses out online at jmc.academy/audioat
SWAT-STYLE FLY KIT
In the grand scheme of touring, our fly kit isn’t enormous. We only carried 23 pieces on this leg, with most of it being backline items. I’m a firm believer in making sure it’s right on stage before putting a microphone in front of it. The number one priority is making sure the band has everything they need to feel comfortable. We travelled with all of our guitars, pedal boards, snares, cymbals, as well as tech and production work cases for on-the-road repairs.
We would then advance local backline and production to spec, or as close as we could get. We’re able to keep the backline consistent every day with the exception of the drum kit which flip flopped between a C&C or a vintage Ludwig. The most variability tends to occur in the quality of the guitar amps, Leslie cabinets and Wurlitzers. Thankfully, our amazing backline tech ensured all the local gear was up to spec and sounding spot on before we put it on stage.
On the production side, we aimed to maintain consistency across mic choices, IEM units and consoles. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to keep gear the same every day. We opted for fairly generic mic choices, like Shure SM57s on guitars, a Beta98AMP for the Leslie, and SM58s for vocals, with the exception of Elle’s vocal, for which we carried our own wired Shure KSM8.
SHOW 1: The Rave Hall — Milwaukee, WI
Day one for us was a headline radio show. It was the perfect kick off, allowing us to make sure we were set up for the tour. We were able to treat it as a standard headline show, implementing the load in and sound check schedule of our regular tour. The audio vendor for this show was Clearwing Productions and we were able to get everything to our spec.
Console choices were Digico front and back, with an SD10 handling FOH and an SD5 at the monitor position; with a rack of Shure PSM1000 IEM systems working flawlessly.
We had just come off a tour performing in large clubs and small theatres using Digico SD9 consoles, so my monitor show file transferred over nicely. We really didn’t have to change too much from the tour mixes.
SHOW 2: 1st Bank Centre — Denver, CO
Denver was a fresh challenge. Not only were we swapping our theatre show for an arena radio show, we also had to swap our comfy Digico SD files for Avid Profile files. Thankfully, we were able to keep all the microphone choices relatively consistent with the previous night. It kept some level of consistency when mixing on the different sounding consoles.
Our greatest challenge on this show was purely time and space. Being a larger radio show our build and sound check times were short, and we were sharing the stage deck with quite a number of other bands. To keep our changeovers tight we would delegate our roles; our FOH engineer dealt with the stage patch, which I would jump onto once I had finished setting risers and musician positioning.
SHOW 3: Midflorida Credit Union Ampitheatre — Tampa, FL
Today was going to be the long haul of these four days, with an early lobby call of 4am to make our flight. We had a very limited window to get out of Denver, land in Tampa and then get to site to build and line check.
To help keep today running smoothly I had completed a relatively in-depth backline advance so that a local tech from the backline vendor could pre-set and build on our risers.
We were also back to our trusty SD5s, and thankfully, with this being another large radio show I was the only engineer on the house console. We were able to mic up in the loading dock and run out our multi-pins prior to changeover. This allowed us a rather lengthy line check from the load dock without disrupting what was happening on the stage with the other artists.
SHOW 4: Aragon Ballroom — Chicago, IL
Today we were back up north in an amazing large theatre. Aragon ballroom has an incredible history and packs in 5000 punters. This was a smaller radio show with only three artists on the bill, and Elle King as direct support.
Today’s unique challenge was not being able to pre-set risers and wheel them on stage. The way the venue and backstage is laid made it impossible. Our crew had to go back to grass roots and build backline, mic and patch at the same time on stage. With the assistance of some great local crew this was relatively painless.
Nevertheless, we did come across a grounding or power loading issue with the local backline. After a few well-placed ground lifts and moving some circuits around we were able to eliminate it from the show.
We found ourselves back on Avid Profiles and with a rack of PSM1000s were sounding nice and consistent from the previous couple of shows.