Mike Rowland is a live sound engineer who has worked with Marianas Trench, City & Colour, Big Wreck, Blackstone Cherry, and Theory of a Deadman, among others. He is a U.K. expat who is now based in Toronto.*
PS: On the recent Marianas Trench tour, you were using plug-ins extensively as the monitor engineer. Is that typical for you?
MR: It’s something that I fall back onto quite a lot, the reason being it seems the artists I work with either own or are used to dealing with Avid products. With Marianas Trench, we wanted to make the jump to Midas for this album cycle but, to be honest, we knew that as soon as we did that, we would have to take a couple of steps backwards as soon as we landed on any other continent. When we’re in those circumstances, we need to be as prepared as we can.
We decided to stay with [the Avid Venue Profile console] and in doing that, we sort of inherently deal with plug-ins more because I find – and Melvin [Godfrey] as well, who mixes FOH for those guys and a couple of other FOH guys I work with – we find that when we use these Avid consoles, as fantastic as they are, they don’t have much colour and character in comparison to some of the others, so that is what we’re striving for when we use the plug-ins.
PS: Are there specific plug-ins you find yourself using most on the Avid consoles?
MR: Well, for example, Midas has onboard dynamic EQing and compression and Avid doesn’t have that, so there are a couple of plug-ins I personally shoot for. The Waves C6 [multiband compressor
plug-in] is something everybody gravitates towards. There’s even people I know who are using Midas and Digico and they will still use the C6 because of the way it operates and the way it feels…
One of the other good ones, actually, that I found going back to that last tour was the C4, which is the fourband version. I actually was using that to expand one of my guys’ vocals. He sings falsetto and doesn’t have as much oomph in his voice. Purely because of the range he is singing in, I had to drastically change his gain structure in comparison to everybody else on stage. I was sort of dragging his gain back and then pushing his sends in my world a little harder than I wanted to. So I ended up using [Waves] MaxxVolume plug-in and a C4 and I started messing around with soft gates that I could sidechain from EQs. Then I was also using the C4 as an expander when he got to a certain point when I knew he was at the top of his threshold for how he was going to push his voice in that song. I would set my thresholds in the plug-in to pull him out a little bit more, and never by much because obviously as soon as you start to do that, you’re bringing in other things that could be problems.
PS: When you’re working monitors for a new artist for the first time, what kind of preparation do you do and are there specific questions you ask upfront?
MR: For in-ears, I will always ask what they’re using… I will definitely find out everybody’s models so I know roughly what they’re going to be hearing as far as what the in-ear is capable of.
Every time I’ve gone into a preproduction, I’ve generally had enough time with the crew guys who know the band that I can actually build a pretty solid file as far as its raw elements and individual channels and inputs. I can get them, I would say, 70 or 80 per cent to where they need to be for the artist, because I will always listen to the music prior, as well. I will get things there and then when they come in, I will already have something rough in place for them to listen to. So they’ll come in and maybe do a song and address a couple of things. Slowly, over the days of rehearsal and pre-production, they’ll get further and further into it until there is a point where they stop talking to me, which is where I know that now I am at the point where I can address the things that I need to address and they’re comfortable on stage.
There is a musician who is very, very well-known and he didn’t know what he wanted to hear. He knew how it should be but he couldn’t describe it. For example, this one day he said to me, “I can’t tell you what’s up with my acoustic guitar, but it’s a little too purple,” and he used a colour as a reference. He played for another second and I went, “OK, well I think he probably needs a little more 400 being pulled out,” and I pulled out like 2dB at 400 Hz or something like that and he looked up and went, ‘That’s it; there’s my guitar.’ So I’m like, “OK, so purple is 400 Hz; brilliant,” and that’s how the tour went.