A chat with the Queen’s main man

Hello cyber friends. A good friend and colleague of mine has agreed to bless us with a few minutes of his time today. He just got married… he lives in the weirdest city in the world… and he might be the monitor engineer for Jay Z’s wife. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome DANIEL GONZALES!!!

DG: Thank you, thank you. I have been known to mix it up for the Queen for the last year and half. Also I did recently move out to Austin and so far loving it!

SB: So, what can you tell me about the Illuminati?

DG: I can tell you they are listening in right now and I can’t say much. I’ll leave it at that.

SB: Typical. So with Jay Z being such a huge name in the industry, what’s it like running monitors for his wife?

DG: It has been a great adventure. I started in December 2012 for a NYE one off party in Las Vegas. I got the call and they wanted me to “try out” for a show and then see how it went from there. We started rehearsals and I tried to get as much info about what Beyonce might like to hear but didn’t get a lot of feedback so I just built a mix that I thought was an overall mix of everything and made sure her vocal would stand out on top. When she showed up she didn’t have much to say at all and just started rehearsing with the band. Over the next few months I just was waiting for her to critique and give me notes but they rarely came so I just made sure I was on top of it and listening closely and trying to get a feel for what she liked but her reactions…I guess I was doing alright. haha

SB: Seems like that worked out pretty well. So she is pretty difficult to read? And is that difficult for you as an engineer?

DG: The thing is, she is really vocal about what she likes and doesn’t like when it comes to video content, lighting design, or staging and dancing and even the FOH mix. I mean the first load in day of my first show with her, they sent home the FOH guy and brought in a new one. So I knew she knew what she wanted and would verbalize it if she didn’t like what she heard or saw. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen and she knows what she wants so I just took it as if she didn’t have anything to say, then she must be happy. But yeah, overtime I would get small notes from her about the overall level or turning up the vocals but not much more than that. As a monitor engineer I really try to put myself in the artist or musicians head and hear things from their POV and make adjustments that way.

SB: So you basically walked in and nailed a monitor mix for one of the biggest artists in the world. How did that feel?

DG: Haha I guess you could say that. I was really on edge every moment of the first few months… just waiting and wondering how I was doing. And I critiqued my own work pretty hard.

SB: What is the monitor situation on her tours? Are there multiple desks and engineers?

DG: So I mixed monitors for Beyonce and her background singers (The Mamas) and handled the mix for the front wedges and side fills. The wedges and sidefills are more for the dancers on stage but in case of IEM emergencies they were also used for Beyonce. There also was a second monitor engineer taking care of the 8 band members and all the techs.

SB: What packs and IEMs are you using?

DG: I try to be on the same IEMs as the artist. Beyonce and her team are all on Sensaphonics. In the past I’ve been a big fan of the JH audio stuff. I own about 6 different pairs of IEMs between Sensaphonics, JH and Future Sonics. For packs I try to always request the Shure PSM1000s. I haven’t found anything better. RARELY do I ever hear a frequency drop out or a radio interference issue.

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SB: Yeah the 1000’s are really the best monitoring systems in my opinion. Are you dealing with RF tuning and issues as well or are there techs who handle all the radio stuff?

DG: We had a great RF tech out with us. Props to Clinton from Eighth Day Sound for keeping the RF controlled. He was dealing with about 30 some odd freqs.

SB: Is he in the Illuminati too?

DG: IDK but he does always fly into the Denver airport when returning from tour.

SB: Oh god… I knew it. BRB

SB:

SB: Sorry.. coffee was getting cold. So what desk do you use on tour?

DG: I’m so old school (sarcastic) just ruling it on a Avid Profile. I’m a big fan of the Waves stuff and Avid, in the past had always had the best reliability with those plugins. I feel really comfortable on the Profile. I know the desk and move around quick. However, I’m not opposed to other desks… I just haven’t had the time to make myself comfortable on them.

SB: Hey in my opinion, it’s nearly impossible to top the Profile/Waves setup. But how do you handle it when other engineers are all of a sudden not cool to you anymore when they hear you still like the AVID stuff?

DG: I mean I’m not going to lie…. Avid needs to start moving forward with some things. Technology moves so fast. Some of the other consoles do have some great features and sound. BUT… I was the only guy on the tour using a profile and I can still rock it like it’s in style.

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SB: Are you going to try out the S3L for Beyonce?

DG: She knows I’m an audio guy and would be confused as to why I have a lighting control surface in front of me.

SB: She’s in the Illuminati, right?

DG: What’s that?? You’re breaking up.

SB: So, Daniel, we all want to know… what vocal chain do you have going on for the queen?

DG: It’s nothing special. It’s actually what I would do for most vocals. I have the SSL EQ followed by a CLA 76. I also run a Waves Doubler on the NON insert mode and use it more as a FX I blend in to give the vocal spread and space. And then the good verb and some trickery with the H Delay.

SB: Where do you normally HP her vocal?

DG: Dealing with IEMs and super loud arenas, I usually HP it between 140-155. Obviously that doesn’t work all the time but it works well for her.

Let me just say that I approach mixing on the more non-technical side. Some guys are super technical and that’s great. I take a more creative approach, and just love music.

SB: And I’m sure that’s a big part of why you are Beyonce’s M1. I’d say it’s pretty easy these days for engineers including myself to become distracted with too many plugins, snapshotting things to death and RTA displays that show data only the techs should be concerned with. Particularly when you don’t have a big team, the tech vs creative role always seems to be a difficult road to navigate for an A1/M1. When it comes down to it though it’s really all about the music. AM I RIGHT???

So, 2013. Superbowl XLVII half time show. Lights went out and everybody knows why. But I’m wondering… was that whole experience pretty cool? Or was it an absolute shite fest?

DG: 2013 was awesome. I was able to do some things that I never thought I would and cross a lot off my bucket list. Really thankful for that. The super bowl was giant. I mean, we did make the power go out so you know it was good. I was still really new at that point and just trying to make sure I didn’t mess up so I wasn’t able to even take it in until like half way through the performance I looked around and was like…….dang! It’s amazing how fast they get that stage on and off so quickly. That blew my mind.

SB: Yeah the production for the half time show honestly blows my mind every time. That gig is on a level of it’s own.

DG: Yeah AND that stage is all put together and loaded in by VOLUNTEERS.

SB: WHAT?? Were they all wearing flip flops or go pro’s on their heads?

DG: Most of that and not knowing Stage Left from Stage Right too.

SB: Sounds like a real nightmare. So what mic do you use for Beyonce?

DG: Sennheiser 5000 series with a 5235 capsule. We tried quite a few other capsules at the beginning.

SB: Do you ever have a problem with mic bleed? How is rejection with the 5235?

DG: The 5235 seemed to be better than some of the others when it came to bleed. It’s a dynamic capsule with just a regular cardioid pattern. She’s pretty good about getting the mic right up there and can really belt out. I only had issues during rehearsals when she was saving her voice but still wanted to hear herself loud or when she was out at the B-stage.

SB: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on one of her tours?

DG: Maybe just showing up to one of our South American load ins and seeing guys build a stage out of scrap wood and painters scaff.

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SB: I hope they weren’t all volunteers too.

I’m usually happy if I’m on an XL2 for a tour. Tell me, what’s it like having a 767?

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DG: Actually flying with that many people is one of the worst parts. Sometimes I wish I could have just ditched everyone and booked my own flight. From the moment we try to depart the hotel and get everyone on the buses to the airport to checking bags and going through security, it’s just a mess traveling with that many people. I’d way rather do the bus thing any day and we did bus it in Europe and the US.

SB: How many days a year are you typically out with this crew?

DG: Last year we did a crazy amount of shows and traveling. I lived out of storage and would just spend my few weeks off out of a hotel or with family. I think we did close to 170 shows plus all the traveling and rehearsals.

SB: That’s intense. I can’t say that I’ve ever lived out of storage.

So you’re a great guy with a great head on your shoulders, married now and have one of the greatest gigs in this business. Do you have any thoughts or wisdom to share with people who are currently doing or interested in potentially doing this kind of gig?

DG: Thanks man. I’m just a regular guy that has worked hard and got some decent breaks. I’m lucky enough to have found an amazing wife (shout out to Sarah) and get married. I’ve actually turned in my notice and using the warmandpunchy blog to announce my retirement. My advice would be to always go after your dreams. Work hard and pay your dues but don’t forget what really matters in life. Family first and have fun. I’m hoping to stay home and start a new season of life with my girl and finally live in a city and call somewhere home for awhile.

SB: Retiring after a year and a half… the queen must pay pretty well! That’s probably a great decision though… it’s a great job but I know how difficult and crappy it is traveling so much with a family.

DG: I’ve been doing this audio engineer thing for a lot longer than a year and a half. What a story it would have been though if Beyonce was my first gig ever. I have some other passions and goals I want to accomplish now. I wish you the best of luck now with your new one!!!

SB: Thanks Daniel. We wish you and Sarah a happy marriage and a great beginning to this new season of your life! And your sanity around town during SXSW.

Well, there you have it fans. If you’ve ever mixed before and want to run monitors for the queen, email thesingingqueen@mindspring.net

DG: You can submit your monitor engineer mixing video and upload to youtube for try outs.

Follow DG on twitter and insta: DANDYDDG

 

BCNI tour

Hello again. Finally back home for a bit and thought I’d take a break from Top Gear to give a little update. Last week was the Big Church Night In tour across UK (Portsmouth, Bradford, Birmingham, Bath, London) with Sir Redman and Christy Nockels. We had an amazing team out which makes all the difference in the world and lead to some powerful nights. Tom Redman was PM, Ed White was out doing lights along with Frazer Gall, Mark Sunderland on monitors and Simon Moss on audio systems.

We were traveling with full audio package, including D&B T’s at 12/side with J subs, SD8 at FOH and SD9 at MON. This was the first time I had done any touring with DiGiCo, and overall I did enjoy the desk. Unfortunately due to limitations of not having optical cables and our number of inputs we had to run at 48k, but turned out to be fine. Nice thing is we were able to share a stage rack which I am not used to with Venue. We were also running Waves of course. I had redundant SoundGrid One servers at FOH, which was more than enough DSP to run what I needed with super low latency. The way Waves and DiGiCo have integrated makes the use of Waves much more practical and user friendly compared to most other desks, although there are still a couple things you must do to phase align all channels on the desk. Anyway, more on this in the next post.

Along with DiGiCo I had never been out with the T series boxes before as mains, but was pleasantly surprised at what they were able to do. One night we had an extremely wide room and we had to split up the system more than we had wanted to for coverage… ended up with going 4/side as mains, 7/side on left/right hangs and 2 for fills down front. This night I definitely noticed the main 8 boxes (4 left, 4 right) I was hearing were missing low end and getting a little shouty when they were pushed hard, but that’s to be expected from such small boxes. When you put more than 8 or 9 together they can really push some big transients surprisingly hard and still sound musical. Also I was a little worried that we would have a nice gap in the low-mids between the T’s and J subs, but honestly the J’s came up to meet the T’s very nicely and other than the big punch that comes from larger boxes, I never really missed much with this system. All in all a nice rig.

As a thousand pictures are worth some words… here are a few photos from the gigs

My detainment notice

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Our travel arrangements. 16 bunk coach and 26 ton truck.

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Hypersleep

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FOH

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FOH v2.0

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Waves servers at FOH

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MON

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MON v2.0

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Posh load in

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Ed showing off (ok ok it was badass)

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C6 is everything

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Why does this literally happen every single time?

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Tom standin’ in the English rain…    watching for lamp posts.

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Try staring at this while delirious from sleep deprivation

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Great times

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ALRIGHT

SB

what do you process first?

Greetings once again. I wanted to share another thought from an audio side of things that really had me thinking last year. I always knew that I preferred to set up my signal chain with EQ before dynamics, but I never really thought through the physics behind it. Well I am right now, and that’s why I’m sitting here typing this out for whoever cares.

Say you have an electric guitar amp on stage that you want WAY louder. You have two options. Either get tons of amps and stack them up (ideal), or you have to capture that sound with a microphone and amplify it through a PA system (usually more practical). The problem is, microphones have certain physical characteristics that will slightly (or dramatically) color the original sound that they are trying to capture. Also, the placement of a mic is going to significantly alter the sound as well. Microphone cable length may unlikely but possibly contribute to tonal differences too, so keep them short. Yet ANOTHER issue is that when this already colored sound from the mic hits the preamps in your desk, the sound is going to be colored MORE. And just when you thought this couldn’t possibly get any worse… the sound goes through loudspeakers which have a complete sound of their own and the sound gets colored AGAIN! And this PA coloration can be the worst of all.. a rainbow of coloration. In fact if the PA sucks enough, this could be an unrecoverable tonal difference that no EQ will ever fix and that is when you push all the faders up as far as they will go and walk out. If you’re lucky the feedback will blow up the PA and whoever it is will be forced to get a new one.

My point is that, between the sound coming out of the guitar amp speaker and the final sound that is going into your ear hole after being amplified through a PA, it is inevitable that the tonal characteristics of that sound will be significantly altered. This is where EQ comes in. In my mind, EQ should be used to “correct” the tonality of the signal coming through the PA to sound like it does standing right next to the amp. According to the dictionary, equalization is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components within an electronic signal. Now I’m not that stupid to know that if you are reading this blog you are obviously going to know what equalization is, but the point I’m trying to make here is that EQ is a “corrector”. EQ is intrinsic to the whole idea of amplifying sound, because what’s the point in amplifying anything at all if it’s not like the original thing you are trying to amplify?

Moving right along now. If all EQ is doing is balancing the signal to sound like the original source, wouldn’t you want to apply that first and “balance” the signal before you deliberately altered it any further? Wouldn’t you want to make that guitar amp or vocal sound like it does naturally before you added compression to it? General channel compression isn’t natural. It’s not part of the original signal and it’s not bringing balance to anything. (Btw don’t confuse channel compression and multiband compression. I have a very different view on multiband comps which I will explain in my next post). So why would you want to compress a crap sounding vocal, then try to balance it out? You would be trying to make something sound natural after you’ve added unnatural qualities to it. Sounds a bit illogical to me….

I like to think of EQ as part of the original source, where dynamics are more the “aftermarket add-ons”. Not to say that dynamics aren’t necessary for a great mix… it’s just a different way of thinking. Say you have a snare drum with a really wicked overtone. Would you first crush it with a compressor and then try to use EQ to take the ringing out? Well that nasty ring is getting processed in that really great sounding comp and adding who knows what to the signal, plus it will be harder to dig out that tone when it’s all smashed together anyways. So why not EQ the ring out first so the snare sounds as natural as possible, then use that really nice sounding Waves comp to make the drum come to life?

Say you drove your car into a ditch and smashed it up. Would you tow it to a paint shop and get your mangled heap of metal repainted before taking it to a mechanic to get repaired? Of course! If you are an idiot.

I love science and physics and understanding things, but I’m really not a theory guy when it comes to audio. I’m more of an “eary” guy… (LoLz i know) so whatever sounds the best is what I go with. Even though this is my “theory” on EQ and signal chain order, I certainly don’t know everything and maybe you will get a much better result with Dynamics before EQ in some instances, which in that case GO FOR IT. If you have your own thoughts on this.. please feel free to comment. I’m always up for a good discussion.

ALRIGHT

SB

Managing management

Hello comrades. It’s really been a while, hasn’t it? Maybe someday I’ll try to take this thing a little more seriously. While recovering from the post tour flu or whatever it is I have and the boredom being sat around the house for 5 days brings, I decided to add up the number of days to date that I’ve actually been mixing on a sound desk since January, and that number is 190. Then I started thinking… what have I learned over these 190 days that stick out to me, or that I wish I would have known before I even set about this job? The next few posts will be exactly these thoughts, coming from a couple different job titles. Yes yes I know this is an audio blog, but my recent stints this year doubling as PM have left me no choice but to talk to you about the disarrayed world of tour production management as well. We will start here.

Production Manager

All my life I never really liked being in charge as I’d rather be off by myself somewhere doing my own thing, and to me the idea of accepting this role was a little unsettling at first. I was never really good at managing people, especially telling them what to do. I’ve never been a big fan of confrontation, and I really couldn’t be bothered by the idea of being responsible for so much. The artist hires this position to make the gig happen, and that’s exactly your job… to literally make it happen. No pressure! When you assume the roll of PM (or any management position), you have to be the boss because you are the boss. I had to get that through my head immediately. One thing that is very important is to introduce yourself as “the boss” to the right people as soon as you arrive. I would usually go in and introduce myself to the person in charge of the building, and the person in charge of the lighting that was being bought in, and anyone else in charge of anything related to the production that I might be dealing with so that clear lines of communication were established and they knew that I was the point person for the tour production and any production related questions were to be directed straight to me. I’ve found that this really saves time and headaches later on in the day. Now people are asking you important questions that you need to have correct answers for, which leads me to my second thought:

Being excessively prepared.

There’s nothing worse than showing up to a venue and the building manager telling you that you can’t use haze because a fire marshall would have to come and turn off all the sprinklers and fire detectors. Even good lighting with no haze looks stupid and unprofessional… and now you look stupid and unprofessional. Had you thoroughly advanced this, this wouldn’t even be an issue, right? Now you might as well walk around the rest of the day with your pants down because that’s definitely how it feels. A good friend of mine Brian York once equated production managing to firefighting. You will always have fires to put out onsite at any gig, but when you do your advancing properly and thoroughly, you will only have to put out the small, manageable little brush fires. Don’t do advance work properly on the front end and you will be stepping off the bus walking right into a building that’s burning to the ground with really no hope of ever putting out the blaze before showtime. This is so true, and I believe just as applicable to tour managing as well, on any size show or tour. If you are in a management position, you have to do your homework and you have to own it. You should have sorted 100% of ever single detail for each individual show well in advance of show day. I mean, why the hell would you not?? Show day should be you walking around during load in cool as a cucumber with a cup of coffee in your hand and a smile on your face making sure that audio has what they need to do their job, lighting has what they need to do their job, seeing that labor is being used and allocated correctly, making sure that no one is doing anything stupid or that the riggers aren’t out behind the docks smoking drugs, and to be readily available to answer any questions and quickly resolve any issues that arise. (And maybe push a case or two.) Another very helpful and wise thing my friend does is he keeps a physical copy of the signed final amended rider on him (show specific) so that if any issues were to come up where there was a disagreement on something or someone has a problem with this or that, he just pulls it out of his pocket and points to the section that has their initials by it. Brilliant.

I’ll wrap this up with saying that it really pays to treat people with respect. Instead of saying “hey” or “hey man” to get someone’s attention, try to learn as many names as possible. You will never be able to learn every single person’s name, but for 8 or 10 people you will mostly be dealing with that entire day, you can afford to learn their names.

ALRIGHT

SB