Interview:Tech Tip - Interview With Steve Read
By Dennis Kambury
This week, we interviewed local performer Steve Read. Steve and his wife Ellie make up the duo "Pyramid," performing rock and blues standards accompanied by carefully prepared multitrack sequences. We discussed his live sound setup and learned some of the tricks of the trade.
MF: What is your basic setup?
SR: For sound reinforcement, we are big Mackie fans. We use a 1604VLZ mixer, four SRM450 powered speakers, and four 1500A subwoofers. We generally use two of the SRM450s for mains and two for monitors. For mics, we've found the Neumann KMS105s to be great for our vocals. They're crisp and clear, and work well on stage and in the studio. Sometimes, I'll use a pair of Shure SM57s to mic the guitar cabs, but only for larger spaces.
For the front end, I really like the TC Helicon Voice Prism. We each have one, and use them for their mic pre-amps, compression, and limiting, as well as occasional harmonizing, chorus, and delays. I use a Lexicon MPX-1 for reverbs, and a BBE 882 to add fatness and sizzle to the acoustic space. I tried taking the 882 out of my rack, but it makes such a huge difference that I put it back in the very next gig. For our guitars, I use a Lexicon MPX-G2, and Ellie uses a Pod Pro.
MF: What range of spaces will your system allow you to play?
SR: Well, this is a modular rig, so we can play anywhere from small rooms to large outdoor spaces. For small clubs, we just use the SRM450s. They have plenty of "beef," and a small enough footprint to work on even the smallest spaces. In the average club, we'll add a couple of the 1500A subs, and for large spaces, we'll set up the entire system.
MF: How do you mix live, without an engineer?
SR: During sound check, I'll get things as close to ideal as possible, and then tweak the settings during the first song. I try to keep things simple, so I only mic what's necessary - usually just the vocals. I get Ellie's levels set first, and ballpark mine. Then I run one of the songs, and adjust the mix, levels, and EQ to fit the room. To balance the mains and monitors, I first get a good level on the mains. I want them loud enough to feel them on stage. Then I bring up the monitors to fill.
To avoid feedback, I use the FBX-1020 from Sabine. It uses auto-sensing notch filters that just kill feedback. I preset most of the filters, but always leave a couple "floating" to catch any stray problem frequencies during a set. I also take great pains in monitor placement - even small adjustments can make a huge difference. Watch out for hard walls directly behind the stage - they'll bounce the sound right back into the mic!
My secret weapon is that I always start sound checks and gigs with the same song. This gives me a good reference point, since I know how it should sound. I tweak as necessary, then pretty much leave it alone. I try to stay away from messing with the mix too much during a set - it really looks bad.
MF: What is your most important piece of gear?
SR: For years, I've been a Lexicon freak! The Lex 'verbs make an incredible difference. They soften and texture the sound in a subtle way that makes it extra-pleasing. They're used on more recordings and by more artists than you would imagine.
MF: What's at the top of your "must have" list?
SR: That's hard! I still drool over every Musician's Friend catalog - there's always so much cool new stuff. But I'm going to buy the dbx Drive Rack PA next. It combines a real-time analyzer, automatic EQ, program compressor, stereo 3-way crossover, and total programmability. I've tried it out, and it's fantastic! It can take a system that's already pretty good, and make it sound amazing! Plus, you can store your settings, so after you've tweaked it for a particular club, you can instantly recall that setting next time you play there. It'll cut my sound check time in half!
MF: Final question, Steve. What is on your fantasy buy list?
SR: If I didn't have to haul it around, a really sweet programmable lighting system. A show has audio dynamics and visual dynamics, and it's incredible how powerful visual dynamics can be with the right lighting system.
I'm also a fanatic for overkill. My truck's full now, but I'd carry more speakers if I could. The more you have, the easier it is to get that big concert sound at a lower volume.
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