Mixing Dream Theater with a MIDAS touch
Independent FOH engineer Nigel Paul is using the MIDAS PRO9 digital live audio system for the band’s ongoing world tour. Dream Theater has been on the road almost continuously since July 2011 in support of its 11th studio album, A Dramatic Turn Of Events. Clair Global is the audio provider.
For Paul, choosing a MIDAS PRO Series console was an easy decision. A career-long fan of MIDAS analog consoles, most notably the XL4, he became an early adopter of the PRO6 upon its introduction in 2008. “After just ten minutes of feeling out the software and listening to the preamps and EQ, I knew this was the digital console I’d been waiting for,” he recalls. “As mixers, we all think and operate a little differently, and certain design and ergonomic approaches will feel more intuitive to some than to others. As a long-time user of MIDAS analog consoles, I felt fundamentally at home with the PRO Series right from the start, sonically and functionally. There was a learning curve, of course, but for me it was smooth, straightforward and enjoyable.”
For the input-intensive Dream Theater tour, Paul moved up to the PRO9, which expands the I/O capabilities while maintaining the same mix engine. “I’m so glad the PRO9 came out in time for this tour,” he states. “I need every one of the 80 inputs and 8 Aux returns it offers. We use 40 channels for drummer Mike Mangini alone!”
Dream Theater presents a very dynamic show, and Paul takes an active approach to the mix. “This is a very busy show mix-wise and I like to be actively hands-on, so I prefer not to avail myself of the excellent ‘scenes’ features that the console offers,” he says. “I do, however, take the fullest advantage of the POP groups and VCAs to ensure I can have any inputs immediately to hand, in the correct groupings, whenever I need access to them. I appreciate having 10 VCAs instead of the eight found on many other desks, and POP Groups was a very clever MIDAS idea; infinitely better than the layer approach.”
Paul has the console’s 10 VCAs set up as follows: lead vocal, background vocal, guitars, keys, Pro Tools playback, bass, drum kit main, toms/octobans, vocal reverb, and vocal delay. This gives him grouped access to each element of the mix with a single button push. He deploys the six POPulation Groups with a different mindset, geared more towards the show’s functional progression. His current six-pack of POP Groups comprises: all vocals; principal inputs for the acoustic songs; utilities (talkback, pink noise, etc.); all Aux returns; all cymbals and electronic percussion; and show start (CD, iPod, and video playback).
Another advantage of the PRO Series that Paul appreciates falls into the category of convenience, courtesy of both the system’s DSP capabilities and its compact design. “I use the on-board DSP for most of my effects and dynamics processing, supplemented by just a couple of preferred outboard pieces,” he says. “My analog FOH set-up for Dream Theater used to consist of an XL4 loaded with 12 stereo modules, a 24-channel XL3 sidecar, three racks of dynamics processing and effects, plus a PSU rack. With the PRO9, all I have at FOH is the control surface, one small effects/playback/recording rack, and a work box.” The system’s DL351 and DL451 modular I/O boxes and the DL371 DSP engine are kept on stage, with connection to the PRO9 control surface accomplished via CAT-5e cables.
While Paul is a big fan of the PRO9’s feature set, it’s no surprise to learn that it’s the sound quality that keeps him coming back. “MIDAS Digital consoles maintain, and have arguably even improved on, the sonic excellence of the XL4. I consider that a remarkable artistic and engineering achievement. Everything is in perfect audio focus, with no time smear whatsoever, which makes a real difference to the discerning ear. The members of Dream Theater are very technically savvy and all about sound quality. Any time one of them has come out to join me for a listen during sound check, they have never failed to comment on how warm and punchy everything sounds. While I’d like to think that my mixing skills have some bearing on this happy state of affairs, it’s also about having the right tools for the job. For me, that’s the MIDAS PRO Series.”
Having started their 2012 schedule with tours of Europe and the Far East, Dream Theater will be returning to the road with U.S. dates for their “Dramatic Tour of Events” beginning June 15.
Photo: Dream Theater FOH engineer Nigel Paul, flanked by guitarist John Petrucci (left) and keyboardist Jordan Rudess.