Three of our personas spoke at length about the scenarios they encounter on the job, in The Console Council: A Scenario Roundtable.
Bio: Started in sound by working on high school theatre in Iowa. After graduation, he spent a year working the community theatre and university scene in Ames before moving to New York City. He got a job as an A2 on an Off-Broadway show, joined the union, made some contacts, and slowly worked his way up. He was 25 when he took over as A1 for the Broadway revival of Gypsy. Since then, he has mixed Grease, Curtains, Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens, The Pajama Game, All Shook Up, 12 Angry Men, Master Harold & the Boys, The Look of Love, and Wicked on Broadway, and toured with Fortune’s Fool, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, The Rainmaker, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Little Me, Cabaret, Triumph of Love, 1776, and State Fair.1
Favorite Consoles: He generally loves working with Cadac analog consoles. He started on the A-Type in 1991, and currently prefers working on the J-Type. Other analog consoles are all pretty solid, and he has developed a sense of each of their acoustic personalities over the years. When pressed to pick his favorite digital console, he settles on the Studer Vista series.
Professional Values: “Sound for theatre is all about trade-offs and compromises. When on a tour where each stop is only a few days and I’m about as off-book as you can get, it can be nice to have a smaller console, even if it doesn’t always show me everything. When I’m opening a new show or in a venue for a long time, I like to have a bigger desk that gives me a complete picture of what my signal’s doing.”
1These are the design credits of Brian Ronan, the designer of the current Rent tour. http://www.siteforrent.com/creativeteam_details.php?url_identifier=brian-ronan
Bio: Received B.M. in Music Production and Engineering from Berklee College of Music in 1987. Shortly thereafter, Phil moved to New York to pursue a career in theatrical mixing, and took a job at Sound Associates, Inc., a company specializing in the sale, rental, and design of high-end audio systems. It was through this connection that he met his mentor, who was mixing for the Broadway production of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Phil’s major credits include Les Miserables, City of Angels, Beauty and the Beast, Seussical, and The Color Purple.2
Favorite Consoles: Cadac by far. Cadac has led the industry in analog consoles for years, and Phil has worked with several. In the late 90’s, he mixed Les Miserables on the Cadac A-type console, without automation. While he enjoyed the challenge of mixing on the A-type and the lack of automation kept him on his toes, Broadway shows have become increasingly more complex in sound design, requiring consoles with varying degrees of automation. More recently, Phil mixed The Color Purple on a Cadac J-Type console, which provided the cue and VCA grouping automation the show required, in a familiar analog interface that Phil could trust. Although Phil has mixed on digital consoles—the Meyer LCS has become the go-to digital board for Broadway’s newer and more sonically complex shows—the transition from analog to digital is slow and Phil yet to meet a digital console that, in his opinion, does the job as well as an analog one. When he is mixing a show, one mistake is one mistake too many—and Phil has had too many bad experiences with digital consoles to trust them. The possibility of system failure with a digital console makes Phil nervous. If something goes wrong, the whole console can go; on the other hand, if something goes wrong on a Cadac console, he may only lose a single channel, which he can work around. Phil also prefers the physical faders and knobs of an analog interface. According to Phil, “I have worked with Cadac consoles for years, and like the reliability, consistency, and modularity of the Cadac J-type above any other console. It’s what I know, and what I know works.”
Professional Values: “Mixing live theater is a tough job—you have to be on your toes constantly and if you screw up, you could be fired—but I enjoy the challenge and feel pride in my ability to be the ‘man behind the curtain’ for the audience. If the audience is happy, and I’m invisible to them, then I know I’m doing my job. ”
“As a sound mixer, it;s my duty to mix the same show, as envisioned by the Sound Designer, every night, even if the actors sound different or are replaced at the last minute by an understudy. I have the experience and expertise to deliver consistent results with each performance. I like having the right tools to do the job, and think of my console as an extension of myself.”
2 These are show credits of sound mixer Carin Ford
Bio: Became enamored of sound during his undergraduate studies at Oberlin College. He went directly from a BA in theater at Oberlin to the Sound Design MFA program at Carnegie Melon (MFA 1998). He landed assistant sound directing gigs at traveling shows eventually working his way to larger productions. His Broadway sound design credits include The Little Mermaid, and Tarzan, with associate sound design credits including The Lion King, The Producers, and Hairspray.3 He leveraged his experience with both broadway shows and traveling performances to sign on with the Les Mis tour in England.
Favorite Consoles: Cadac analog consoles are THE standard in the industry and he has more experience with these boards, and designing around their capabilities. He likes the comfort level they impart to professional mixing crews and the level to which their familiarity with the Cadac can leave both the mixers and him time to really massage the sound for those intangible qualities demanded by the Director. Since the sound designer is also mostly responsible for sound equipment he also likes the maintainability and ubiquity in rental situations of analog equipment.
He is excited by the upcoming Meyer LCS digital, as he feels it will allow for easy testing of the whole system, each output, etc., and the ability to track down issues pretty quickly. He feels digital sound “…can change the game: give us more power, access, and feedback.”
Professional values: Simon would like to see a world where he has even more feedback information from his sound equipment and feels like digital might really be able to provide this. He is, however, a still a little wary of the way digital can drop out entirely with malfunctions compared to the more gradual failures of analog sound. He wants more and better backups to guard against catastrophic equipment failures for his shows with people paying $100 per seat. Still, dealing with many parts of the sound control process in his position as designer, he knows that speaker processing, monitor mixing and many other parts of the sound process are already handled with digital, in many cases. More than anything else, from future digital consoles he wants a “strong center section” of equalizers and compressors and such.
3 Show credits taken in part from those of the sound designer John H. Shivers
Keith Benton, Studio Engineer
Bio: Keith was introduced to the mixing business at his church in his hometown of Allentown, PA, where he took part in recording and mastering choir performances. Keith learned much of the workings of recording technology during this period of time. He decided to pursue a career in recording and went on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Recording Technology from the University of Memphis. Subsequently, Keith took on several small assistant sound engineering roles in the Memphis area. Eventually Keith got a job with Prax Records, a fledgling soul music record label locally known for its true Memphis soul heritage. At Prax, Keith honed his recording skills—elevating local soul acts such as Ty Plune, Sammy Lowell and the Tints, and Ellis, Stubbles, and Griggs—into the singles charts on Southern R&B charts. With his attention to clarity, cohesion and using the resonant aspects of the Prax studio space, Keith developed a larger-than-life soul sound that garnished much accolade from numerous musical acts in the region. In 2004, Keith decided to move to the west coast and adapt his sound to the Californian alternative rock scene. Working as chief recording engineer at Root Records’ Studio 2, a space renowned for its distinct acoustic environment, Keith captured and sculpted acts such as Broadway Deficit, Kids of the Sun, and Vicious Lush into success stories in Northern California. Within the past two years, Keith has had a growing role in the music production and mastering.
Favorite Consoles: Keith likes a blend of vintage analog and digital consoles. His favorite vintage console is the analog Neve 8068 because of its superior sound quality and “analog warmth.” He also enjoys working with the SSL 9000J Series SuperAnalogue, which supplements analog sound with digital control and automation, a features he greatly values, especially when working on a long recording session with many takes. On the digital side, Keith likes the DigiDesign C24 control surface. It allows him to fully integrate with ProTools recording, processing, and mastering tools, and gives him very flexible automation during recording sessions. Recently, he has fallen head-over-heels for the DigiDesign ICON series—a powerhouse digital console with unparalleled integration and processing power.
Professional Values: Keith greatly values creativity in his job. “I thrive on blending old vintage technology with the state of the art to make a truly unique sound—I’m always daring to put something new and something old together.” When Keith sits down with a new musical act, he does his best to make it sound like the top act. He doesn’t fear using new features that are emerging in the industry. “In the music industry, it’s innovate or die—I need the flexibility and new features of my consoles to push the sonic envelope.” Keith is customer-centered—he takes his time to get to know the band to better understand what they want out of their music—even if it means occasionally sneaking in an extra hour of studio time on a late night.