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Articles March-April-May-June 2020

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Renowned FOH engineer Brad Divens who is currently mixing for Enrique Iglesias and has mixed for Linkin Park, Garbage, Cyndi Lauper, HIM, Bob Seger and countless others in the past, was in Mumbai for doing what he loves to do most – his fixintogetmixin classes. In between tweaking the knobs for top acts, Divens shares his love for the art of mixing live through these classes that are open to all levels of engineers, across the globe, free of charge.
PT met the mix magician during his latest stop on the fixintogetmixin tour, at the HARMAN Professional Solutions office in Mumbai where Divens shared his insights on mixing.

Long before Brad Divens started pushing the faders for top acts, he himself was a rock musician -bassist and lead vocalist for Souls at Zero, formerly known as Wrathchild America. From playing guitar and lending vocals to Wrathchild America to mixing live sound for Enrique Iglesias, Divens has decades of experience on stage and behind the console. “I started playing the guitar when I was ten years old and started my first band when I was 15. For more than three decades I had been a performer, but destiny had other plans. One day I found myself in a position where I needed a gig to pay the rent and I answered a phone call from a tour manager. I initially thought I was only going to be tour managing but it turned out that they wanted somebody to mix. I said YES and that was my transition from being a musician into the front of house world. I still wanted to be a rock star, but these gigs for FOH kept coming and it was working for me.”

Obviously, the challenge of using a rotating selection of different consoles and managing sound for varied artistes, across genres, in a variety of venue types must have been daunting. “To me, because I’m a musician first before a mixer, I don’t find it to be as challenging. To me its pure music and when I listen to the music and put it together, it’s going to sound like that artiste. My interpretation is always based on what they are doing and it’s never about what I think they should sound like. The challenge differs from artiste to artiste because I never know whether the singer will stand still and sing on the microphone or he will run around in front of the PA. As far as mixing and the actual music is concerned, I find it to be very satisfying because I love music so much and I’m lucky to be able to mix a wide variety. It’s just a matter of staying true to what they are doing. I’m not going to make Linkin park sound like Cyndi Lauper or vice versa,” he says.

Mixing for Artistes

The FOH engineer is most susceptible to blame for any imperfections in the sound. It may be a vocal mic feeding back or the audience can’t hear the singer or it’s too loud or it’s too quiet, it could be anything and the “sound guy” would be responsible. In this scenario, mixing for some artistes may get even more challenging. “Every artiste has his own challenges but there are three who were particularly challenging to mix for,” he says.

“I think mixing for Enrique is challenging in the sense that the audience can be so loud at times, to the point that if I ever try to mix at that level it would be painful. I have to maintain the sound level because I know I’m never going to mix above the audience. Enrique is so much fun to mix! He is a great entertainer, a great singer and a visual treat.

I also found it challenging to mix for the band HIM. The drummer was very intense in his performance and he pretty much played the same dynamics for the whole show, but the singer would sing soft and he would sing loud and the challenge was to keep his vocals out in the mix. In situations like these, I make sure that I adapt to things because I realize that I can never change the way the artiste performs. The only thing I can do is adapt, and try to figure out a way that is going to make it a little more enjoyable for the artiste and myself.

Delay is a very important part Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell’s vocal sound. The challenge here was his microphone and that delay has to be open all the time. He can do anything. He may stand in front of the drum kit, he may run in front of the guitar rig, he may jump down into the crowd, and that delay is on. It’s picking up drums, it’s picking up everything, so all I could do there is just work with it because I knew it had to be part of the mix, but again it’s just a matter of keeping your finger on the fader.”

HARMAN Professional India and Divens shared mixing techniques with FOH engineers, in the India leg of Divens’ fixintogetmixin class series in Mumbai. Attendees were enlightened with ideas and insights on how Divens utilizes the JBL sound systems and Soundcraft Mixing Consoles when mixing live.

Evoking Emotions

FOH plays a crucial role in engaging the audience in the musical experience and evoking emotions. According to Divens, engaging audiences and delivering a fresh experience, which is also familiar at the same time also involves evoking emotions in himself. “At some point during the show I end up evoking the emotion out of myself and that could be a combination of the audience, the PA, the artiste; everything just comes together. When I mix a show, I try to keep it dynamic. Many a times I watch the lighting as well and believe it or not, I have mixed some cues in sync with what the lights are doing. I always look around the room and watch the audience a bit too. If things are going right, they would be dancing and on their feet. I also always find the enjoyment in whatever I’m mixing. It does not matter who the artiste is or what the music is, I will find the enjoyment in it. So I invoke the emotion in myself and it translates to the rest of the venue.”

Say YES to everything that comes along and don’t be afraid to turn the knob till where you like the way it sounds and PICK YOUR GIGS!

Technology - boon or bane?

This era has witnessed the emergence of high-end consoles and advanced DAWs and audio plugins and we are right in the middle of it. For sound engineers it’s an exciting time to be in this field, or so it seems. “I think it has been important for people with experience in mixing, where they now have those tools that translate their mix to be a little more studio album quality. However, I think it’s also almost a deterrent for upcoming engineers who think I have all this technology at my disposal and I’m going to use it all, when in reality I believe that you should be able to dial the mix on a 12 channel mixer with a couple of delays. You should be able to do that first before you ever think about wanting to use all of this. More importantly, do you know what it all does and is it going to make your mix better or is it just going to make it different? When I started thinking about this whole fixintogetmixin class concept and how to approach young engineers and seasoned engineers and everyone in between, I was like wait a minute - you didn’t always have all this, but now that you do, you feel it’s necessary? No it’s not really that necessary because as you should be able to go back and work with what you have,” he explains. “The whole purpose of doing the fixintogetmixin classes, is my intention to get the point across that all these tools are great but it’s the process in which you craft the mix that is the most important. It’s important to be a lot more involved than just getting access to the most recent plugins and the most recent consoles,” he adds.

Crafting the Signature Mix

To craft his signature mix, Divens usually uses the JBL VTX V25-II and the JBL VTX A12 and a whole lot of other gear. “I got a pair of the JBL 708 in my studio along with the JBL 705; the Soundcraft Realtime Rack with UAD plug-in; I have the Soundcraft Vi3000 in my house so that I’m able to sit and dial things in. I make use of all that stuff in order to dial in. I start with the consoles and the nearfileds and the tracks and then I take it from there. I know if my mix is dialing in properly on the console and then I go to the PA, 85-90% of the times it is going to translate across the board,” he says.

Console “Wise”

There is no doubt that the industry has come a long way from the early digital consoles with clunky controls, monochrome screens and average audio quality to today’s new age live consoles. We asked Divens if he nevertheless faces any challenge while working with new age live sound consoles and what additional features he would like to see on future consoles. “Well, I think one of the challenges we face is that sometimes the consoles that the manufacturer wants to put out into the marketplace may not be quite ready to be put out. While I may be excited to switch to the newest version of a particular console, I also need to think if I would want to take a chance of something happening on a live show in front of 15000 people. I don’t care if there are 5 people or 50,000, I’m never going to take a chance of going away from what I know is rock solid, even though I want to try out something that is new,” he says. “Consoles these days have most of the features that everybody would like to see, having said that, I would probably like to see some development where the consoles would be more accessible to use every manufacturer’s plugin packages. If somehow manufacturers could incorporate this into the console without it being some external piece of gear that can fail, it would be great. I don’t know how they would be able to achieve that because some people run them natively, others use DSP. I have mentioned to Steven Slate many times that I would love to use his stuff live, but his stuff is only Native and there is no DSP required to run it. For me it’s hard to incorporate and I don’t want to take a chance, but it would nice if somebody could come up with that way of doing things.”

On 26th April, HARMAN Professional India and Divens shared mixing techniques with FOH engineers, in the India leg of Diven’s fixintogetmixin class series at the Chitrarth Studios in Powai. Attendees were enlightened with ideas and insights on how Divens utilizes the JBL sound systems and Soundcraft Mixing Consoles when mixing live. “Being able to listen to the music and work with whatever fear it is that you have at that time is paramount. You should be confident of telling yourself - all I need is a microphone and a source and a console and I can make this mix happen no matter what I have in front of me. And this is the aim of the class – to help develop this skill and the technique. I want to make people realize that there is more ways to mixing than just the technicalities. Yes, you need to know how everything works but you can’t mix by sight, you have to listen. Through these classes, what I’m trying to convey is that just listen to the music. It’s not that difficult to put together if you just listen! It’s more about process and technique. All of the same principles apply to all artistes. It’s more about the technique and less about being caught up in all the latest technology.”

A tip that he shares with sound engineers aspiring to work at his level one day – “Say YES to everything that comes along and don’t be afraid to turn the knob till where you like the way it sounds and PICK YOUR GIGS! There are many gigs out there, so pick the gig and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If I don’t know how to do something, I’m gonna ask. You decide what’s worse – asking the question and then being able to do it, or not asking and then failing miserably. I don’t care how it makes me look but if I don’t know something, I’m going to ask and I would encourage you to do the same.”

Speaking about the masterclass, Prashant Govindan, Sr. Director, Harman Professional Solutions India & SAARC opined “Brad Divens is legend and authority in his trade and It’s not often that industry professionals are exposed to the unparalleled hands-on experience garnered by such brilliant engineers.

‘fixintogetmixin’ is a well-known masterclass that has enjoyed a lot of success in the U.S. and we thought of replicating the format here as well.

Suffice it to say that it was a grand success and those who attended left with a lot of food for thought, thanks to the rare insights that were shared by Brad. I thank Brad for making the long trip to India and inspiring us with his tips and techniques.

We look forward to many more of these sessions.”

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