For Rat Sound, Coachella 2011 Sizzled, but VENUE Kept Things Cool
Every year since 1999, tens of thousands of music fans trek to the California desert to revel in triple-digit heat, lose shoes, and take part in the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. And every year, Rat Sound Systems, based in Oxnard, CA, has been the festival’s lead sound provider. While the chaos behind the scenes can be as intense as the heat, this year’s 3-day sold-out event went off without a hitch, as 14 Avid VENUE systems kept the show up and running.
Over 150 diverse acts—including Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Duran Duran, The Chemical Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Mumford & Sons, Scissor Sisters, The Strokes, PJ Harvey, and Cee Lo Green—performed across five stages. But Dave Rat, founder and president of Rat Sound, didn’t even know the line-up until the last minute, which he says isn’t unusual.
“When Coachella releases the artists playing, they release it as a long list,” he explains. “But there’s no allocation of which band is playing [on what stage]… at least we have an idea of the big players and any particular significant challenges we might run into.”
The preparation begins…
Because Rat Sound usually doesn’t know who will be playing when they begin preparing for the festival three months prior, the team makes decisions about what mixing consoles and systems to provide based on what they feel the artists and engineers would want. For Rat, VENUE was the logical choice.
“We’ve been seeing the VENUEs climb on the [tour] riders into that top three—either the top position or very close to it,” Rat explains. “Because of that, we wanted to have a console with that rep… It had to have the dependability factor. It had to be able to handle the heat of the desert. We’ve built up the confidence in the console… For what we were doing, the Avid [VENUE] console was the best choice.”
In addition to their own supply, Rat’s team worked with audio rental company Hi-Tech Audio to provide 14 VENUE Profile Systems for FOH and monitor use across all stages, with only a handful of bands bringing in different mixers. “By far [the VENUE Profile] was the most common console,” Rat says. “We saw Profiles brought in by headline acts. Other acts that might have brought in a console decided to use the house [Profile] console instead. We did not have as many different boards coming in [as we’ve seen in the past].”
In addition, Hi-Tech provided five Pro Tools|HD Native rigs, which were integrated directly with the Profile Systems through VENUE Link, enabling the teams to offer main stage artists a live recording of their performance—with up to 64 tracks of audio—free of charge.
Working the show and set changes
Before the first band hit the stage, Rat Sound and Hi-Tech were busy coordinating the logistics of each act. Avid’s own Robert Scovill and Sheldon Radford were also on hand to support them, assist engineers, and help record the shows. Radford says that because VENUE adoption in touring is at the highest it’s ever been, “many of the up and coming band engineers were already familiar with it,” making his job easier.
Scovill agrees, adding, “We’re seeing strong and continued growth in the adoption of VENUE among engineers—especially people who are very accustomed to and comfortable with an analog workflow. Particularly under festival conditions, where everything is very fast-paced and immediate, people want a system that’s intuitive and easy to work with.”
Having the common VENUE platform across all stages also helped make set changes easier, as the engineers for each artist were able to prepare beforehand and then simply walk in with their show files on a USB key, plug it into the system, and have their settings up and ready to go. This saved a considerable amount of time and frustration, as they didn’t have to start a mix from scratch.
VENUE also made the changeovers easier logistically for Rat’s team, as they were able to get many of the artists’ show files from engineers ahead of time to facilitate the patching. “We do a re-patch of where they want to see the inputs on the console vs. where [the inputs are] going to come down the snake or where they’re patched into the stage boxes,” he explains. “That massaging needs to be done at some point between when we get the file and [when] they go on stage.”
To switch between consoles on the main stages, Louis Adamo, president of Hi-Tech Audio, designed a switcher comprised of a Yamaha DME engine, a programmable software matrix, and a mechanical switcher that enabled the team to simply press a button to switch between any four connected consoles to feed the main P.A. “It’s the digital version of what people have been using an XL88 for for years,” Rat asserts.
As dozens of bands cycled through a game of musical chairs throughout the festival, VENUE kept the music playing continuously without any hiccups. And the engineers were pleased with the overall sound quality and what they were able to achieve with their mixes.
An experiment with “after-show” souvenirs
All main stage artists were given the opportunity to leave with a USB drive containing the VENUE show file of their live mix, plus a multitrack Pro Tools recording of their performance. Setting up the live recordings was a snap, as VENUE Link automatically created each Pro Tools session from the current artist’s VENUE show file, routing all the I/O, adding the correct number of tracks, naming them, and performing the patching—all in under a minute, with 100% accuracy.
“VENUE Link really shined in its ability to simplify and de-stress the whole live sound recording experience,” Radford says. “It allowed band engineers and system techs to focus on the live show, rather than making sure the recording was set up properly.” (See VENUE Link in action before The Strokes’ Coachella performance.)
“The pretext of this,” Adamo admits, “was to demonstrate to engineers how slick the new version 9 of Pro Tools and version 2.9 [of VENUE software with] VENUE Link was for setting up the sessions… It was to get exposure with the engineers for the VENUE Link stuff and show how easy it was.”
"That adventure was kind of more exploratory," Rat agrees, "showing that it can be done and offering it to the artist as an added asset. Being able to walk away with a USB stick and have your show [file]—it was great."
In the end, after the last band walked off the stage, Rat was happy with the outcome. "It’s a challenging festival," he reflects. "It’s not a walk in the park out there. It’s a long grueling day, and anyone who’s worked it, knows it… Coachella informed us that that this [event] had been the smoothest ever from the audience side. [They’re] extremely pleased with the outcome, so we are hoping to do it again."
Adamo agrees. "Everybody was extremely pleased [about] how everything performed and how well and smoothly everything went… It was great for me, it was great for them—it was great for everybody."