Van Halen Rocks the Hits across Sold Out North America Tour with VENUE

 

Van Halen, the legendary rock and roll outfit that sprinted out of Los Angeles into international fame 34 years ago, returns to the road on a sold-out North American arena tour. The band—singer David Lee Roth, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, and bassist Wolfgang Van Halen—are playing an assortment of their best known hits, including “Hot for Teacher,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Jump,” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love.”

Front-of-house engineer Brad Madix has the best seat in the arena every night. “This is a very talented band and it’s going off really well,” he says from a day off in Atlanta, GA. “People are loving it. Eddie is at the top of his game.”

Madix joined the Van Halen camp a week or so before the tour launched. “I had to hit the ground running,” he says. “But, they had decided on using an Avid VENUE system with the Profile surface, and that was helpful because I know my way around it, and it’s a good system for getting things together quickly.”

The fact that Van Halen is a straight-ahead rock and roll band helped Madix. “I know exactly what they are looking for,” he explains. “They don’t want a lot of effects and wet, big drum sounds. They are looking for an intimate sound—kind of like the records—with not a lot of reverb on the drums and so forth.”

That said, Van Halen is one of the more dynamic rock bands out right now, and Madix is finding the VENUE workflow—where the snapshots, scenes, and plug-in information is right in front of him—helpful. “I’ve always wanted things more in front of me,” he explains. “When your head is up and watching the band, rather than bent over fiddling with a knob, it helps keep your attention on the show as opposed to what’s happening off to the side.”

To keep his head more readily in the music and off the gear, Madix set up his VENUE Profile System with four DSP cards and stocked it with an assortment of plug-ins from Waves to help him re-create the sound of the band’s original recordings. He mostly relies on emulation plug-ins from the SSL 4000 Collection and API, plus the H-EQ hybrid equalizer and C6 multiband compressor.

“I like the hybrid EQ on the vocal, partly because I can do some EQ that tends to sound more vintage, but then at the same time hack out a really narrow thing that’s feeding back,” Madix explains. “The C6 is another one that gets a lot of use. In fact, there’s a whole mix going through that at the end of the show.”

Moreover, the SSL and API plug-ins deliver tones that are more authentic. “All of these things are convincing emulations,” he reports. “It really does sound like an API compressor, for example. There’s nothing pseudo anymore.”

While there aren’t a lot of effects or tracks playing during the show (not including the keyboards in “Jump”), Madix has a snapshot for every song the band plays. “To be honest, there are songs when really nothing changes, but on others there are little fader rides for a guitar solo or the melodic bass part at the beginning of “Beautiful Girls.” It’s not a big change, but I might be working on something else when that happens, and it’s nice to just hit a button and have that take care of itself.”

He admits with a laugh that it’s not the deepest use of snapshots. “This isn’t Cats, but during those moments, I don’t have to worry about which output layer I’m on,” he says. “The point is that I’m able to focus on what’s happening in the mix and not every one of those little things. Even if it’s just one per song, it’s still helpful.”

In addition to managing the live show, Madix is responsible for recording each performance to Pro Tools, which is synced to his VENUE system. “We multitrack to Pro Tools straight off the [VENUE] HDx outputs of the VENUE FOH Rack,” he explains. “The VENUE acts as the A/D and digital split. It’s something like 54 tracks with all the audience mics included.”

Not only are the shows being archived for a potential live release, having the Pro Tools sessions available came in handy early on in the tour while Madix and the band were perfecting the sound. “Early on we were working on the drum sounds. It was nice to be able to go back, listen to it with Alex, and see what we could manipulate to get what he wanted. In the past, I’d have to tweak something, burn a CD, and have him listen to it. If it wasn’t right, I’d have to do it all again. That could go on for weeks. Now, I just take the recording and play it through the PA or on some reference monitors, and we can get it done in a couple of minutes.”

The combination of responsibilities confirms what Madix has long believed. “One thing about mixing live shows that is different than anything else in the audio world is that when mixing a live show, you are essentially tracking, mixing, and mastering all at once,” he says. “For a long time, I never really had my head around the mastering part of it, but lately it’s become important to get that part of my bag of tricks together. [The job of the FOH mixer] is to bring the whole mix forward, just like you would for a CD. Part of the job is a volume thing, but also part of it is bringing details forward in the mix.”

That’s where VENUE and Pro Tools really deliver a positive sound experience to audiences, Madix says. “We now have the ability to add a layer of quality that I don’t know if we were doing all that well 10 years ago, but if we could, it required a lot of real estate and a lot of time to set up and a lot of effort to get dialed in. Being able to emulate the equipment these songs were recorded on is helpful. It’s subtle, but it’s subtle times 50, and it adds up to something in the right direction. The VENUE platform is really useful in aggregating all of these things in one place, right in front of you, so that you can keep your head in the show.”