NEW YORK, NY--One of the last major dividing lines between ‘old school’ and modern touring is the use of digital audio. Insistence on an analog desk is a mark of commitment, denoted by a forbidding “NO DIGITAL DESK” notation on the band’s rider. Defined by a devotion to audio purity, the sound engineers for many of these bands rely on Midas mixing consoles.
“Nothing but a Midas will do,” declares Doug Short, FOH engineer for Megadeth. “I’ve tried just about every digital console on the market, and they just don’t measure up sonically.” So why, then, did Short opt for a Midas PRO6 digital desk for the first leg of the band’s promotional tour for the new “Endgame” album?
“I had done some training on Midas digital up in Minnesota over a year ago. But when Megadeth started up, my bid list required a Midas XL4 at front of house,” relates Short. “The plan was to carry control gear from Thunder Audio – consoles and processing. Basically, Paul Owen, Thunder Audio principal, saw my bid list, called me and said tempted me to give the PRO6 a shot. I figured a five-week promotional tour was the perfect opportunity. As Paul says, ‘Hey, instead of taking out 1,168 pounds of XL4, why not give the Pro6 a shot?’ I mean, it is a Midas, right?”
The final step was to complete Doug Short’s basic training on the new desk. “Erik Rogers from Thunder was the guy who made it happen,” he notes. “With no production rehearsal and a new desk, I was out of my comfort zone. Erik literally drove out in his own car, set up the desk for me and stayed with me for the first three gigs. Thunder Audio definitely went above and beyond the call of duty to make this happen. I can’t say enough good things about those guys.”
Short found his baptism by fire to be fairly painless. “With Erik there to show me the ropes, I was up and running in no time,” he says. “By the third gig, I was really comfortable. There was none of that ‘alien planet’ vibe you get on some digital desks. In fact, it’s really just like mixing on a (Midas) Heritage. That’s exactly how it feels as a layout. But even more important, it sounds like a Midas!”
Megadeth uses 38 inputs, 18 of which are drums. Short utilizes all ten of the console’s VCA splits, divided as follows: Shawn Drover’s drums are split into kick drums, snare, and toms. Guitarists Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick each get one VCA, as does James LoMenzo’s bass. Two more VCA groups are dedicated to lead and backing vocals, and the final two handle effects returns and playback. Two POP Groups are also in use, one for Drover’s cymbals and the other for house playback. “Megadeth is very straightforward, so in terms of setup, it’s not much of a challenge for the desk. Which was perfect for me to get comfortable with it,” says Short. “Using all ten VCAs and two POP Groups, everything I needed was at my fingertips.”
Coming from the analog world of outboard effects, Short was understandably concerned about relying on the Midas internal effects engine. “I must admit, I did take a couple external rack effects, but that was because I didn’t have the prep time I would normally prefer. But no boutique stuff, no plug-ins,” he admits. “And I used everything on board for mic preamps, compressors, reverb and gates. That’s the heart of the system and it sounds fantastic.”
For the same reason, the tour utilized a traditional copper snake connecting the stage to the control surface. “I just didn’t know enough about Cat5 yet,” short explains, “so it’s nice that you have the option to use copper with the PRO6. Since I was also acting as system tech, I wanted all the patching to be familiar to me.”
Asked how the band reacted to having a digital console at FOH, Short replied, “before the first show, Dave Mustaine came out, saw the console and said, ‘It sure looks pretty. Hope it sounds good, too.’ So he was aware. And every night, I would give him a live two-track mix of the show that we listen to for reference, and he never said a thing. With Dave, that’s practically an endorsement.”
Another big change for Short was having two large TFT screens in front of him. He keeps things as straightforward as possible, routing the input he’s working on to the left-hand side and always keeping the house EQ on the right. “In the heat of battle, you’ve got to pull something from that FOH, and so it’s nice to have that always accessible,” he explains.
In terms of ergonomics, Short is totally sold on the PRO6. “The first thing I noticed is that the smaller footprint means everything is always in reach. As it turns out, I really like that. I also like the TFT screens. They’re super responsive, and easy to read in any lighting conditions. By the third gig, I was totally comfortable with the screens, the trackball controller and everything.”
With a long history of producing great sound for artists like Prince, Van Halen, Cyndi Lauper and Joe Cocker, Doug Short knows what he wants. He admits now that his reaction to the Midas PRO6 caught him by surprise. “I can see now why Midas waited to go digital until they got it right,” he says. “By about the third gig, the PRO6 just blew me away. It’s so easy to mix on, and the sound is pure Midas. I guess that says it all.”