By Thomas Hannes. Studio and Live engineer. FOH for the Donots for several years.
The Donots have been touring without tiring for 16 years. Nearly 1000 concerts in Europe, Japan, and the US notched into the Nightliner's mobile beds, audiences turned inside out, euphoria's climax, no more beer backstage.
When the album "The Long Way Home" was completed in 2009, we pondered how to present it on stage the best possible way. Since the predecessor "Coma Chameleon", some songs had added backing tracks from a Roland SPDS 8; synthesizers, organs, pads, etc., technically limited to mono, though.
Initially, the new songs were realized the same way live, but the result did not satisfy. We wanted a wider, fatter sound, more of a "wall of sound". A new system was needed, one with more outputs, more possibilities, and easier handling.
Early in 2010, we started planning and setting up this system. I first tried to realize it with Mainstage. This software is part of the Apple LogicPro software. The advantage: Individual configuration. The disadvantage: It crashed several times even in my kitchen. Not something that helped develop trust, unfortunately.
Plan B was Ableton Live. I use the software frequently and appreciate it a lot. In principle, this program will do much more than run playbacks but so what, why not break a fly on a wheel ... In a matter of hours, I had configured a system that works flawlessly to this day.
The Roland SPDS 8 is still used to control the system. 4 pads for play, stop, song skip back and forward are all that is needed. For some time, a MOTU audio interface was used for conversion, but during the first shows, we noticed that the workmanship left much to be desired. TRS jacks moved, levels differed. Again, not suited to build trust.
It might sound like an ad, but on tour you just don't want to worry about these things. Whether or not something will fail is one thing, but if you can, you'll prefer to rely on the better product, because safer is better ... We contacted RME and received a Fireface 800. Since then, the subject of an audio interface no longer is one. It works. It sound good. And it's well made. Nothing moves, the housing is very solid, just the way it should be..
I've often worked with RME gear in the studio. Drivers are extremely stable, and it's no different on stage: I get two stereo HD channels with synthesizers, organs, FX guitars and instruments, and one for the intro. An additional sub channel for special sub bass effects for that extra boost.
To obtain equal quality of signal processing on stage, I began to contemplate how to implement this. Good hardware EQs and compressors are expensive and bulky, so I considered a software solution: Ableton Live as host that should work just fine.
The Donots' monitor engineer Timo Hollmann told me about Waves MultiRack. I downloaded a demo version, plus a Horizon Demo bundle and tried it with the Fireface 800 when the tour started in Hamburg. Amazing... I ordered both software packeages the same day. With only 8 channels at hand initially, I used Waves EQs and compressors on group channels One for drums, one for bass channels, one for acoustic guitars and mandolin, and stereo groups for electric guitars, main and wireless microphones, and one for remaining vocals. I soon realized I wanted more and ordered another Fireface 800.
Especially during festival season, one advantage shows clearly: I insert channels and groups, put EQ and HP filters to bypass, set levels an the sound is there. In a matter of minutes. With changeover times of 20 minutes, there is no slack for more. When doing club shows with opening acts, I only need gain, aux, routings, and faders, and hardly need to write anything down.
Critical ears might say the signal is converted to digital and back. Yes, but the processing is light years bette than the standard dbx or BSS processors in the racks at clubs and festivals. To improve on this, one would have to take racks the size of a fridge on tour. I travel with a 4U rack case and a computer on trains and planes, even as check-in luggage.
And all this comes at a fraction of the price an analog system would cost. RME supports me with inconspicuousness. Drivers work flawlessly, converters sound great, and I always have my sound with me.