Photo: (L-R) The Outkast audio team - FOH engineer Darcy Khan, FOH tech Chad Fuller and monitor engineer Kevin Brown - at the DiGiCo SD10 FOH desk getting ready to "lay it down" for the more than 70,000 fans at Lollapalooza's Samsung main stage in Chicago
Six-time Grammy Award winners Outkast - the duo of Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton - have sold over 25 million albums in a career that spans more than two decades. Keeping the music sounding fresh on stage has been the primary goal of their long touring history, and this year the group took their show to another sonic level with the switch to DiGiCo SD10 digital consoles for both the front of house and monitor mixing roles.
The switch to the SD10 came about halfway through the group's 40-date worldwide summer festival itinerary, which included stops at Coachella, Lollapalooza and Way Out West, and the word "amazing" is heard often and with emphasis by the band and those who mix them. "It does sound amazing," comments Darcy Khan, Outkast's FOH mixer and touring account manager. "What's really incredible is that as soon as I turned it on, I said to myself, 'That's what the kick sounds like, that's what the snare sounds like.' My sounds were coming through just as I hear them without ever touching the console. Once you add in the dynamic EQ and access to multiband [EQ], you realize that the possibilities on this desk are limitless."
Kevin Brown, who runs monitor world for Outkast, says simply, "It was an amazing switchover! The band noticed immediately and were raving about the change in sound quality after the show!"
The two DiGiCo SD10 consoles, provided as part of a touring package by VER, came into Khan's and Brown's professional orbits separately, but in both cases with enthusiastic endorsements by influencers in the live sound industry. "I thought I was locked into the console I had been using because of how it interfaced with plug-ins; I had been mixing Kanye West on his Glow In The Dark tour and he wants a lot of pitch tuning, distortion and other effects," explains Khan, who also owns Atlanta-based backline provider Stage Audio Production.
Demetrius Moore, FOH mixer for Drake, and Tim Colvard, who mixes FOH for Madonna, showed Khan how seamlessly the SD7 desks they use handled plug-ins. Then, at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show, he met DiGiCo's Matt Larson, who demonstrated the console's integration of the Waves' plug-ins and how its recording interface makes virtual soundchecks simple.
"I ran into Dave Rat at Coachella, who heard me mixing Outkast, and he said to my FOH tech, Chad Fuller, that he loves my mix but added 'that guy needs to be on a DiGiCo'," Khan recalls, a suggestion that Fuller relayed. "It was a lot of very influential people all telling me that I needed to use a DiGiCo."
Now, he says, that's proven to be a wise decision. "We're currently on a tour of festivals, and every day I'm working with a different PA system. The SD10 gives me consistency for the sound and the way I work. For instance, I like to close my eyes when I mix; it helps me focus on the sound and the mix. So when I open my eyes for a moment, I need to be able quickly see the status of the console. The SD10 lets me do that with colors - I don’t have to think about what page I'm on. It's all right there, easy to comprehend."
Brown was mixing front of house for rapper A$AP Rocky, an opener on Rihanna's Diamonds tour, when Rihanna FOH mixer Kyle Hamilton introduced him to the SD10 he was mixing the Grammy-winning diva through. Brown also experienced his first hands-on encounter with an SD10 on that tour, as well. "It could do a lot of things that other consoles could not, even though they might brag that they can," he says. "After the first show I did on the SD10 with Outkast, the entire band came off stage and told me it sounded amazing up there. Engineers hear things a certain way, but when the band hears it exactly as you did, that's amazing."
"With the SD10, I can achieve what I need to without compromise because the console architecture doesn't hold me back," Brown adds. "With everything we have on stage today - this show has twelve channels of in-ears - you need at least 32 aux sends, and with the DiGiCo, I have that and more."
Khan will enumerate the features of the SD10 that make his life easier and his art richer for as long as anyone will listen. "I love the A/B engine, which makes me feel really comfortable," he says. "The macro buttons are amazing when I need to get to my smart keys for four different delay taps in the same song." But he ties all of the profuse compliments together into a concise package when he concludes, "I have yet to find a flaw in this console."