Photo: 9:30 Club FOH audio technician Shawn "Gus" Vitale manning the mix on the venue's new DiGiCo SD8 desk (credit: Nalinee Darmrong)
The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. has installed a DiGiCo SD8 digital mixing console with an SD Rack, together with a Waves SoundGrid Server and SG Essential plug-in bundle at front of house, all purchased through Washington Professional Systems in Wheaton, MD. The 1,200-capacity live music venue, which moved to its present location in 1996, has been in continuous operation since 1980 and has been a consistent winner of the Pollstar Awards and Billboard Touring Awards over the past decade, also placing #1 in Rolling Stone magazine's 2013 "The Best Big Rooms in America" survey of touring professionals.
The upgrade came about as a result of the owners and operators of the 9:30 Club, I.M.P., an independent concert promotions company that exclusively books Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD and produces shows in a variety of venues throughout the region, being selected to also operate the historic, city-owned Lincoln Theatre. The 9:30 Club's former FOH desk was relocated to the venue's monitor position, with the previous monitor desk moving over to the Lincoln, and the new DiGiCo SD8 system was purchased to replace the house console.
"The main determining factor was how good I thought it sounded; it's a nice, warm-sounding console," says front of house audio technician Shawn "Gus" Vitale, who has been working at the 9:30 Club for 20 years. "There's also something about the stereo separation - when I hear my stereo digital delays coming back, the returns sound like they're coming not from the left/right PA but off of the side walls. It's an awesome effect."
The new SD8 was initially operated at 48 kHz due to limitations in the available cabling at the club. "We had extra cables run and I also got the Waves plug-ins working between the first and second day of a two-day show. The artist's engineer could really hear the difference when we went to 96k. Plus, he was familiar with Waves plug-ins from the studio, so it was a double bonus for him. He had a fun show the first day, but he felt like it was really good the second day."
Brian Grant, account executive - audio systems at Washington Professional Systems, oversaw the purchase, also liaising between the club's staff and the manufacturer to organize an in-house demonstration. "I talked to Brian about which way to go and he thought that DiGiCo offered the best audio quality," says Vitale. "Brian is a great guy; he's sold us a lot of equipment over the years."
Vitale had his first hands-on experience with a DiGiCo digital desk when They Might Be Giants played at the 9:30 Club and the band's FOH engineer brought in his console. "I mixed the support solo acoustic guy, and when I brought up the faders I said, 'wow, what's he done with the PA, this sounds great' - and we've got a good PA: a d&b audiotechnik J Series with B2-Subs. I liked the way the DiGiCo sounded." He adds, "I think this is a good venue in which to break folks into a new desk, because the PA is great and the room has been treated, so you're not at a disadvantage - everything is there."
There was another factor in DiGiCo's favor, Vitale continues. "We book live shows into a smaller venue just down the street from us, the U Street Music Hall, and they bought an SD9 some years ago. So I knew the audio quality was good, and to get us all in the DiGiCo mindspace doesn't hurt, because if I need to send another guy down there, at least he knows the desk."
The new DiGiCo desk has even seen some action outside of the 9:30 Club, Vitale reports. "I took the SD8 over to Constitution Hall a month or so ago, just for the support act. That was primarily because the digital snake is just way easier to run. It worked well for us - one desk, the SD Rack, some MADI cables, and off we went."
The 9:30 Club, which took its name from the venue's original street address on F St. NW, has been an essential mid-Atlantic stop on tour schedules since the day it opened, with a show featuring the Lounge Lizards. Since then, a "who's who" of artists have performed at the club: Chuck Brown, The Police, X, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins (who played the opening of the current location in January 1996), Fugazi, Adele, and many, many others. Notable highlights include reggae band Steel Pulse's U.S. debut in 1981, broadcast live from the club, on the night of Bob Marley's funeral; Bob Dylan, in town for the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997, playing two nights; a surprise Radiohead show in 1998 after RFK Stadium was rained out; and the return of the Beastie Boys in 2004 after a five-year hiatus.