MIAMI — Audio at an EDM festival, how hard can it be? Triple the usual number of subs and have the DJ send left/right to the console, hand him a wireless mic and crank it up. Easy. Right? Wrong. EDM shows require a specific kind of flexibility and complete reliability as evidenced by Miami’s Beachsound, which relies exclusively on DiGiCo consoles for one of the EDM world’s biggest annual events, Ultra Music Festival.
“We are managing a lot of audio,” says Beachsound crew chief Neil Rosenstock who has headed up the company’s audio team at Ultra for five years. “If you are on a show with 96 inputs and you lose a channel, there are still 95 channels of audio to listen to. If you lose a channel on an EDM show, you just lost half of the PA. The productions look cool, but without the music they’re just blinking lights.”
Rock-solid reliability is a must and it is telling that Beachsound has DiGiCo SD5, SD8, SD9 and SD11 desks in its inventory, and during Ultra every console in the shop goes out on the gig.
“For Ultra 2014 we had an SD5 at the Main Stage feeding an SD11 as the production console,” Rosenstock reports. “We have been all-digital from the time the signal hits the SD-Rack for about four years now. Everything from the console to the amps is run AES and the connection from the SD-Rack to the SD5 is all fiber. We are taking S/PDIF outputs from the DJs to feed the PA along with an analog feed as a backup.”
Lorin White was the house mix engineer on the festival’s primary stage this year and his role is a little different at Ultra than on the typical rock gig. “About two-thirds of the acts travel with their own engineer, but that term in EDM can mean a lot of things,” he says. “Some of them are more like a producer. They’ll show up and check out the PA, and during the show may actually be onstage with their client while I mix. Some will stand with me and supervise, and some are hands-on with the faders. For that last group of guys it is crucial that the console offers the ability to have every control they need during the set immediately at hand and not buried in another layer. The DiGiCo desks give us that ability.”
Ultra is one of the biggest EDM events in the world, drawing some 200,000 attendees to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami every spring. In addition to the SD5 and SD11 at the Main Stage this year, Beachsound provided an SD9 on the Radio Stage and an SD8 for one act on the Live Stage.
In addition to ease-of-use and overall sound quality, Beachsound turns to DiGiCo for some very specific needs for Ultra. In particular, the onboard dynamic process as well as the ease of integration with the Waves plug-in architecture.
“DJs have EQ and that can be a challenge,” says Rosenstock. “The DiGiCo EQ and compression allow us to keep an overall consistency in the sound despite every DJ providing us with very different EQ. The onboard dynamics processing is crucial in managing overall volume no matter how hard the act is pushing the inputs. Ultra is shoehorned into a relatively small area for a music festival and we have to keep it down to 106 dB A-weighted, which can be a challenge.”
“What we are doing is really managing the outer edges of the sonic spectrum,” adds White. He points to DiGiCo’s easy integration of multi-band compression plug-ins as a must-have for these gigs. “Some of the DJs have been known to overdrive the inputs and there is the ever-present low-end whose impact has to be maximized without taking us past our SPL limit. But there are also these high-frequency filter sweeps that many DJs incorporate as an effect. Those can get very harsh and brittle sounding through a big PA without some treatment. The ability to access excellent multi-band compression–be it via the onboard dynamics or plug-ins–means we can treat each part of the spectrum separately. We never have to sacrifice in one area to get another part of it right.”
And Beachsound is spreading the DiGiCo gospel to other parts of the EDM world. “Last year, we had an act come in whose engineer was not familiar with DiGiCo and because of an issue with his console he had to use our SD5,” White recalls. “Initially, he was not happy about it, but he seemed to soften up during the actual show. This year, he was back and told me he has been touring with an SD11 ever since last year’s Ultra.”
Beachsound owner Andre Serafini sums it up by adding, “As a rental house we stock several console brands to meet rider requirements. But when the decision is ours, the choice is always DiGiCo. We wouldn’t do a gig like Ultra with anything else.”