Photo: (L-R) Luke Bryan Production Manager Pete Healey, Dustin Lynch Production Manager/FOH Engineer Erik Rogers and Clair Global System Engineer Jim Ragus at the tour’s DiGiCo SD5 FOH console (photo credit: Evan Jones)

When Luke Bryan’s “Kill The Lights” tour rolled out in Evansville, IN on February 18, it marked another road adventure for the recipient of the “Entertainer of the Year” award from both the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and the Country Music Association (CMA). But it also reflects the kind of premium that modern country music places on the sound quality of live performances. That’s clearly evidenced by the fact that Bryan, who has sold over 7 million albums and 27 million singles worldwide, and his touring partners—Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch—are all using SD consoles from DiGiCo.

Headliner Bryan is using a DiGiCo SD5 for FOH and an SD7 on monitors; ACM, CMA and Grammy Award winners Little Big Town have two DiGiCo SD10 consoles with them for FOH and monitors, as does Platinum-selling artist Dustin Lynch. Three incredible artists, using six incredible consoles, makes for one great-sounding tour.

Pete Healey, who has mixed Luke Bryan since he began his rise to the top of the charts in 2011, has been a devoted fan of analog consoles for his entire career, and had most recently used a large-format analog desk with Bryan on the artist’s 2015 “Kick The Dust Up” tour. However, as Bryan’s show (whose production Healey co-designed and manages) has become more complex, Healey realized that he needed to streamline the FOH position and his workflow. Yet he was reluctant to give up the analog sound that he loves. The solution was the DiGiCo SD5.

“Our FOH footprint had become enormous with the old analog desk and a digital sidecar, so I did a console shootout at Clair Global and tried a number of other brands,” he recalls. “But meanwhile, our monitor mixer, Ed Janiszewski, had been using the SD7 and he really enjoyed it. So I talked it over with the folks at Clair and with Frank Sgambellone, our system engineer, and it kept coming back to the SD5. We decided it was the most stable platform out there and had the best sonics.”

Healey is now running over 90 channels per show, including production inputs and highly specific inputs for tasks like triggering the sidechain compression for the toms, with two SD racks and audio networked over fiber. “It’s a much more streamlined FOH setup now, yet at the same time the amount of control I have is unbelievable—I can literally put anything anywhere—and I’m getting analog-level sonics. The amount of shaping and contouring you can apply to each channel is really remarkable. Every week, I find myself getting into new layers of the console. There’s a learning curve, but once you’re in there, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Healy’s colleagues on the tour share his enthusiasm for DiGiCo consoles. When Erik Rogers came aboard with Dustin Lynch last June, within two weeks he asked for SD10 desks for upcoming dates and Lynch’s touring vendor, Special Event Services, quickly supplied two. “We got them right out of the crate—they still had that new-console smell,” Rogers jokes. But he’s quite serious about the benefits that the SD10s bring Lynch while on tour with Bryan and Little Big Town, and on any of the 200-plus shows the chart-topping singer/songwriter has played in the last year.

“The SD10 is a huge improvement over what Dustin had been using before,” says Rogers, enumerating advantages that he and monitor mixer Anthony Shlifka have experienced, such as the seamless integration of Waves plug-in processing and the ability to customize fader assignments. “The sound of the SD10 is outstanding—it’s a completely transparent-sounding console: you get out exactly what you put in, there’s absolutely no coloration whatsoever. But what I’m also finding is that as I get deeper into the console, I’m able to more fully utilize its tremendous capabilities to streamline my workflow. When I first started, I was using just a little bit of vocal processing here and there; seven months later, I’m using features like multiband and dynamic EQ and the [D-Tube] tube emulator. I’m constantly updating my work surface to make it more centralized and fast. And if I have a question, DiGiCo gets back to me by phone or by text in five minutes or less. The service is the best I’ve ever experienced.”

A country music show today is nothing like it would have been even a decade ago, offering stadium-rock power combined with the sonic nuance necessary for a lyric-driven genre. And when three of country’s premier artists go out on the same tour, all with DiGiCo SD consoles, that says something. “Analog sound quality with this level of control,” says Healey. “I couldn’t ask for anything else.”