On The Road With Jeff Beck, Sting and Peter Gabriel
From the studio to the stage, Ben Findlay works with some of the world's greatest musical talent. After many years behind the desk at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios, he ventured out on the road. Within a few short years, he was mixing live shows and radio broadcasts for the likes of Jeff Beck, Sting, Paul McCartney and Gabriel himself. We caught up with him recently at a sound check in New York's Beacon Theater, where he was busy mixing Jeff Beck's Rock and Roll party tour with Imelda May.
So tell us about this tour you're on?
It's an extension of Jeff Beck's Rock and Roll Party Honoring Les Paul. Part of the show is based on a tribute concert that we recorded at the Iridium here in New York. We made a DVD and a CD of that show, and then made plans to take it out on the road to support the DVD. The tour (and DVD) also features Imelda May and her band. On their own they are fantastic, but together it's a combination that is powerful, funny and emotional. It's actually a massive roller coaster of a show.
You're mixing it on an Avid Profile?
Yes. Basically I started working with this board while out with Peter Gabriel, around 2006. I actually began with a Venue, and ended up doing a few shows with the Profile. That console has some really good features - such as the single row of controllers. Ergonomically, it's easy to get around on, and I'm actually very happy with it.
You began your career in the studio?
Before I went out with Peter Gabriel, I was studio-based. Although in the very beginning of my career I did a bit of live work, I always wanted to be a studio engineer. So I got a job at Real World Studio and worked there for eight years. Then I went freelance as a studio engineer, and while doing that I was mixing shows for Peter, in the studio, for radio broadcast. At one point, his live engineer Jim Warren went out with Radiohead and Peter was left hanging. As I'd been mixing the show, he asked me to go out and mix his show live. I was aware that it could be a recipe for disaster - studio engineers don't often make good live engineers. However, I figured it was a risk worth taking so I dove in.
What other recent tours were you on?
I was out with Sting in December, working in Russia promoting his Sting Live in Berlin DVD. I ended up mixing the TV broadcast for his concert in Milan. Then, at the end of last year we were finishing a tour of South America with Jeff and a friend called me completely out of the blue to ask if I would mix the audio broadcast of a Paul McCartney concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Luckily, they were using a Profile console, and I was able to load up my Oxford plug-ins.
You've been using Oxford Plug-ins for quite some time right?
Yes. I was introduced to them through my use of the Sony Oxford console at Real World. I worked on that console for many years and loved the sound of it, as did Peter. The reason Peter wanted to use the Venue live was that it was the only one where we could use plug-ins, especially the Oxfords. On my tours, I use the Oxford EQ and Inflator quite intensely. The GML version of the Oxford EQ is my EQ of choice.
Can you tell us how you're currently using them?
I use the Oxford EQ on important channels, such as Jeff's guitar, Imelda's voice, Daryl's (Highman) voice, and all across the drum kit.
In addition, I have the EQ across the matrix feed to the main PA speakers. I record the shows as well, and when I can, I'll make a stereo version as well as a multi-channel Pro Tools session. So I'll use two EQ stages; one that EQ's to tape, and one to the speaker Matrix - both with different settings. So If I have to do something crazy to the PA, it doesn't affect the recording.
The other one that I adore is the Inflator. I find that with some songs, there are balances that don't feel cohesive - almost like all the instruments are separate. But when you put the Inflator across the mix, it kind of binds everything together. It's nice because on some of the fuller songs, I can back off of it, and then apply it as needed. Also, I always have it on the drum bus. I find that it works really well to make the whole kit dynamic.
Why do you rely on the Sonnox plug-ins?
Simply put - I like the way they sound. They're not too extreme. For example, if you crank the EQ up, it doesn't start fragmenting and become noticeable. I've been using it on and off for over 15 years - if you include my work with the Sony console. It's like an old friend.
Interview and editorial provided by Rich Tozzoli