Touring in support of their ninth studio album, Will Of The People, English Rock band Muse are back on the road with long time audio vendor, Skan PA Hire.
Building on two-decades of trust between the bespoke audio rental company and one of Britain’s most intriguing and progressive bands, Will Of The People tour delivers with huge impact.
The band - Matt Bellamy (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chris Wolstenholme (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Dominic Howard (drums) - have entrusted their nuanced repertoire to FOH Engineer Marc Carolan since 2001.
“I’ve only missed one show since!” confirms Carolan. “It’s been incredibly satisfying working with them, and to hear their evolution; nothing has ever stagnated, and they consistently perform at the highest level. As musicians, they are very good at expressing specifics, so working out the audio brief for the tour is always an efficient process”.
Carolan, who is supported by FOH Tech Eddie O’Brien, has used Skan PA Hire for global touring duties since 2003.
Skan has been integral, both to my development and the development of Muse’s sound. They share my passion for not settling into ‘the norm’ and are always up for pushing new ways of doing things. Muse have produced a viscerally exciting show, very much a ‘rock’ show this time around, and having finished the US Arena leg with sold out shows and excellent reviews, this journey feels as exciting as it ever has!, he continues.
Carolan mixes on an Avid S6L, using an analogue outboard and select pieces that have worked in his favour over the last 20 years. “Usually, it’s things for which there is no comparable digital equivalent”, he explains. “For instance, the Neve 5059 summing Amp, and plug-ins wise, the McDSP and the new Soothe Live. I have also added a Live Professor platform, which gives me access to things like Softube and FabFilter”.
Carolan’s work is heard through main hangs of d&b audiotechnik GSL. “It’s a very musical system, which really works for the level of dynamics I use in my mix”, he continues. “It’s also incredibly clean onstage, and performs excellently in stadium shows where off-site noise can be an issue”.
Systems Engineer, Matt Besford-Foster (MBF), describes cutting his teeth in large format arena touring thanks to Muse’s 2015 Drones tour. “I finished that tour as a completely different engineer to how I started. It’s been great to work my way through the ranks, essentially with the same bunch of people. Skan’s Matt Vickers is the architect behind the system design, and his pre-production makes the day-to-day work much easier for us. He’s very good at thinking about things in a resource-based mindset and in understanding the desired creative output”.
The full system comprises GSL mains, GSL sides, with KSL 180˚s, SL Subs on the ground and Y10Ps for Front Fill. It’s deployed in a LR-LR-LR configuration, maintained within the Front Fills.
“We run the fills in the opposite way you might expect, utilising the narrow dispersion in the horizontal plane, as this enables a great stereo image across the barrier line”, continues MBF. “It feels as though you’ve got Matt Bellamy’s guitar amp right there in front of you, with the rest of the band surrounding it”. The system is driven by Lake LM44s.
Though Lake is mainly used as a matrix for the various system inputs, we output them into the four elements – L/R, Sub and Fill – and convert to Dante to run to the amplifiers. We have such excellent quality input sources from Marc that we want to avoid over-manipulating that. d&b’s ArrayCalc combined with a TruPulse 360 rangefinder make exceptional tools for producing accurate simulations. This in turn enables us to deploy a PA system that behaves exactly how we expect it to, he adds.
MBF describes Skan’s attention to detail: “Before working for them, I looked up to them as the pinnacle of what a PA company should be like. Having worked for them for so long now, I feel very lucky. Skan’s, Chris Fitch, knows that it isn’t just gear supply, the people are often the most important part of the vendor service".
This ideology was put to the test when Muse’s new Monitor Engineer, Matt Napier, joined the ranks. “Skan’s crew are really passionate about audio, and I’m lucky that I have Skan’s Liam Tucker working with me on stage. He's one of the best in the business and makes my life easier by allowing me to truly focus on the band. Muse are exceptional musicians, but they’re also very technical when it comes to audio. They know what they want to hear, yet have trusted me to get the right results. I was given free rein in how to approach it, and being both new to the camp and at the beginning of a new album campaign, I decided to start everything from scratch.I did a lot of research before the first rehearsals and built my session file in a lot of detail in order to cope with any requests", he comments.
As the band members each have their own sound dialled in, Napier says his new gig is a "joy to mix”.
As a band, they communicated early on how they wanted their individual mixes to sound. Monitors are all about consistency, so it allows the musicians to enjoy their gig and not worry about what they’re hearing. Luckily, Muse has a great backline team and everyone is really focused on making sure everything is perfect for the band when they take to the stage, he adds.
For IEMs, the band uses generic Westone’s UM Pro 30s. “The only speakers are a couple of subs located by the drum riser to add a bit of weight to the stage. Compared to some previous tours I’ve done, it's relatively straightforward; for just four musicians on stage, it's impressive how big a sound they create!” says Napier.
Operating from a Quantum 7, he describes DiGiCo as “still the best out there, particularly when it comes to monitors. The desk sounds great, with a natural open sound. The I/O capability is unbeaten and the pure flexibility of the DiGiCo infrastructure allows you to deal with any additions or changes. I have the 32-bit cards and the Quantum engine, so it really is a great-sounding platform. It's also quick and intuitive to use. The Quantum engine has Nodal processing, which is a real game changer for monitoring", he furthers.
Napier has two Universal Audio UAD Apollos running Avalon 737 plug-ins that create the ‘saturated’ vocal sound which goes to FOH. He continues: “We have the Main Stage on a Mac mini attached to the Apollos running Isotope VocalSynth for the Vocoder vocal FX, and we run some analogue Sans Amps for that heavy, vocal distorted sound. I have dual redundant Waves servers which still have the lowest round trip latency of any plugin system. Latency is such a crucial factor with monitoring, so the integration with DiGiCo makes it an obvious choice”, he adds.
Napier also looks after the tour’s RF coordination. “I wanted to switch the band over to Wisycom IEMs, not only do the units sound amazing, but the RF is rock solid and the wide tuning range is invaluable. The RF mics and guitars are Shure AD, and I have a TTi handheld that allows me to scan in the morning. Coordination is through Professional Wireless IAS software”.
It's been a big change this year with Skan joining the Clair Global / Brit Row family. I have always enjoyed touring and working with Clair, so this has been the best of both worlds! We owe the Skan crew both on the road and back at the warehouse such gratitude for helping us with, yet another job well done, Napier concludes.
Muse are currently bringing their politically charged neo rock to the UK & Europe as Will Of The People continues arena and stadium domination with its formidable audio department.
Photo by Jose Johann Ramos-Arteaga