Entec supplies comprehensive audio for American prog metal champions Dream Theater on their latest tour of Europe.

Throughout January and February, Entec was very proud to embark on its first-ever European tour as the exclusive audio provider for the figureheads of progressive metal, Dream Theater – the Grammy-nominated five-piece whose genre-defining combination of musical dexterity, indulgence, fantastical concepts, power and attitude continues to push boundaries.

Founded in 1985, the band – featuring original guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung, along with lead vocalist James LaBrie, keyboard player Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini – constantly reinvent with every album release, and this ethos is mirrored by their approach to touring. It was, therefore, a privilege when Entec was invited to join the camp to provide a complete audio package, comprising its recently-acquired d&b KSL line array and EXE rigging hoists, DiGiCo consoles, monitoring and wireless equipment.

Launched last March in San Diego, the Distance Over Time world tour included a European festival run in between two American legs, before commencing 2020 with a 29-date European tour of theatres and arenas which concluded in February with a pair of shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo and another at Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo. A show of two distinct halves that earned acclaim from all quarters, Act 1 was mostly populated by material from Distance Over Time, Dream Theater’s 14th and latest album, while Act 2 featured a complete performance of Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory. Once voted All-Time Favourite Prog Rock Album by readers of Rolling Stone, this 20-year-old conceptual masterpiece is now being presented live with all-new animated video content.

Leading an entourage of 30 is production/stage manager TJ Rodriguez, a Dream Theater mainstay of 15 years and counting. Working with Entec in Europe has been a new experience for TJ, who is delighted with the outcome. He explained: “We were ready to make a change of vendor and Entec came to us through our stage technician Ed Hammond, whose experience with the company was key to them coming onboard. We’ve loved working with Ed; he’s been a valuable asset to us since 2014, and he’s brought so much to our sound, so when we were looking to change our provider for this tour and he suggested Entec, it was an opinion we valued.”

Dream Theater’s relationship with Entec began during the transition between Jonny Clark’s final months as head of sound, and the appointment of Dan Scantlebury as his successor. “It was a very smooth handover from our perspective and we were very well looked after by both of them,” said TJ.

“We are a very relationship-based organisation and it’s clear we and Entec share a lot of the same values. In fact, we very nearly hired Entec for our European festivals last summer. Although that didn’t work out, the lines remained open and that made our dialogue easier when planning this tour. From day one, that communication has been detailed, regular and extremely helpful, with the aim of giving us the easiest ride possible. With some vendors, as soon as the tour goes out the door, there’s next to zero follow-up and you get left to your own devices, but the follow-up service from Entec has been faultless and their team has really impressed me.”

KSL’S WINNING FORMULA

The rave reviews earned by the band can in no small part be attributed to the combination of the crack audio team, FOH engineer Michael ‘Ace’ Baker, monitor mixer James ‘Jimmy T’ Meslin and Entec system technician Bart De Wit, and the KSL system whose configuration was designed by Ed Hammond, effectively playing the middleman. KSL appeared all but five dates in Europe.

“It’s a really warm-sounding, powerful system that fills the room with great quality audio – the clarity is incredible,” claimed TJ, a long-time former audio professional with years of touring with Bruce Springsteen behind him. “Giving our engineers the best tools is essential. We’ve used pretty much everything out there but having KSL on this tour has definitely taken things up a level and with Ace driving it at front of house, it’s been win/win all the way.”

Now a veteran of three Dream Theatre world tours, Ed explained how the final choice of KSL was made. He commented: “Ace had noted that every time the band played with a d&b rig, the difference was remarkable. Obviously, it’s got to sound excellent out front and the band sounds phenomenal through this system but the added bonus of the low end rejection onstage was what got it over the line, especially as Jordan Rudess is very susceptible to extraneous noise onstage and particularly low-end. It’s surprising how little bottom end you hear behind the hangs. We then took a serious look at the SL-Series and when Entec told us of its intention to invest in KSL, everyone was keen to pursue this route.”

Armed with the experience of mixing John Petrucci’s solo project band on Joe Satriani’s G3 tour in 2018, Ace made his début with Dream Theater during rehearsals for the world tour last February. He talked about how KSL has helped achieve the best from this impressive band. “Our guitar and bass amps are kept offstage and everything else goes direct, so it’s already pretty quiet up on that stage,” he said. “What you then don’t want is a ton of low-end leakage coming out the back of the boxes and into the microphones, adding mud to the sound. But KSL gives me every possible advantage of working with the purest sources at the desk, and it has the same impact on Jimmy’s monitor mix.

“Every engineer knows that the room has the greatest influence on the sound. If you let the sound guy choose which venues you’ll play on any given tour, you’ll end up working 10 days a year! With KSL, however, I have the best ammunition to deal with any acoustical situation we might face. There were nights in Europe when we were in a lovely, tight space designed for live music, and the sound had a precision quality. On other nights we might be in a funky, old theatre or a big, boomy ex-factory, but even in those environments I was never left wanting something more from the PA.”

A significant part of that winning formula, claimed Ace, was Entec’s system tech, Bart de Wit. “Bart was really on top of everything. Every single day, he handed a fully functioning PA to me after weaving his magic with d&b’s ArrayProcessing software, and he was always keen to walk the room and make fine curve adjustments on his tablet while I was mixing. I’ve rarely come across someone as dedicated to finessing their work as Bart and, although I’m now in my 50s, I actually learned quite a bit just by observing him.”

RIGGING

While KSL8 speakers were joined by a pair of KSL12s in each of the left/right hangs, a row of six Y10P front fills was in service at every gig along with 12 SL-Sub enclosures. KSL cabinets are assembled in carts of four. Generally, the crew used front hangs of 12 or 16 with the exception of Glasgow where, to aid vertical coverage, carts were split to allow a 14-box hang. In venues where additional outfill was necessary, the crew would add ground-stacked V8s at the sides to boost dispersion.

“Traditionally, you’d link speakers in pairs and run them back to the amplifiers, but with KSL every box is on its own circuit to enable individual fine control through ArrayProcessing,” observed Ed. “That has come about since d&b introduced the D80 amplifier, a technology that has improved operation in leaps and bounds.”

KSL can be rigged in either compression or tension mode, the latter being the favoured approach for Dream Theater. Ed: “Tension mode is the traditional way to fly a d&b line array, where you set the cabinet splay angles and lock them in as you rig it. It’s the same method we applied to the old J-Series. Compression mode allows you to fly the array in a straight line, and you use an extra motor to achieve the pre-defined splay angles once the array is in the air. Tension mode allows for faster rigging and requires less components, although compression mode would be better if you are in a very tight space.”

On this tour, the system was rigged using the first batch of Entec’s EXE Rise 1000kg D8+ low voltage hoists, purchased from Area Four Industries Direct UK. Offering maximum reliability and durability, the D6+ hoist solves issues that have arisen in parts of Europe concerning other low voltage models and Entec’s intention is to defer to its new investment for all future projects. Ed explained: “In countries like Germany, revised safety standards dictate that you need to use double-brake motors, which is standard with this EXE model, and our experience of it on this tour has been extremely positive.”

 

DiGiCONTROL

Another crucial influence behind this audio success story was the specification of two DiGiCo consoles: an SD10 at FOH and an SD12 on monitors. These choices provided the ultimate solution when the tour brief included a wish to minimise the control package footprint. Ed commented: “On the previous tour, The Astonishing [2016], we ran two brands of desk and that required an analogue split and everything that went with it. Audio took up a much larger space and that impacted on weight and trucking which, ultimately, means extra cost. Jimmy and I had the opportunity to take a step back, look at things afresh and find a way to trim down without compromising sound quality. With the ability to share one stage rack [SD-Rack] between the two desks, DiGiCo solved the issue.

“This band used to generate 96 inputs and, of course, the SD-Rack handles 56. So during pre-production, we reviewed our input list from the last tour and tightened it up so that it would be accommodated within the single rack. We’ve ended up with the tidiest rig we have ever taken on the road. Of course, Entec maintains a good stock of DiGiCo desks so we knew we’d have no problems there.”

It so happened that the SD10 is Ace’s favoured console – one that he has frequently used with Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience and Violent Femmes. Although Entec supplied a Waves SoundGrid processing package with the SD10, Ace made light use of its powers. “I specified Waves because there are some vocal effects that I need to duplicate with flange and distortion, and I also use the SSL pre-amp on the two snare drums, but otherwise I’m running things pretty straight.

“I’m an old school guy who has been extremely lucky to have worked for some very good sounding bands. My belief is that if you pick up some high quality microphones and have your system tuned correctly, you really don’t want to mess with the formula. John Petrucci has spent a long time developing his guitar sound so when he’s set up and ready to go, my only job is to get that into the mix without adding any colour.”

Just before Ace joined the team back in February 2019, James LaBrie upgraded to Shure Axient Digital for his lead vocal microphone solution, using it with an SE Electronics V7 dynamic capsule. When it came to reviewing the rest of the existing mics, Ace found little reason to make further changes.

He said: “Dream Theater have a certain way of doing things but they made it very easy for me to suggest some different approaches as I settled into the job and had some ideas. Interestingly, pretty much everything they were doing was great and my sole contribution to all of this was to introduce a Beyer M88 for the bass guitar amp. Otherwise, it all remained intact with Ed and Jimmy T absolutely nailing the drum miking regime with a range of Shure mics.” They include a Beta 91A and a Beta 52 paired on the kick drum, Beta 98 mini condensers on octobans and the high toms. Beta 52s inside the lower toms, and a KSM137 and KSM32/SL as overheads. SM58s are used for backing vocals.

MONITORS

Through working with Dream Theater as a studio engineer during the recording of their last two albums, and also touring as their ProTools playback technician, James ‘Jimmy T’ Meslin acquired the wealth of intimate knowledge required to create the best possible monitor mixes on stage, and also help Ace gain familiarity of the band’s preferences.

Making his monitor engineer début on the Distance Over Time tour, Jimmy was exposed to the DiGiCo brand for the first time. “Even though I had never used a DiGiCo before, the SD12 was a no brainer for me. With the addition of the Waves suite, it offers all the processing I need. I did have a little favouritism towards Avid because I’d used so many of their products in the studio but when we weighed up the criteria, everything pointed to DiGiCo. It was so refreshing to set up at the side of any stage, allow plenty of room for artist access and not eat up space that the guitar tech needs.

“I got to grips with the desk in lightning fast time. I think it took a maximum of two hours at the desk before I actually started working with it. I find their platform really simple to follow and once you get to understand that anything is possible, it’s just a case where to look for something and how to assign it. It then becomes easy to customise things to fit your way of operating.”

Five of the mixes generated by Jimmy are sent to Shure PSM1000 wireless in-ear systems which have now successfully served the band for five years. “I personally believe it’s the best sounding and most reliable IEM system in existence,” insisted Ed, who takes responsibility for the RF department, managing 18 frequencies. “We haven’t had to use a spare transmitter or belt pack once throughout that time.” For drummer Mike Mangini and keyboard star Jordan Rudess, Jimmy sends a group of sub-mixes to the 16-channel Aviom 360 personal mixers they use to tailor their own feeds. “Whereas this is more a utility tool for these guys, the others have very musical-sounding, studio quality mixes,” said the monitor mixer.

As well as using IEM, John Petrucci enjoys the extra support of a pair of monitor wedges and strongly favours Meyer Sound’s MJF-210 for its size and shape, as Jimmy explained: “It has to feel comfortable when he rests his foot on it, which happens regularly at each show. A different shape of wedge will affect the way he holds his guitar and, ultimately, his performance. This mix has more low end so that John can gain a greater physical sensation of sound through his body.” In addition, Jimmy utilises the full 48-channel allowance to record each show on to a laptop to provide a reference for the band.

Also included within Entec’s audio package was its custom INDU 120v isolation transformer, which Ed designed for the company ahead of Marilyn Manson’s 2017 European tour. “It works faultlessly every day,” he said. “It never trips the breakers, it operates quietly and we can get our preferred voltage in any territory. The great advantage is that it also doubles as our main distro for 240v equipment so it’s a single unit covering everything.”

SHOOTING THE SHOW

Both nights at Hammersmith Apollo were captured by Canadian filmmakers Pierre and François Lamoureux of Fogo Labs, who hired seasoned recording engineer Will Shapland to multitrack the live audio in his SSL-equipped studio truck outside the venue. “Entec really played an important role in helping us achieving the end goal with this,” informed Jimmy, who will soon mix the video soundtrack in preparation for a forthcoming release.

“François was passionate about getting an analogue feed to the truck but with our

compact configuration we no longer use a split so we were faced with the challenge of compromise. In the end, we asked Entec to supply all the elements that interconnected with our world and the mobile studio. They included all the fibre and an additional SD-Rack which we put into the Opto-Loop, maxing out the output card. I gave a copy audio send of my patch directly to François and he was able to chase analogue tails right out of the card and into the truck, and also took a MADI feed as a redundant back-up.

“It was a very effective and interesting way of finding a compromise, and a great endorsement of DiGiCo’s strengths. Even though he was dependent on our system in one sense, François was still able to take in his analogue source which he was more comfortable clocking to video.”

POSITIVITY

For FOH engineer Ace, Distance Over Time has been one of the most rewarding tours he has worked on over his long career. “The music is extraordinary and the performances are sublime,” he said, “but from a mix perspective, it’s a pretty straightforward rock band that brings everything to the stage with a positive vibe that is felt as much by everyone on the crew as the audience out front.”

That vibe was enhanced by the friendly support that began at Entec’s west London base, as Jimmy T related: ““Our experience in their warehouse over two days was great and a lot of elements were already in place when we walked in. I’ve lost count of how often Ed Hammond has mentioned Entec throughout the four years I’ve worked with him, and I now understand why he’s been so positive. They’re truly great people to work with.”

“Entec’s staff were always at our disposal,” added Ace. “Anything we needed was right there and we were immediately confident that they’d have our backs throughout the tour. I hope we enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with the company into the future.”

In closing, Entec’s head of sound Dan Scantlebury reflected on the tour. “This was an excellent opportunity to have our KSL system out with such a high profile act, and with sound engineers who really know their craft,” said Dan, who joined Entec at the end of 2019. “It was especially good to note how well it performed in a wide range of venue environments and how quickly it can be loaded in and out. Working with Dream Theater’s team was a very rewarding experience – one that we hope will come around again soon!”

www.dreamtheater.net

Photography by Joe Okpako • https://www.projoe.photography