By George Peterson, FOH Online – Nov. 2012

The 2012 Virtual Reality Tour for CMA Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley finds the country superstar on a whirlwind multi-city jaunt that kicked off in mid-Januaruy at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI and wraps up on the 20th of this month at the Hollywood Bowl. The tour is supporting the singer/songwriter/guitar virtuoso’s ninth studio album, titled This Is Country Music.

For the Virtual Reality Tour, Sound Image is again providing audio support, and Paisley’s longtime production manager/FOH mixer Kevin Freeman is at the helm, along with audio crew chief Greg Hancock, FOH system tech Brendan Hines, monitor engineer Mark Gould and monitor tech Scott Ferguson.

The System

“I’m using JBL VerTec 4889 tops and 4880 subs. I’ve also got QSC WideLines for underhungs, with three of those a side,” Freeman explains. He’s also had some experience with the WideLines as mains in a smaller setting. “We did a winery gig a few years ago, and had about eight WideLines a side and a couple of VerTec subs, and that sounded good. It doesn’t quite have the horsepower that you need to get out to 20,000 people in a shed, but if I was mixing somebody maybe a little more acoustic-oriented or something like that, definitely, it would be a great little theater rig. The fidelity of the QSCs is really nice.

“When the VerTecs first came out, I was skeptical, as I am with anything, I didn’t want to be the guinea pig. We’re a Sound Image account, and I really like their G5 rig. It had the four 15s, two 2-inch drivers and some bullet tweeters. I thought it was the best-darned PA on the planet. And still do — in its place. But when you go into an arena with your trap boxes and stuff and you basically spray your sound all over the place, a lot of other factors come in, such as reflections. Coverage usually isn’t the issue, it’s just when it comes back. With line arrays, we’re able to focus where this stuff goes so much that it’s not such a factor.”

Asked for a specific example, Freeman brought up one venue in particular. “I’m not a big fan of the Bakersfield Arena. I don’t think they’ve quite finished that one. It has concrete walls, concrete floor, a tin roof and nothing in-between. So, the sound is bouncy and ugly. The line arrays have really saved us in a few buildings like that.”

Amplifiers are also an important part of the overall sound. “When we first started carrying the VerTec, Sound Image was a QSC House. Then they changed to Crown I-Tech 8000s. It was an audible difference. It sounded good with the QSC, but just sounded more open, more ‘in you face’ with the Crowns. And now we’ve stepped it up with the I-Tech 12000HDs. There wasn’t as much of an audible difference as when we changed from the QSCs. And, it’s really hard to tell a lot of times, too. As you know, I’m not making a record here. I am trying to get a level of consistency from day to day, in venues that range from a 15,000-seat arena to a 25,000-seat amphitheater, and no two are alike. And again, I think that’s my job. It’s consistency.”

Monitor World

Monitor engineer Mark Gould is one of those rare individuals with longevity in the business. He’s been mixing monitors for some 20 years, yet has only worked for two artists — Mark Chesnutt and now nearly 11 years with Paisley. And like everyone else on the crew, Gould is quick to point out the close team relationship he has with monitor tech/Pro Tools operator Scott Ferguson in getting the job done night after night.

“I’m mixing on an Avid D-Show,” notes Gould. “It’s got really good separation so I don’t have to run things as loud in the mix. Sound quality-wise, I can’t complain about it — even the stock plug-ins sound good as long as you don’t overuse them or over-manipulate them. I’m not using any outside rack processing; everything comes right out of the console. The only additional plug-ins I’m using is a Waves SSL G-Channel and a McDSP Channel G. Both of these seem to have more headroom than the stock plug-ins, and it seems I can hit them harder without them breaking up.”

Gould runs seven stereo mixes for the band and five wedge mixes, with the latter acting mostly as fill, with a couple single-15 wedges underneath the keyboard and drummer risers — mostly kick, bass and snare so they can feel it, to supplement their in-ear mixes. Everyone is using Shure in-ear rigs, either PSM-900 or the new PSM-1000 models.

“Brad’s on in-ears, but I think he tolerates it as a necessary evil,” Gould explains. “I don’t think he really likes it. As a guitar player, it’s hard to make 12 inches of paper sound good through a couple millimeters of titanium or whatever.” Paisley uses the Westone UM-2 IEMs and prefers the fit on the generics rather than the custom molds, which provide just enough leakage so he can experience a little more feel of his amps and some stage/audience ambience.