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Traveling with James Taylor - 2005 "Summer’s Here" Tour

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In spite of his demanding tour schedule, veteran FOH engineer David Morgan (James Taylor, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan, Bette Midler) still makes time to experiment with new technologies and new approaches to his work as one of the industry's top front-of-house mixing engineers. David recently picked up a Traveler and explains how he has folded it into his daily workflow on this summer's James Taylor tour.

Below, David details how he employs the features of the Traveler and Digital Performer to capture nightly performances for his clients while on tour:

FOH mixers are always interested in a better way of making show tapes. I have seen some engineers go to great lengths in an attempt to submit a stereo product to the client that might present the night’s mixing effort in a better light… even to the point of sending subgroups to a separate console and actually rebalancing the mix just to please an artist!

However, that was not my motivation for purchasing a MOTU Traveler and Digital Performer 4.52 to use this summer on tour with James Taylor. With the introduction of these MOTU products, I saw an opportunity to break away from simply making 2-track DAT or CD recordings of live performances off the stereo buss from my console. The show recordings I have been making for years actually sound pretty darn good, but I wanted to create something that would be potentially more useful to the artists for whom I work.

OK… so what could be a useful format employing the 8 analogue inputs available on the Traveler? I use an analogue console, so 2 inputs, of course, must come from the desk’s stereo output. Sending the stereo mix from a matrix output makes it possible to independently trim the output to match the input on the Traveler.

A stereo microphone (or pair of microphones) at the mixing position adds crowd response and may also provide great ambience to the recording. The Traveler has excellent mic preamps and 48-volt phantom power, so this is as easy as putting up a mic stand and patching into two of the XLR inputs on the rear panel.

Line inputs 5, 6, 7 & 8 are still available. Using subgroup outputs on the console, I send kick drum, bass guitar, James guitar, and James vocal to the Traveler. Choosing these particular sources was determined by considering possible applications for these recordings. If Mr. Taylor wants to put a live recording of a particular song on his web site, we might wish to add a little more low frequency information. Often, the listeners would be using small computer speakers or earbuds and a little more bottom would certainly be a positive enhancement.

Another potential application might be TV or radio spots. In this case, adding a little more of James’ vocal and his guitar might make a better advertising product. As these are usually small speaker media, adding a bit more kick and bass may also be advantageous. Kicking up crowd reaction might make a short piece more exciting as well.

In Digital Performer, I have created a template for show recording using two stereo tracks and four mono tracks. Every show is saved as a new project and I use a LaCie Firewire Extreme external hard drive as my storage medium. Each show takes up about 6.5GB at 44.1/24-bit settings.

When listening back or mixing, it is easy to delay the console tracks to the ambience microphone using the “Shift” command. I zoom the recorded tracks in the Sequence Editor vertically and horizontally to maximum size. After selecting identical peaks on the console outputs and the microphone signal, I measure the time difference using the Time Ruler. I then select all the console output tracks, choose Shift from the Edit menu, enter the time difference value in the appropriate box, and one click moves all the console output tracks forward and into alignment with the ambience mic.

I have also experimented with EQ plug-ins and compressor plug-ins to further enhance the recorded tracks. In very live spaces, I often don’t use any additional reverb on some songs, so the recorded version may seem a bit dry. To make the lead vocal in the mix a little wetter without having to add too much of the ambience tracks, I can use the “James vocal” track only as a send to a reverb plug-in. I can then return just the reverb to the mix without adding more dry vocal.

I have been extremely pleased with the performance of my new Traveler. The DA/AD converters are first rate. The entire interface is easy to use and provides all the ins and outs that I require. I love the ability to work on projects anywhere or anytime because I can easily carry the lightweight Traveler with me, and power it up using the Firewire buss on my G4 PowerBook.

I am also quite happy with the DP software, mixer and available plug-ins. Thanks to MOTU, this sequencer neophyte is having a great time moving into the multi-track digital recording world. I am looking forward to exploring all the capabilities of Digital Performer 4.6 over the next few months and eventually expanding my recording system by adding more Travelers. Of course, then I will also want to get a dual processor G5, multiple displays, huge hard drives… Oh God, this is fun!

David Morgan is the FOH engineer for James Taylor, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan and Bette Midler.