Can a sound engineer use custom Ultimate Ears even though the band is using universal fit in-ears? And what about matching up all the different makes and models? Can you run a great mix even if everything is mismatched?
As part of our On The Road With…. series, we spoke with Padge McQuillan , the monitor engineer and production manager for Lotus. He’ll be telling us about how none of his band members are on the same in-ears and how he still nails his mix every time.
Hi Padge - thank you for taking time to talk with us. I know how busy this year has been. Can you please let everyone reading know who you’ve been out with and what your year has looked like?
I production manage and run monitors for the band Lotus. It’s been a great year for the band with an extensive winter/spring tour, shows in Amsterdam, a tour in Japan, and most recently some pretty rocking sets on the US summer festival circuit. We’ve got a few one-offs left before fall tour, including our first headlining performance at Red Rocks—which I’m lucky enough to have right in my backyard here in Colorado—and a big headlining show in FDR park in Philly.
Nice! How did you get started with them? Who’d you work for prior?
They hired me 4 years ago when I was between college and my audio internship in Boulder, CO at The Fox Theatre. I had gotten my feet wet in live sound while I was in college with a Boston-based band called the Indobox.
What a great break. And do I understand that you’ll be doing patch/ monitors for Brown Note Productions at a lot of the summer festivals? How did that come about?
I had gotten the opportunity to work worth BNP’s team numerous times over the past 4 years via Lotus. Lotus’ production team and the BNP staff had always worked really well together and put on great shows. Their staff was not only very professional and on top of everything, but also seemed to really enjoy the gigs and retain the passion for the music. Plus they have all the awesome gear! I wanted in, so last summer I came to them as an intern to learn their rigs, learn how to fly D&B Q Series and J Series, array calculations and lots of truck packs! After a few smooth gigs last summer, they offered me the patch guy position at a few festivals this summer. I was out at Bonnaroo and All Good to name a few. I am officially going to stop correcting people when they call me “Patch” instead of “Padge”. I’m over it.
What is your favorite part of working festivals?
What’s the hardest part?
Changeovers. We’ve been getting a bit more time these days but every once in a while we still get the 20 minute changeover—throw and go style—which is a challenge with 37 channels and 5 stereo mixes. A few months back, we were able to do our changeover in 17 minutes which is a record thus far. Rolling risers and digital consoles are your best friend on days like these.
What’s the most technically difficult part about festival setups?
On the touring engineer side, if I have done my job well as production manager, then my job as monitor engineer/stage manager should be fairly easy. It’s all about advancing the proper information and getting a plan together with the festival production; often times I push for early load-ins and a soundcheck if we are the headlining act. There are always things that come up day of show, so there’s a need to “go with the flow” so to speak. For the festival “house” engineer, you’re dealing with really long days and nights and a lot of physical labor, so it can be really taxing.
So listen - I want to ask you some concrete specifics that may help other engineers in the future. You use our UE-7’s while you are mixing but most members of your band are using universal fit monitors. Does this pose a problem for you?
It’s not so much a problem, just some things to be aware of when I’m mixing — most notably the amount of stage bleed. I would certainly prefer the same IEMs for everyone. However, right from the get go I had 3 different models or brands on stage and convincing everyone to make the move together wasn’t happening.
Is this a challenge? And what do you do about it?
Most of the band is on Shure SE535's—which I think are really great sounding buds with great isolation—and the band loves them. It’s not as if they are hearing things in the mix much differently than I am. The issue I’ve found is that with my custom molds, I am hearing SO, SO much less of the live stage volume and whats coming back from the house. So much so that even when cuing up the musicians’ mix and walking out to their position on stage, I am not necessarily getting the full picture. Not really a problem as much as just something to take into consideration when mixing; I’m already disconnected with the stage most nights due to the location of monitor world. The musicians like to feel connected with the room so they enjoy the bleed. I passed on getting the ambient ports put into my UE-7 molds, which in retrospect probably would have gotten me a lot closer to hearing the mix as the musicians hear it. However, I love the feeling of being totally isolated. I can monitor at a much lower level and still hear everything in the mix.
If there was an engineer in your same position, would you recommend them to do the same or would you tell them to wait until the whole band transitions?
I don’t think I would wait for a band’s unanimous decision. I’m a freelance engineer and even though I spend most of my time on the road with Lotus, I work and mix in varying capacities for a variety of bands. I can’t always expect to have the same ears as them. I went with the best molds I could get in my budget and have been really happy with the decision. However, I think my next set will have ambient ports.
Have custom monitors helped you become a better engineer?
Certainly. I will be the first to admit that I’m learning new things everyday so having monitors that accurately reproduce my mix has helped me grow. Also, being able to monitor at a lower level will help sustain my career. I don’t necessarily want to be on the road forever, but I do want to be able to enjoy music forever.
And lastly, what made you choose UE? Especially since your band wasn’t on them?
My mentor, Gary Yost, (Poison, The Cult) had introduced me to UE’s. After speaking with a few other engineers and musicians and reading up, I decided I would invest in a set of custom molds. Last year in San Francisco, I got a chance to try out the whole UE product line with generic molds on the tips. Not quite the same experience as the molds, but it gave me the opportunity to hear the difference between UE1’s and the UE18’s and every model in between. I decided on the UE7’s.
And on that note, thank you Padge! We’ll be seeing you on the road or maybe at a festival. Good luck with everything! Padge McQuillan is the Production Manager and monitor engineer for the electro rock quintet Lotus. When not on the road with Lotus, he is based out of Denver, Colorado and is part of the production teams at The Fox Theatre, The Boulder Theater and Brown Note Productions.