Qs tour Finland with Sakara's heavy metal artists
It has been a painful rearguard action that has seen record companies deny the evidence of their eyes and acknowledge that downloading has destroyed their business model and it's time they found a new one. Whilst the major players go through the painful process of self imposed destruction, in the hope, presumably, that out of chaos will emerge a new vigorous model, the smaller labels have the advantage of speed and agility. The Sakara label in Finland is a case in point. The premise of the Sakara Tour was simple enough; take your stable of artists and embark on a course of self-promotion in your target market. Trouble is that's quite expensive; three bands on tour, three road crews, a sizable production and some high overheads on the venue booking, especially if they don't sell. To spread the risk, Sakara invited leading pro audio supplier Soundata to support the tour with equipment and expertise (crew) in return for the opportunity to, one, directly showcase their wares to the sound engineers, and two, raise their profile to the wider pro audio industry through the high visibility afforded by the tour.
"For us this was a chance to make a statement to our many customers," said Juha Tamminen of Soundata, "We do not just sell equipment, we're not just a box shifter, we believe in growing and supporting the industry. It's also true that fundamentally the people we sell audio to are the fans; if they like what they hear then we are raising their expectations of what makes good sound; and that supports all the rental companies that buy from us." Tamminen makes it sound obvious but the thinking is, upon reflection, quite profound; delivering it also required comparable deep thought. "The tour was three bands every night, all heavy metal, and we visited seven Finnish cities, starting at the famous Nosturi Club in Helsinki." The Nosturi is by club standards big, a nine hundred capacity former downtown factory, it has a reputation for spawning new metal that extends way beyond the Finnish border. "The acoustics there are tough; the music cries out for excessive levels with incredible demands on the low end. We gave this a lot of thought before electing to put together a package of all new equipment a Digidesign Venue desk, d&b audiotechnik Q-Series loudspeakers and their new M4 wedges," The latter product, a smaller derivative of the M2 wedge, was developed by d&b in conjunction with Soundata and leading sound rental company Akun Tehdas. "It's a smaller wedge but with the same colossal vocal character of its larger cousin. The M2 is great for arena shows where the lead singer needs that power and spread, but in the tighter environment of a theatre size show the M4 is perfect. SPL is not the main thing for these bands although having lots of headroom is not a bad thing. When the bands are occasionally blasting over 220 bpm it's more crucial to have clear and tight sound, than having a 'lethal' sound pressure" concurred Tero Hölttä and Juha Ruusunen, Sakara Tour monitor mixers. A few members from Mokoma also used in ear monitors, which reduced spillage to microphones and to the FOH.
"The PA proved to be the perfect choice," continued Tamminen, "Alongside the Venue we had a big ProTools HD3 system so we could record every show. This enabled the engineers to use live material to experiment with the PA and desk the days after the shows." And as an added marketing benefit for Sakara everyone who bought tickets in advance received a CD single of each band from the evening they attended. "For the low end we used Q-SUBS. Realistically these are good down to about 50 Hz, below that by the time you get down to their 40 Hz limit you're down 5dB. With the demand for extended low end we factored in additional J-SUBs from d&b audiotechnik's J-Series, which go down to 32 Hz, and by putting them in infra mode where the high pass filter rolls off at around 68 Hz, they were matched perfectly to the Qs. The Q-SUBs were configured and driven in a cardioid array and the J-SUBs in hyper cardioid mode. "The stage sound was very precise and easy to control", said Hölttä, "because there was none of that 'boom' that you get with the old fashioned subwoofer systems".
Digidesign flew in Robb Allen, who had only recently been out with Coldplay and is an experienced Venue operator, to introduce the desk and to train and support the crew during the first rehearsals at Nosturi. "My role was teaching the board op's quick routes to getting what they needed, showing them short cuts, and how to use the plug ins. Only one of them had used a Venue before and one had never even used a digital desk, however they all showed courage and skill. The trick is to do what you know and explore all the whistles and bells later, and they all stuck manfully to the task." Allen was intrigued to see the relatively tiny Q-Series on the tour, "To be honest I didn't get much chance to play with the PA, but I did notice it sounded great. I know d&b audiotechnik quite well; last summer I used a D Show desk with their new J-Series for a Massive Attack show in Paris, and it was excellent. All four sound engineers praised the desk. "It is really straight forward to work with and takes mixing to another level by virtue of the ProTools connection and the variety of plug ins" commented Miitri Aaltonen for Mokoma, "I have never used a digital desk before but now I'm going to find it difficult to go back to analog."
The tour peaked at the Teatria in Oulu, a two thousand five hundred capacity venue. "Originally it was to be in Teatria's smaller club with an eight hundred capacity, but it was sold out so we changed the gig to the Teatria's main stage, which, like Nosturi, is in fact an old factory with terrible acoustics" continued Tamminen. "We had to rent in a couple of extra Q1s and two stacks of Q-SUBs for cardioid arrays from our friends at Event Works to cover the bigger room. All the various engineers who worked on the tour, and those who came in each day for training sessions on the system and the desk, really appreciated the chance to work the gear in a real world environment." How did Sakara evaluate the tour afterwards? "It was very successful for them, in fact almost every show sold out in advance. Feedback from the fans indicated that this happened because of the package, the price, and the CD offer. It has already become a marketing tool of great interest to other promoters." So you'll do it again? "Oh yes" said Tamminen, "but when and on what scale, is still open. Hopefully we will have time to learn some new jokes to tell before we go back out on tour. It should also be remembered that Soundata is a pro audio supplier and not a touring company, so it was hard for us, but well worth the effort. We'd like to thank Digidesign and d&b audiotechnik for all their support."