The last two years have been nothing short of astonishing for Nashville-based recording artist Lady Antebellum. In 2009, the trio earned a Grammy Award for Best New Artist; this year, they picked up Best Album of the Year. While still a relatively 'new' artist, "Lady A" has earned an intensely loyal fan base largely because of their relentless performing and touring schedule.
FOH engineer Brett "Scoop" Blanden has been on the front line of the band's touring operation since the beginning. He is responsible for mixing all of Lady Antebellum's live shows, as well as handling many equipment choices including microphones, wireless audio, PA and other fundamental elements of the live rig. He uses Sennheiser 935 capsules on all of the stage vocals.
What is your key focus on in working with Lady Antebellum?
When I first came on board it was initially to take care of FOH needs, but also to help formulate a live sound environment that would accommodate their growth. This involved everything from selecting the right microphones for their voices, to making sure the monitor package would work for them musically, financially and technically.
There are several things that I focus on, but the key element is always the vocals. Making sure the vocals are easy to understand and blended correctly with the music is very important. I want to help deliver a great musical experience for the audience, the band and myself. I love to mix and to get emotionally involved with each show, night after night.
How important is it to match a vocalist with the right microphone?
The more an artist develops, the more important it is to get the right microphone match as early as possible. It is important to understand an artist's dynamic range, as well as to understand where their career will be going in the future. If you are playing bars and clubs this year and next year moving into much larger venues, your mic selection may be different. In addition, choosing the right microphone for an artist that is using IEMs is a real challenge--but there is a big payoff when you get it right.
When you get a mic capsule like the Sennheiser e 935, the artist tends to be more true to their voice and perform better, because they are hearing better in their IEM. They are also not straining their voice as much and they are going for more emotive expression because they don't' have to fight the technology.
An additional factor in selecting the right microphone is to make sure that the flavors of open mics on stage blend correctly. Choosing microphones that have cohesive frequency responses and phase relationships contribute to a unified, natural environment both for the audience and for artists using IEMs. If we can find a mic capsule that blends well with the other flavors on stage, we can enhance the overall sound.
Which microphone capsule did you settle on for Lady Antebellum?
When I first put Hillary [Scott] on the Sennheiser e 935 cardioid capsule, it was a perfect fit. She is a dynamic singer with a nice warm low-mid resonance, which is different from many other female artists. Additionally she had a 3K presence that could easily get harsh and abundant. The e 935 microphone really showcased the low-mids, and provided wonderful management of the upper mid-range presence. I ended up using e 935 capsules on all five of my open vocal mic positions since it is was a really great choice for the tone and dynamics on Charles and Dave's vocals as well. By using the e 935 capsules all around and using them as my microphone of choice to tune the PA, I get a transparent response on stage without having to dive into a bunch of EQ.
Would you consider these capsules reliable and road tested?
Sennheiser has a very dependable product. I have never had a Sennheiser microphone fail on the road, ever--even a condenser microphone. As the RF component is concerned, the test of the road is the determining factor--especially with our tour schedule. I haven't had any structural problems and the RF is very dependable; everything just works as it should. I was lucky enough to be involved in Sennheiser's 50th anniversary of the MD 421, a microphone that has clearly stood the test of time. This equipment has a fantastic heritage that has already proven itself in the market, time and time again.