Electro-Voice mics and wireless for John Mellencamp's No Better Than This tour
When a touring act hits the road, the primary live sound challenge is to achieve consistent sound across a wide range of venues with different acoustical environments. But presenting a first-class show each night also involves a host of other technical details that don’t get much outside attention unless something goes wrong. Microphones, for example, have to be chosen not only for great sound, but also for high resistance to feedback under real-world conditions on stage. And on-stage wireless systems must not only offer the best possible fidelity, but also make it as easy as possible to find interference-free frequencies even in today’s increasingly congested wireless environment. For monitor engineer Mark Vanderwall, in his second decade on the road with John Mellencamp and currently out on the No Better Than This tour, the best assurance of performance and reliability comes from choosing both microphones and wireless systems from Electro-Voice.
The most prominent deployment of Electro-Voice microphones in the band’s current touring setup is for vocals. Mellencamp himself sings through an Electro-Voice RC2-967 supercardioid dynamic — the wireless version of the N/D967 microphone — via an Electro-Voice REV wireless system. Two wired N/D967s are also used by the band for background vocals. “We’ve always loved working with the EV vocal mics because of their tonal quality,” Vanderwall says. “Before the 967s came out the N/D767a was our vocal mic of choice. Almost all of the EV vocal mics are supercardioid, which is very helpful for gain before feedback.”
“I’ve used the 967s successfully for several bands who play loud on stage,” says Vanderwall, who used to be on staff at Clair Brothers and has toured with artists including Motley Crue and Prince. “They are the best mic available for vocals in terms of rejecting the ambient sound on stage. The transducer is very close to the windscreen, so I don’t have to add as much gain to get the sound I want. The less gain I add, the less the mic picks up the sound around it, which makes it easier for me to control feedback. But that’s only one of the things we like about the 967. We are still using them on the Mellencamp tour, even though our stage volume has come down considerably in the last few years.”
Vanderwall adds that Mellencamp, like many singers, occasionally cups the mic when he holds it. “That would create feedback problems with almost any other mic, but placing the element so far to the top of the 967 virtually eliminates that cupping effect. And we haven’t had any problems with popping or anything along those lines.”
Mellencamp plays guitar on many songs, but on others he moves around and works the crowd while singing. “With wireless he can run around without knotting up the cable and risking tripping up everyone else,” Vanderwall says. “It’s generally a good way to go when you have somebody that’s mobile, because otherwise you’d be limiting their flexibility on stage.” Wireless is also used for the two instruments, one electric and one acoustic, played by the band’s violinist, Miriam Sturm.
Vanderwall got his first REV wireless unit when the product was newly released. “The REV has always had good sonic quality,” he says. “It’s as close as you can get to a wired mic, without the distortion that we used to get before we switched to EV wireless.”
A favorite REV feature of Vanderwall’s is the ClearScan function, which evaluates every channel in the frequency band to find the one with the least interference. “It sets the receiver to the best channel,” he says, “and then you just assign the transmitter to that channel as well. That really makes it easy to find interference-free channels; it just takes me a couple minutes a day. In fact it’s so fast to do manually that I haven’t needed to use the REV-Link software. But if you have a large setup like a touring Broadway show, which can use up to 40 channels of wireless, then REV-Link can be very helpful.”
Vanderwall’s wireless rack includes four REV-D dual receiver units and one REV-S single receiver unit, all dedicated to Mellencamp. “That gives me a frequency range for any situation,” Vanderwall says. “I tend to use duals because that way a single rack space gets me a main and a backup for each frequency range. I have a dual for the C1, C2, and C3 bands, as well as a new dual that operates in the 500-MHz range. And then I have a single in Band D, which is not used in the US anymore, but I keep it around for when we travel overseas.”
The advantage of having multiple units for multiple ranges becomes apparent in locales with the most wireless congestion. “If I can’t find a clear channel in the ranges that we normally use,” Vanderwall says, “I just switch to a unit whose band is less populated that day. So I’m covered in almost any situation. There’s hasn’t been a venue yet where I haven’t been able to use the REVs.”
In addition to Mellencamp’s vocal, another dual REV unit is used for the acoustic violin pickup. The electric violin, meanwhile, is handled with the REV’s predecessor, the RE1 system. “We got a couple of RE1s when they first came out,” Vanderwall says. “Those were the first units I’m aware of that had the scanning feature. We’ve been using them for electric violin ever since, probably ten years now.”
As for the Electro-Voice microphones that aren’t being used wirelessly, the two N/D967s used for background vocals are joined by a pair of Cardinal cardioid condenser microphones, a PL80a dynamic microphone, and a vintage RE27N/D. “I have two of the red Cardinals on stage,” Vanderwall says, “one on guitar and one on the Leslie low cabinet for the Hammond organ. They work out great. They have a wonderful frequency range, so they capture both highs and lows very well. It’s a very beautiful-sounding microphone, and very versatile. I use them with other bands on everything from drums to vocals, especially guitars and bass.”
The PL80 is used for a portion of the set when several people are singing background around a single mic. “It’s a custom cardioid version,” Vanderwall says, “which gives us a wider pattern to pick up the singers on the sides.” The RE27 covers a tube amp that is fed by a split from the pickup in Mellencamp’s acoustic guitar, which also feeds a DI. “Playing through an amp on stage gives John a kind of vintage tone that he likes, and we use the RE27 to bring that sound into the mix.”
Vanderwall says the tour’s use of EV carries on the tradition of Rocky Holman, who had an 18-year run as monitor engineer with Mellencamp before handing off to Vanderwall. “Rocky always felt that EV was willing to listen to him and to incorporate some of his suggestions as they developed their newer models. So EV has been part of our tours for a long time. The product is great, and it’s real solid. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t be seeing EV on our stage for a long time to come.”