Alan Richardson has mixed monitors for Elton John for 22 years, and for much of that time he relied on a large-format digital console. That worked fine back then, but times have changed, and Richardson’s rig has evolved accordingly. Recently, Sir Elton announced a farewell tour that will begin in September. Unlike past tours, which were captured only in stems to a small eight-channel Pro Tools rig at front-of-house, for this final tour, his production team wanted a full multitrack recording that captured all of the individual inputs.
Since Richardson is conversant with digital technology, he was to be responsible for the new system. “We discussed buying a large Pro Tools rig,” Richardson expounds, “but that’s very expensive, and besides, my monitor mix position was big enough as it was, and I didn’t really want to have a whole other rig in that area.” After considerable research, Richardson and the production team came up with an innovative alternative based on RML Lab’s SAWStudio and Software Audio Console (SAC) software, controlled with a Mackie Universal Control Pro (MCU Pro) DAW control surface.
“About 35 years ago, I toured with Bob Lentini, who created SAW and SAC,” recalls Richardson. “Lentini lives here in Las Vegas, and Elton John was playing a residency here, so I got in touch with Bob, and he showed me what could be done with the latest version of his software. His tracks sounded great, and using SAW would let us build our own multitrack recording rig for much less money, so I introduced Bob to our tour people and management, and we decided to go that route. We bought SAC software at the same time because I was intrigued about using it to mix monitors. SAC gives you 25 individual consoles, so everyone in the band gets their own console. That perked my ears up.”
While the software was a great start, Richardson actively builds the monitor mix for Sir Elton, and he couldn’t do that with a mouse. “I needed a comfortable control surface with faders,” he explains, “and I tried several different controllers. The important thing was getting faders I felt comfortable with. The Mackie MCU Pro was the best, hands down—it wasn’t close. The MCU Pro has long throw faders that are really smooth. As a mixer, that’s my main concern. We got the MCU Pro and the MCU XT Pro 8-channel control surface extension, so I have 16 faders.”
When the MCU Pro and MCU XT Pro arrived, Richardson had Lentini write a template so they would integrate with SAWStudio and SAC. “With the template, the MCU Pro integrates right into the software system,” observes Richardson. “It’s a fantastic controller. I use the presets, I use the knobs for various things, and I love the channel banks. I basically use it as a VCA mixer, with everything assigned in groups to the faders. I can hit a preset button, and the MCU Pro takes me right to the fader I want. If I have to get to an input, I can get there quickly, make my changes, and continue mixing.”
Richardson also makes good use of the MCU Pro’s recording transport functions. “I love the recording transport,” he confirms, “because I record in SAW, and I occasionally have to mix things down for Elton or for band members. It’s incredibly handy. I mix monitors and record with the same control interface, and it’s no extra work for me. I’ve been really impressed; the MCU Pro does everything I want it to do.”
The system’s flexibility and smooth, convenient control makes it easy for Richardson to record in a venue on short notice. “On several occasions, I’ve gotten word that Elton needs to record this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon, and it’s no problem,” he states. “It’s comfortable for Elton because he’s not going to some studio that he’s unfamiliar with. He can do his session, and when he’s done, he can go down to his dressing room and hang out until the show. He loves it. It’s really nice to have the ability to do all that.”
Thanks to his Mackie MCU Pro and RML SAWStudio/SAC rig, Richardson has been able to fit his system into spaces that would defeat conventional monitor mixing systems. “We did the Rock in Rio festival last year, as we have done before, and it was the first time I did it with this system,” he relates. “The stage manager apologized and told me we only had an 8x8-foot space next to the stage for the monitor rig. He was sure it wasn’t going to work. I said, ‘no problem.’ I rolled in my rig, and the stage manager was in shock! I had four racks, my power distro, and my MCU Pro and MCU XT Pro, and my zone was less than 8x8. And I didn’t need four stage hands to set up a console. I get some crazy looks when I set up my rig but after people hear it and see it in use, they’re blown away.”
Richardson is delighted with the relationship between Mackie and the Elton John organization. “The Mackie people have been fantastic,” he enthuses. “I can’t thank them enough or say enough good things about them. We really appreciate what they do. I would not be as comfortable with my system as I am without them. Best of all, their product is fantastic. For what I’m doing, the MCU Pro is the perfect device for me. I love it.”