Life on The Road with Bastille’s FOH Engineer, Paul Cooper

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Live, On the Road  |  23/11/2016  |  By Paul Crognale  |  Add Comment

If you’re one of those people who talk about ‘chance’ or ‘co-incidence’ then this is one for you. Fifteen years ago Paul Cooper went into a Music Studio to fix a printer…these days he can be found working FOH with one of the UK’s hottest new bands. In this interview Paul talks technology, travel, venues, equipment he loves, and a surprising choice for the piece of gear he couldn’t live without.

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How did you get into engineering?

My college qualifications were in music and computing, I was a horribly failed musician. My college didn’t offer a music tech course…so after working for a computer shop for a while in repairs, I went in to a local recording studio to fix a printer and a laptop for the owner…he offered me a job. Fixed something on a mixing console, showed interest and volunteered to help out on some shows in the evenings. A friend got taken seriously ill one day, and there was nobody to cover him for his mixing job – I stepped in. 15 years later – I’m here. I had all but sworn off live sound before I met the band I work with now. I was happy in studios and working with bands on a creative level. Luckily, these guys give me a lot of freedom with regards to their sound – so I’m more than happy I didn’t.

How has technology changed the way you work over the last 5-10 years?

Immensely. As soon as the Avid desks and their plug-in interaction came in, I could take bits of studio gear out with me on a USB stick to a field in Lithuania with no worry of road wear at a fraction of the cost. I mean, of course they’re never going to sound the same as a beautiful old H3k and a rack of the best outboard – but when the budget isn’t high, and you want the best you can get quickly with no space on the truck or trailer? Unbeatable. The ability to carry around a small form digital desk is immense also. The newer Allen & Heath / DiGiCo / Behringer rack mount mixers are incredible for bands with a small budget but decent sized productions. It’s changed everyone’s gig experience for the better, I think.

Now I don’t have to worry so much about space, and budget to an extent. I’ve started bringing back in some nice older analogue gear, but if it falls over I know the desk I’m using will have more than enough processing power and options to keep me covered.

What equipment might you have been using/relying on a few years back vs today?

I’ve just switched consoles after around six years of being an Avid man. I’ve changed over to DiGiCo for their SD5/7 range of desks. They feel and sound superb, it’s mainly due to the band’s ever expanding channel list, and my own lack of limbs…their macro ability is saving me from having to do a million things at once whilst still mixing the act. It’s a very recent switch, so I’m sure if you ask me again in six months I’ll have a more defined answer…I am already enjoying having a Waves Digigrid MGB and a laptop as opposed to a full Pro Tools rig for virtual sound checks however!

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Is there a piece of equipment that you couldn’t do without?

I try not to rely on one piece of equipment, but if you took my LP claws away (the old ones without the fixed increments) I’d be annoyed. I don’t like stands on the drum kit. They look awful and take up a load of space.

As a seasoned traveller what 3 things would you say are essential for travel?

An iPad (other tablet brands are available) loaded full of TV series (Mr Robot, The Leftovers, The Twilight Zone, Dexter), Books (Jon Ronson, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk) and Music (This Will Destroy You, Massive Attack, Car Seat Headrest, John Coltrane) is your friend. Paired with a decent set of noise cancelling headphones, it can make the difference between a long journey full of 18 cross conversations, and a nice quiet bit of rest. Whether you’re doing splitter tours, multiple bus or flying dates, same principle. Make sure you have some alone time.

When you’re touring, keeping in touch with family, friends and significant others is important, so a good mobile contract is essential. Mobile carriers soon having to drop the roaming charges is great news for all involved. You can’t always get access to wifi, and to get your day sheets, emails, and so forth? Make sure you’re able to roam.

Apps. Google Translate (which can now do it in real time with menus and things….we’re living in the future). Yelp for bar/restaurant reviews and recommendations (it’s a less clingy version of Trip Advisor). British Airways (for any of the one world alliance air partners, manage your airmiles, track your flights, keep your boarding passes on your phone etc).

Most of all? Eat green things, keep active, don’t be an a*shole.

Mixing outdoor Festivals vs Venues – is the approach different and – what do you prefer and why?

I do quite like festivals – after being a glorified roadie for years, a lot of your friends end up being other roadies. Festival season is about the only time you get to see them. Personal reasons aside, I always enjoy festivals – most of the time there’s no sound check so you just jump straight in and go. As I now spec PA for our tours (L’Acoustics K1/K2, SB28s for those interested) and festivals give me chance to take our show, same desk, same file, same mics – to a different PA system and compare. With wind throwing the high mids around the site, fighting through crowds with peli cases, showering in a dirty cubicle…they’re not without their charm and challenges. I’ll always prefer venues, but it’s a very close call.

What is your favourite venue to mix in to date, and why?

I used to be in-house at Birmingham Academy (both sites) so going back to mix there is always nice. Recently I’ve done the AB Club in Belgium and The 9:30 Club in Washington DC, as part of the band’s warm up tour. Both venues are well spec’d – and sound great with very professionally installed PA systems (both D&B actually) and attentive house staff. The Liquid Rooms is always a favourite and worth a mention too. The band are currently on an Arena tour, so they can be very varied….I have to say, the 02 in London is a great sounding room as far as those things go.

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We understand you have recently switched to using the Shure KSM313 on Guitar Cabs. Can you tell us a little about the mic? 

I tried the 313 after chatting with a rep at a local studio. I wanted to replace my usual “black square mic”. As we’re using some nice DI boxes to capture the clarity of the two guitars in our setup – I wanted a real warmth that I felt was missing with my previous choice. I dropped one in place, pushed up the fader, set the HPF at 90hz and I pretty much had my guitar sound. Bastille are a very digital sounding band, not many acoustic instruments on stage other than drums. The extra low detail given to me by the mic fits in perfectly. I’m looking forward to trying it on a few other things too…it’s my first live ribbon mic…phantom safe of course…

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With so many engineers using the classic SM57 on snare, we’re glad to hear you are using a Beta 181. Can you give us a little more detail on why you chose this mic and the results?

I used a 57 for years, it was my Swiss army mic. If in doubt, put a 57 on it. One day a metal drummer took out three of them (stick hits!) and I switched to a Beta 57. Liked it, but never settled. Since I’ve used a clip on. Again, after a chat with a rep and a few other engineers I know, the 181 came up in conversation… I gave it a try in some production rehearsals – sold! Wonderful mic. I didn’t expect it’s SPL to be up to being sat next to a snare…it is more than fine. Small body, which fits in with my hatred of kit stand clutter. Changeable capsule for different situations, and a wonderfully rounded tone. With very little EQ tweaking, I have a snare sound I’m proud of…my only issue is now I want one for the snare bottom mic position too….provides all the low and high mids, that you can sometimes spend a little too long working on, with ease.