Roy Fisher Sounding Off On Mics & Miking Interview by Diane Gershuny
Like many a live sound engineer in this business, Roy Fisher got his start through the back door. With the intention of pursuing video production, he found his calling lay in live sound production. Working his way up through the clubs, Fisher built a sound system from the ground up and started touring with baby bands. Flash-forward to 2007, and his resume now boasts gigs with hard rock bands such as Shinedown and Chevelle, and Christian rockers, The Rock and Roll Worship Circus. He's the main audio technician at the annual Tomfest festival in Portland and handled audio production for the Living Hope Church's band and choir Easter Day performance at Portland's Rose Garden-with over 10,000 people in attendance.
What's your background and how did you get involved in audio?
I started out taking a video class in high school, which I enjoyed very much. The program included audio and editing, as well as lighting and other production elements for video. I went on to Washington State University before my junior year to study video production in their summer program. I thought for sure I was going to be doing video for the rest of my life. I did a video internship with the local cable company and was poised to exit high school with all kinds of real world experience and the training to back it up. I started working for a club on the weekends doing sound for the bands that came through.
After I graduated high school, I went away to Eugene Bible College. When I got there, I had no contacts and found it very hard to get a job in video production. But the clubs, I could work at doing sound. I really liked the live aspect and the fact that if I made a mistake, I would not have to live with it for the rest of my life. I got to experience many different situations, and I was actually quite happy to be just doing sound.
Well, I moved back home and found a job doing video work. I was mostly happy, but I was still doing sound on the weekends when I wasn't booked doing video. I had been buying (one piece at a time) a sound system from a store in Portland, Oregon (Pro Sound & Lighting). They were a small company at the time and were ready to expand. I was employee of the month for about 20 months straight (I also was the only employee). Tim was very good to me and I learned a lot about the industry and sound from hanging out with him and the customers there. I was still doing sound on the weekends. A friend of mine, local promoter Mikee Bridges, opened up a club. He would book up to 10 bands in a night. No stage plots, no tech riders, no crews, just bands. I learned a lot about what worked and what didn't. The biggest thing I learned was to always make it seem as though you are waiting on the band; never let them wait on you. Mikee eventually started a festival called Tomfest, an annual event that still goes on to this day. We now have over 150 bands over a weekend on five stages.
I started touring nationally in 1996 with a band from Hawaii called Spooky Tuesday and jumped from band to band. Throughout my career, I've worked with several bands that no one had ever heard of including Fold Zandura, Viva Voce and the Altered. But I really had a good time. Through touring, I got to meet and work with some really great people. I worked with Chevelle for a number of years and really enjoyed them. I also toured with the Dandy Warhols, which was a wonderful experience. The last band that I worked with was Shinedown and I was with them for over 3 years. We got to open up for Van Halen for about a month and toured with 3 Doors Down, as well as doing shows with Kid Rock and Nine Inch Nails. We also toured with Rob Zombie and Godsmack.
Working with Mikee Bridges, who promoted Christian concerts, I have worked with for a very long time with The Rock and Roll Worship Circus. Gabe Wilson from that band also has a current project called the Listening. Back in November of last year, I started working for Living Hope Church in Vancouver, WA. We have several portable sound systems and they are all outfitted with Audix mics. It's very nice to know that they have durable great sounding mics that I will not have to replace any time soon.
When did you first hear about Audix mics?
I first heard about Audix from Pro Sound & Lighting. I was really sold on the drum mics initially. The D1 and D2 were the only ones out at the time. After trying the OM-3 on a gig, I realized how much more gain before feedback I had, as well as the ability to get a great vocal sound that was clean and articulate. I stopped using my previous mics. I have tried several different brands and flavors of vocal mics, but the OM-3 is still a great mic that stands the test of time.
When I worked with Shinedown, we had a great relationship with Audix. But I first got hooked up with Audix when working with Chevelle. It was easier to get consistency using the same mics every day. Back in the day, we put together an in-ear rig with a little Samson mixer and a set of wireless in-ears. It was just me and the band back then, so we had hired a few of their friends to pass off guitars and to help schlep the gear, but we didn't have the money to hire a real monitor guy. I built a few "Y" cables and we found that we really needed to use the same mics on the same instruments each day to get the same sound. A few years later, a band I was working for had a monitor rig that they had gotten the idea from another band, and that band, as it turns out had toured with Chevelle back in the day. And they had gotten the idea from us. Funny.
What are your favorite Audix mics and features?
I used to not have an opinion about mics. Whatever sounded good, that was the plan. Well, over time, you find out there are certain features that really make the decisions easy. On the OM series, I love the off-axis rejection and tone. It's great. The D Series of drum mics sound great, too. I have really liked the i5 and it has proven to really be one of the best all-around instrument mics.
I generally can swap out any other major brand microphone with an Audix vocal mic and get at least 3 to 6 dB more gain before feedback due to the flatter frequency response and off-axis rejection. When you are an opening band, you don't always get the right to change the graphs and you just need something to get you over the edge and the OM series gives me that, and when you do become the headliner and do get to touch the graph the sound is just fantastic.
I like the artists that I work with to think how great I am. And I don't like to work hard to achieve that. I like plugging stuff in and not having to work at it to get a great sound. I generally can leave the EQs on the channel strips flat, occasionally changing a frequency here or there with the Audix mics, but not having to butcher the channel strip or doctor it up to make that perfect sound.
I am absolutely in love with the Microbooms. I keep trying to find new uses for them. One time, our overhead mic went down and I ended up using a Microboom, and it sounded better than the mic we were previously using. Working at a church, I now have a use for them there, too. In fact, we have a pair. Last weekend, we had a speaker who refused to use one of the headset mics for speaking, and he did not want to be wireless in any way. I needed to use a wired mic for him, and since we record video for every service, a traditional dynamic mic would have sounded fine but would've been too bulky. At the last minute, I thought about the Microboom. The first words out of his mouth were, "Check… Oh hey! That sounds great." It's such a wonderful experience to just put a mic up and have it sound great without having to "dial it in".
Got any great Audix anecdotes?
I remember when I was a young sound person, I'd always be admiring the national acts when they would come through and how great they would sound. I have heard some bands that made me want to quit, just knowing I may never get that good of a sound out of a sound system. I learned that the musicians and the gear made a lot of difference. I also learned after a band gets signed, how they work with a producer and get their arrangements together can make a huge difference. Sometimes, you don't get any of those advantages and you need all of the help you can get. I just throw around a bunch of D Series mics on the drums, i5's on the guitars, and some OM3's on the vocals and at least you have a great start.
On Tomfest, we have two main stages and several other smaller stages. I tried to make exact copies of all of the gear we had at the two main stages. Of course, we were on a budget so I had to make do with what we had for the mic packs. Both stages had the same consoles, power amps, and speakers, but we didn't have the same mic packs. Wow! What a difference the drum mics made. I really appreciate how easy the OM series mics are to work with, but what a difference the DSeries mics made. There are other mics on the market that sound great, but require phantom power. There is nothing worse than having to track down where, between the main snake, the sub snake, or the drum loom, the cable might be bad. Without phantom power, you have a 33% chance that the mic will at least make noise.
What are some of the challenges in live sound you face today and have the Audix mics helped solve any particular problems?
The biggest problem doing live sound is that we still have to overcome the laws of physics. I know you can buy a full-blown Pro Tools rig with the computer for under $1,000 now. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that more and more people are getting hands-on experience with sound. The bad part is that there is not much training that goes on. So what is happening is that these people get ideas in their head of how to get a good sound in an isolated studio experience and they demand that out of the live experience. And they get frustrated, and frustrate everyone around them, when their studio results do not work in the live world. I have often said that the difference between a studio engineer and a live engineer is like the difference between a house painter and an auto painter. You don't really want either of them doing each other's jobs. One would take too much time in areas that don't need that much attention to detail, and the other wouldn't spend enough time in the areas that do need the detail. There are those who can do both, but just because you can do one well does not mean that it will translate well to the other.
Can you share any special miking tips or techniques?
I think sometimes the simplest solution is generally the best one. I love using the D Series drum mics with the D-Flex clip. I have worked for a great number of bands where, doing festivals, we have to set up fast and play and not mess around trying to get the backline up. I generally try and clamp as many of the drum mics around the kit as possible, so as the drum kit goes up, it has all of the mics with it. I do the same with the bass rig and guitar rigs. I have been using Z-bars with the i5's for the guitar rigs, and D4's with Z-bars for the bass mic situation. I have even been trying to mic the cymbals for the drum kit from the underside, keeping them clipped and ready to go as soon as the drums are on the stage. For whatever reason, it seems that if you have your own mics, the local sound companies have no idea how to pin the stage, so I generally carry my own mic looms. I try and keep the total mass down so that we can fly with everything if need be.
You recently handled production for the Living Hope Church at the Easter Day ceremonies at the Rose Garden in Portland. What mics did you use and for what applications on that event?
The Church owns about 12 RAD360 wireless systems as well as the Microbooms. Our choir was a little bigger than it had ever been at 80 people. I needed to get another set of Microbooms for the event, and Gene [Houck; National Sales Manager] at Audix helped us out. I really like the D6 for the kick drum and we used an i5 for the snare and D4's for the toms. Sometimes you just end up using whatever you have available, so I like to have a lot of Audix mics around for whatever tasks may come up. We had seven vocal mics with OM3's and used the RAD360 body packs for the guitars.
We had only one day for load-in and rehearsal. We loaded in lighting at 7:00 AM and it took until about 10:00 AM until we started to load in audio. Video came in around 1:00 PM. We were ready for line-check around 5:00 and then got the band going and had rehearsal around 8:00 with the choir and everybody else. We had to be out by 10:00 PM to avoid overage charges from the local crew.
I came back to the Rose Garden the next day around 7:00 AM. There was a lot of live news coverage already there when I arrived. We bought out all three of the parking lots so that parking would be free. That was a first for them; no one had ever done that before. Well, we opened the doors at 9:30 and soon enough people started coming in. We filled up all three parking lots, and traffic on I-5 was backed up so far we had to hold the start of the service to try and allow as many people to get in as possible. We had no idea that the parking and traffic was going to be such an issue.
Our church auditorium holds 500 people. There are two sets of very tiny bathrooms at our church. Why do I bother to tell you this? We have a staff of over 100 people, and almost 5000 people attend our church. We actually are up to seven campuses that all run throughout the weekend. Who would have thought one church in Vancouver could have filled the Rose Garden for Easter!