Adam Stuart, FOH mix engineer for rock band KISS, took time out from the End of the Road world tour to speak to Audiofile about what it’s like being FOH for such an iconic band and the challenges a world tour brings. Stuart has worked with the likes of Alice in Chains, Papa Roach, Motley Crue and Sixx:A.M.
Stuart always knew that he wanted to work in the live entertainment business, especially sound, so started out studying Live Show Production at Full Sail University. He was quickly hired by Clair Global as a touring tech. Opportunities arose and he soon found himself mixing monitors and moving up the ladder.
Stuart found himself doing FOH for the KISS End of the Road tour after the band asked him to move from monitors to FOH and he has stayed there. “I prefer FOH for the specific challenges it brings” said Stuart. “There is also more creative freedom, which I enjoy. I do love both positions for different reasons. I have learnt a ton, and still have a ton to learn! One thing I’ve learned the most, is pleasing everyone is almost impossible!”
The role of FOH has changed over the years and one particular change has been the ability to deliver more to the audience. “As technology has progressed, we’ve had to step up our standards. There are more inputs, more outputs, and a more discerning audience and band.”
Touring the world Stuart works in different venues from stadia to cruise ships which present different challenges. “To me, the number one challenge has, is, and will probably always be acoustics. Venues just sound different, and some sound really bad. I would say the hardest, but one of my favourite challenges is keeping consistency night to night in different venues. The relationship with my System Engineer is a very important key in this as well. He does a great job of adapting our system to all of the different venues we play. We also spend a lot of time thinking about the packaging for our gear. It is very streamlined to work in any of our situations. The System Engineer does a lot of advance work with prediction software. He has a plan before we arrive, so we know we have what we need to cover the venues we’re playing.”
Stuart’s favourite console is the Digico SD7. “We switched to the Quantum Engines this year, and have been extremely happy with them. The flexibility and processing it has makes it my number one choice. It also sounds great.” We asked what features he would like to see on future consoles. “This is a tough question! Right now, I’m pretty satisfied with the feature set modern consoles offer. Water proof, lighter weight, and zero boot time would be nice!” Experiencing different consoles when on tour can be a challenge but one thing that does remain constant is Stuart’s rack of plug-ins. “I use waves for a huge range of processing, I seem to be able to find something that works for every situation I’ve ran into.”
On tour the band use a variety of mics. “We use the Kick – Telefunken M82, this mic has a great punch for kick, we did a shoot-out and ultimately liked it over the others we tried. We also have a Beta91A, primary used for Monitors. Both are mounted with Kelly Shu Mounts. We also use the Snare Top – Telefunken M80, I really like the low-mids in this mic for the body of the snare. The Snare Bot – Neuman TLM102, I love a large diaphragm on snare bottom, this mic sounds incredible and handles the SPL of the snare great. Hi Hat / Ride – KSM137 Toms – Sennheiser e904s – great sounding Tom Mic. We actually had a batch custom chromed to match Eric’s Mirror Ball Kit, so they look great too! The bass is all direct. Pauls Guitar is a Universal Audio OX. We switched to it after using it for a special event we did, and the Guitar Tech and I loved it. It sounds awesome and is a solid consistent tone every day.
Tommy’s guitar is AT 4050s. We have listened to a lot of Mics on Tommy’s guitar and ultimately, we always came back to the 4050s. They just have a great response for a guitar. Down Stage Vocals are SM58s. 58s are obviously a staple.
Eric (Drummer Vocal) is Telefunken M80. This mic has great rejection for him and has a nice high-end presence.”
As for monitors, the band use JH Audio Roxanne’s as IEMs. “They sound incredible, and have the volume they need. We use PSM1000s, which are obviously solid and an industry standard. The few wedges we have (for the drummer, and Paul when he flies to FOH) are Clair CM14s. They sound incredible! They are perfectly compact, and still get much louder then we could ever need.”
As FOH Stuart has to ensure that he gets the sound that the band wants the audience to hear and to do that requires a lot of practice. “Rehearsals are just as beneficial for me as they are for the band. It gives me time and flexibility to isolate items and work on them. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the band, and there is a great amount of trust that I’m doing what’s best for them.”
Delivering a world tour brings the typical challenges of a large production. “Like many other tours, time management is always difficult with large productions. There are a lot of moving pieces, and getting the job done in the fluid amount of time we have is often challenging.” Then there is that added risk of a potential crisis happening such as gear getting fried. “We try to avoid a crisis at all costs! First step in that is redundancy. We try to have a backup plan for anything that might happen. With that said, thing happen… It’s important to remember to stay calm, and safe, and that things happen that we can’t control.”
Typically KISS is doing about 4 Shows a week and they have just extended the tour into 2021. ‘Me time’ on a tour is pretty non existent and touring is exhausting so protecting your mental health is important. “I still really enjoy the travelling. I’m very fortunate to have a job that I get to travel the world. Any time I can get out and golf, I tend to spend very little time in the hotel room. If I’m not golfing, I’m finding local food and drinks. You’ll almost always find me ending up at a pub at night!”
As for advice to anyone thinking about becoming a FOH engineer Stuart says “Patience and Perseverance is important, but protect your ears! Good communication and people skills are also a must as you will be dealing with the artist, various other representatives of theirs including their management, label reps, agent, family, and friends. Tact and diplomacy are incredibly beneficial.”