Reiley Brinser mixes Ozomatli with Audix: “there hasn’t been a dull moment!”

If one band is synonymous with the musical and cultural diversity that is Los Angeles, that band is Ozomatli. Since forming in 1995, the group has curated a globe-circling sound that effortlessly embraces salsa, funk, hip-hop, samba, cumbia, dancehall, New Orleans second line, reggaeton, Indian raga and many other styles.

They have even forayed successfully into children’s media with the book and accompanying track Moose on the Loose and album Ozomatli Presents Ozokidz, not to mention their original score for the Happy Feet Two video game.

Reiley Brinser does double duty as their tour manager and FOH engineer, relying on Audix microphones to mix the group’s blend of world percussion and drum kit: the D6on kick, D4 on toms, i5 on snare, MicroD on snare bottom, MicroHP on congas and bongos, D2 on timbales, SCX25A as drum overheads, and M1280B on assorted handheld percussion.

Brinser explains his role in Ozomatli and his pathway to becoming their FOH engineer:

“I’ve been with the band now for about 12 years, and their full-time tour manager and FOH engineer for the last six. Before me, my brother Damon Vonn had that role. When he got the gig about 12 years ago, I was very lucky because he took me on. I started as a helper, gopher, driver, whatever they needed. In the middle of all that, I somehow held down a job at a local theatre, and that’s where I got my audio chops up.

“I learned different consoles as different bands and musical theatre productions would come and go. Eventually I got a call from my brother saying he was being promoted to the band’s manager and asking me if I would like to step up. Super scary, but it took me about two seconds to say yes. The guys in the band are super fun to be around, and there hasn’t been a dull moment since.”

Now that we carry our own Audix mics, I can really think about why I’m using a particular mic on a particular source

Ozomatli fans often note that when seeing the band live, the mix always sounds so transparent and detailed, almost like a recording but with live energy. Beyond his choice of microphones, is there a secret sauce?

“A lot of people ask me that and my answer is always the same: It’s them,” Brinser says. “It’s the musicians. It’s the percussion. It’s their sense of dynamics. Of course, having great mics helps.

For example, Mario [Calire], our drummer, is one of the most dynamics-conscious drummers I’ve ever heard. That creates a sort of guiding atmosphere for the horn section, our percussionists Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin Poree, bass player Wil Abers, and the rest of the band. At the end of every show, the band performs a signature samba where they come out into the audience and get the whole crowd doing a drumline. Justin can get the crowd from screaming to everyone being quiet while some delicate part is being played, and that ethic applies to the whole band. It makes my job a lot easier.”

With a core of seven musicians plus horns, Latin percussion, and traditional rock band instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards), Ozomatli can make for a mixing challenge, especially if the engineer is at the mercy of microphones provided by a venue, festival, or rental company.

“Now that we carry our own Audix mics, I can really think about why I’m using a particular mic on a particular source, how I’m placing that mic, why I might change something up, things like that,” notes Reiley.

As to his matching of Audix mics to sources, Reiley has high praise for the i5. “I have them on both the kit snare and the percussionist’s snare,” he says. “I like the top end of the i5; it doesn’t break up or get crinkly sounding. I also think it’s way more durable. I haven’t found anything like the i5 when it comes to getting the snare but not getting toms or anything else I don’t want. Also, a little secret of our snare sound is that I use the MicroD on the bottoms of the snares. It really captures the snare wires themselves.”

“I like to get the full picture of the kit as opposed to just spot-miking individual drums,” he continues, “and the SCX25A are great in that application.”

Moving to the percussion station, Reiley places miniature MicroHP microphones on congas and bongos using Audix’s Dvice series of mic clamps.

“Sound-wise, the MicroHPs are night and day from anything I’ve ever used before,” he explains. “They pick up everything I want in those channels and nothing I don’t. The D2 is on timbales, right in between the shells. One of my secret weapons is a little pencil mic called the M1280B. I use a pair of those to capture all the percussion toys: bells, cowbells, shakers, guiro. They just pick up everything perfectly.”

Reiley considers clarity, detail, handling of high sound pressure levels, and almost no bleed of unwanted sources to be among Audix’s top virtues, but at the end of the day, it’s about the smoothness of his job at the front-of-house console. “Choosing the right mic for the right source is everything,” he explains.

“That’s easy to do with Audix because they make so many different microphones geared to specific purposes and they all sound fantastic. Second most important is placement. Now that I’ve worked all that out, I find that I’m needing very little EQ or compression after the fact. I’m finally feeling like I can get mixes to translate very easily from one venue to the next.”