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Mixing Justin Timberlake

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Mixing Justin Timberlake

Words Paul Watson

After a full month of production rehearsals in Memphis, Tennessee, and another short stint in New Jersey, Justin Timberlake exploded into his latest world tour, which began with a sell-out show in Brooklyn, New York, and will include an extensive run in Europe before the team head back Stateside. Riding the faders at monitor position for the world-renowned artist since January 2013 is Dan Horton, who makes a habit of listening very, very carefully...

Has the tour been kind to you, so far?
It’s going great – the production rehearsals were extensive, but it was totally worth it; people didn’t know it was going to be a tour at first, but it evolved, and now we’re all over the world. We are here in Europe until June 2014.

What’s your core setup for JT?
I’m on a [DiGiCo] SD7. We have two SD-Racks, and an SD-Mini, and we’re running at 96kHz, with a channel count of around 110. We have 16 band members, six dancers, and several guest mics, so I’ve got a lot of monitor mixes to think about; I think we’re around 26 mixes total. I used to have stereo wedges for the keyboard players as well as subs for drums, but now I’m using a thumper on the drummer and the bass player, which works out better for our stage setup.

Thumpers are very popular now, right?
Yeah, and I would usually use them plus a drum sub; we used to have drum subs and sidefills, and a whole line of wedges all across the stage for the [Justin Timberlake] Legends tour in the summer, but now it’s all totally clean, and there are no wedges anywhere. Everybody downstage is wireless, and all the keyboard players upstage have a hard wired mix and a wireless mix, just in case they want to move around a bit.

Are the whole band on in-ears?
Most of the people on stage are; Justin, plus both the keyboard players, the drummer, all of the singers. I think in total, we’re talking maybe 20 people on stage using in-ear systems. What’s nice about the JH Audio kit is, it’s so versatile. I have most of the guys on JH16s, including Justin, because whatever you put into them is exactly what you’ll get out. Some guitarists like the JH7s better; and that’s because it’s already giving you a different EQ. The 7s seem to have a bit more middle presence, and guitar players really like that.

So now everyone’s happy, then...
Oh, definitely. Both monitors and FOH benefits greatly from our very low stage volume. All the guitar and bass cabinets are behind the stage, or incorporated within the stage. The bassist has a wireless bass – it’s just a DI; and although we’re close-miking the guitars, there is no stage volume besides the drums and the percussion. Justin is a pop act, and a lot of people would use plexi glass around the drum kits for an act like this, but we don’t have to do that, as we’re not trying to compete with any other sounds. We need Justin to be one of the main things in the mix. Justin likes his vocal ducked a little bit; he doesn’t like it super high up in the mix. He wants the full CD mix, and that helps both of us out. We’re not having to compete with blowback from the PA, and things like that, which definitely helps.

Sometimes I have to drive over the PA systems, which I can do using the JH stuff... I’m in a huge empty steel structure today in the Netherlands, and I’m sure it’s not going to sound amazing, but I’ll drive over that so it sounds close to the same.

Are there any new trends that you’ve noticed in monitor world recently?
I couldn’t have done any of this a few years ago! [laughs] Shows are getting bigger and bigger, so the console has to be able to deal with that, and people are learning more and more in their studios, recording at home; they’re EQing a certain way, and teaching themselves how to engineer at home. As a result, artists are now more accustomed to a higher level of mixing; they know if things have a little more mid range, whereas years ago people didn’t use those terms - they said things like, ‘this needs to sound more plush’ or, ‘I need this to sound more blue’. Nowadays, people are calling out frequencies, saying they need a little bit less 2k, and things like that. People are getting smarter about what they want in their mixes, so they’re always expecting a higher level.

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