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A-T interview with Fabrizio Del Monte, FOH for Hinder

Fabrizio Del Monte, front-of-house engineer for Hinder, took some time to sit down with us on a busy day at Summer Sonic 2007.

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Fabrizio Del Monte, front-of-house engineer for Hinder, took some time to sit down with us on a busy day at Summer Sonic 2007.

A-T: How did you start using A-T products?

Fabrizio Del Monte: I saw your ads. It must have been about 10 years ago, when the AT4050 was really the big mic. Robert Scovill was using them, Brad Madix, Big Mick Hughes, it goes on and on. And I was like, you know, I’ve got to try these things. I was developing in my career, and I was always willing to try something new. I went to the local music store in Vancouver and I thought they were amazing. So I phoned Audio-Technica directly, and I bought a couple of microphones, and one thing led to another. The band was Econoline Crush. We ended up opening for Kiss and doing a number of other gigs. Some of the A-T people came out to see us, and from there it sort of opened the door for a lot of other things. I’ve been an A-T user pretty much without fail.

What A-T mics are you using now?
Right now we have AE2500 on the kick drum, ATM250 on the guitars, we have the ATM650 on the snare, the AE3000 on the bottom snare and toms, the side address condenser on hats, rids, and the AT2020 on overheads. And on vocals, we have the AE6100, which has got to be one of the best-sounding vocal mics I’ve ever used. It’s really nice and transparent. I could almost run my EQs flat for that mic. There are just a few little things I’ve got to do once in a while. The AE2500s and the ATM250s, for example, for guitars, once I find the right spot on the cab, I turn up the guitars and that’s it. It’s just amazing. It’s remarkable. The first time the 2500s came out, I used them on my kick drum, which was the big thing that everybody was going for, and I thought this would be a great mic for guitars. One week later, I saw Laurie Quigley use it, and I thought, damn, beat me to the punch.

Do you have a favorite A-T mic?
That’s tough. I’d have to say the AE2500, but I have to give you a caveat with that as well. If you ask me what my favorite mic is, and if I had to go to a desert island, it would be the 2500. But the 2500 is a difficult mic to use on things like vocals. The other mic would be an AE3000 or an AT4050. The 3000’s amazing. If somebody gave me a box of 3000’s and said, “This is all we have to work with today,” I’d say, “No problem.” I could make that whole mic kit work perfectly.

I can’t say enough good things about the A-T product line. It’s interesting—one of the mics you guys sent us, and this is a couple years back, is a stereo shotgun mic, the AT815ST. I’ve used that mic as a room mic in the studio. It’s just so amazing. We’re actually using it now as an audience mic, and we let all the other bands that tour with us—they’ll put up a variety of different mics for audience mics, and I go, guys, you’ve got to try this mic, and they plug it in, and they go, “Well, we’re not using our crap anymore!” That mic is so amazing.

I set it up in a wide pattern to get the scope of the venue. People are just floored by how big things get to be in your ears with that stuff.

Another great mic is your new AT2010. I put it on the backgrounds on our band. I gave it to the lead singer for Lynam.

That’s a cool band.
Those guys are so cool. They’re the nicest kids in the world—it’s a great band, too. We really want them to be successful.

When I tried out the AT2010, and I was just so floored at how much gain I could get out of it before feedback, and just how good it sounded! And then Gary [Boss, A-T Marketing Director] goes, “Yeah, we’re going to sell it for $99.” I was just like—“Yeah right, sure.” And that’s what you’ve done! It’s remarkable just how good that thing sounds. I was just blown away by that thing. It’s a great mic. It has great balance. It’s just a really fantastic microphone.

And as for headphones…we were at the Palms in Las Vegas and we were doing a live recording for iTunes, and Ed Cherney had been brought in to record the whole process, and when I sent my input list to the studio, the first thing Ed said to me was, “A-T endorser?” I said, “Yeah, me and the band.” The second thing he said was, “Have you got any of those new headphones [ATH-M50] they’ve got?” I said, “Gary was nice enough to send me a pair.” And he goes, “Pretty amazing, aren’t they?” I go “Yeah.” Ed’s response was, “Yep, you could damn near mix a record on these things.” They sound just spectacular.

What’s really funny is, every time we have a discussion about something on the stage, about microphones or something, somebody will bring up another manufacturer, and I’ll go, “Well, yes, but Audio-Technica has this in their line.” One of them said once, “Dude, I could ask for a thermos and you’d tell me Audio-Technica makes one!”

Yours looks like a pretty grueling show. Do the mics stand up pretty well?
Yes, they do. There’s a sort of level of abuse that some of the mics take. Drummers are notorious. As good as they can get, they still hit something. But the mics have stood up flawlessly. Mics have gone down—anything will break over time. But the consistency has always been really high with A-T products. And we’ve got a boatload of wireless stuff on our stage, too, and it’s all been standing up amazingly.

What wireless are you using?
The 4000 and 5000 Series. With the T6100 and T1000 on guitar.

What’s the biggest challenge in mixing Hinder?
Consistency would be the biggest thing—trying to make it the same consistent big mix every day. The record has a pretty big sound to it, and I’m just constantly chasing that component and trying to make that happen live.

Everything starts on the other side of the microphone. I get people asking me all the time, “What do you do make it sound like that?” I tell a bunch of younger guys, “Look, you could take an $8,000 microphone and put it in front of a $20 guitar amp, and it’s just that: a $20 guitar amp pounding into an $8,000 microphone.” Everything starts on the other side of the microphone. When it’s good there, and you find the right mic for the job and put it in the right place, 90 percent of your job’s already done.

At that point, it’s just a matter of painting the audio palette that people are looking to hear. And essentially at the end of the day, people are coming to really hear the vocal. They want to hear the rest of the mix, but nobody ever left humming the hi-hat or the lighting cues or any of that. It’s the vocal that’s always the biggest thing.

A friend of mine said to me one day while we were on tour, “Just because you know the words doesn’t mean the guy behind you does.” So having the right mic for vocals has always been really, really big for me. Finding that mic that helps translate the vocals is one of the greatest things.

That must be a real challenge to get the vocal to stand out.
It is in some respects, but in other respects, the complement of the mics on the instruments allows you to open up the real estate, to allow the vocal to sit without having to eat it up. Doing a little bit of creative panning with the guitars and such really helps as well.

How did you get into this business to begin with?
I just didn’t listen to my mom! Every day I’m unloading trucks at venues I hear her voice in my head. My mom’s a wonderful lady—she’s like, “You could have been a lawyer or a doctor!” I’m saying, “Yeah, I know Ma, I know!”

I started out like every kid aged 12, 13. My mom used to listen to a lot of music. My family, coming from Italy, she used to listen to a lot of Italian pop music. So I got infected by that at an early age. And then as you get into your teens, you start listening to radio. And at that point, radio dictates your life. I started listening to stuff.

I wanted to be a musician, I tried to be a drummer. That really didn’t go too far. I worked hard at it, but eventually one thing led to another and I ended up taking some engineering courses. The ultimate pursuit was to be a studio engineer, but in Vancouver the market is not as big as a place like New York or Chicago or some other markets where there was at the time a relatively large studio scene. Vancouver’s always been relatively small. It never developed into the full-time career that I wanted it to. I did get some work out of it.

A very dear friend of mine, Mike Landolt, who is an amazing engineer, we had a small studio together. He had to be away from some work and he asked me to step in for him. And the band took me on the road. That was in ’85-’86. It evolved from there. One thing led to another, and I’ve yet to go home.

Always on the road.
Almost. It’s not as bad as that, but I spend so much time on the road, it’s unbelievable. I’m trying to work it out to spend a little bit less time on the road. Try to enjoy my time at home.

How long have you been with Hinder?
A year almost to the date, actually. Aug. 29th was the date that I joined them. They had actually started as an opening band for another band that I was working for, a band by the name of Theory of a Dead Man; for that project we were using all A-T mics as well.

Hinder started as an opening band for us. I’m watching these guys sound check and I knew right away, just watching the singer. I was like, if this guy doesn’t get successful, then there’s something drastically wrong here. He had these elements. You can identify them whichever way you wish, but they were so blatant. I knew this kid was going to be successful. The rest of the guys in the band are fantastic. Cody, the drummer for Hinder, is a very, very driven young man—bright, a great willingness to learn about a lot of things, and be on top of the whole game that is part music and mostly business. He’s a really astute kid.

We were six months into doing some gigs with them, and they said, “When you’re without work, or you’re done with this project, let us know—we’d really like to talk.” I sat down, we had some conversations. I wanted to know what their mindset was; I wasn’t just going to work for a band just for the sake of working for a band. I wanted to work for a band that not only wanted to provide me with some kind of challenge, but also wanted to be successful.

The one challenge that was really great right off the top was that for some projects we had been using some drum triggers, and Cody was like, “I don’t want any triggers; it’s all mics, and I want you to do it that way.” That was great, because you can get lazy with a lot of technology. It was really good to have that challenge put in front of you—you’re saying [to yourself], I’m going to rise to the occasion.

You sound like you’re not only business associate, friend, but kind of almost mentoring to some extent.
Well, the fact that they’re 24 and I’m 44 kind of gives you the lay of the land pretty quickly. We have a lot of conversations, and they touch on a lot of different topics. It’s really remarkable to see these young men growing up in the public spotlight, and on top of it, having to manage different facets of a very successful band—including getting ready for their next record. They’ve been putting some new music into their set—it’s been going over well, sounding great. Cody’s been asking me about recording this stuff, and I constantly archive to CDs for them to listen to. He’s actually looking to put a small studio into his house, when we have some downtime to get around to it. When we’re off the road, we’ll take all the A-T stuff out of inventory and we’ll have a complete kit there; we’ll use all the greatest possible stuff we have on hand.

How do you maintain the health of your ears?
I try to avoid being in high sound pressure level areas when I don’t have to be. When I’m on the bus traveling I tend to wear earplugs. They help me sleep better; they reduce the amount of ambient noise I have to live with day to day. I don’t make a point of aimless sitting around listening to loud music for long periods of time. If I listen to a record, I’ll listen to it at a pretty comfortable volume—I won’t beat myself up with it. Hearing maintenance—any kind of physical maintenance—is really, really important—along with overall well-being and good diet. My last bad habit is smoking. That’s one thing I’ve got to get rid of. I stopped drinking years ago. Alcohol in and of itself just sort of eats up your whole body—you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

What problems do you see inexperienced sound people making?
I see a variety of different sound people—some inexperienced people, both men and women, and some who are just up and coming. You get asked a lot of questions. And a lot of times the questions tend to leapfrog from “How do you get that great kick drum,” to this, that and the other thing. I have to sometimes backpedal a little and get them to understand that your job is broken up into a variety of different components. One of the greatest quotes I ever heard about audio is: Gain is acquired, not supplied. You have to learn how to manage your audio gain structure, because without it, you will have nothing at the end of the day. You will just begin to dig a hole for yourself that’s so immense, you’ll never get out. So I try to encourage people about gain structure, and learning the fundamentals of that. That’s the thing you will always have at the end of the day—the quality of your gain structure from input to output. It’s not only measurable at both ends of the spectrum, but you can pinpoint it all the way along, throughout the whole signal flow.

There are a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between tone and volume. Tone is what we want. Volume is what we manage. It’s just amazing. Jody Perpick who mixes Bryan Adams, and who has mixed a number of other artists—and is a great, great Canadian engineer, one of his comments to me when we were talking about mixing and mixing philosophies, he was like, “Anybody can make something loud. It’s the real guy—the real person—who can actually make something big.”

That really stuck with me, because when I started to listen more intently to my peers—the people I really, really respect, Brad Madix and Robert Scovill and these other immense engineers—there’s tons of them out there—when you really listen to their mixes, they’re not loud, they’re not pounding you to death. But what they are is really big. It’s very articulate, so you can point things out in the mix that need to be pointed out.

Just because the meters are in the red doesn’t mean the pizza’s ready. Red actually means stop, not go. Reel it in and manage it properly. You don’t have to be 110 dB A weighted every night. You’re not only abusing the public, but you’re also abusing yourself at the same time. With right audio management, you can make something sound really big and really have a lot of impact without also impacting someone’s health at the same time.

That leads to another interesting point. Hinder’s been over to Europe—in the last four or five months we’ve been over there twice, and it’s really remarkable how a lot of local and state and federal governing bodies are starting to regulate the level of audio in everything from 3, 4 and 500-seat clubs up to larger venues. It’s really amazing.

We were in Germany, in one club they had a red stripe on the floor about 12 or 15 feet back from the edge of the stage, and they had a yellow stripe that was farther back, and they had a green stripe. And each of these was a dB zone; you couldn’t exceed the level of dB in each zone—it was monitored. They’d say, “You need to bring it down.”

One club in France was amazing. They had this processing which you couldn’t touch—it had a simple screen to let you know what your dB was, and as you exceeded the programmed level it would bring the PA down. There was nothing you could do about it. It’s great to have that challenge.

It’s kind of stifling sometimes, but I see it eventually coming here. It’s happening in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before places are going to be slowing coming down this path. As the saying goes in the legal profession, we are one lawsuit away from a problem. All it takes is one person to say, “Oh you made me reduce my quality of hearing at a show as a result of your efforts to mix.” You start pinpointing an individual or a band, for that matter, and it can only run rampant from there—hopefully it doesn’t.

So when you had to mix with those constraints, did you find you were able to achieve sound with impact?
With Hinder, we have a lot of control over our stage volume. Once again, the whole issue is between tone and volume. It doesn’t have to be loud to be right. So we make sure that our quality of the guitar amps and the bass rigs and such are at a manageable level. And on top of that, the band is running a full in-ear system, you don’t have to have things as loud as you think you need them—or as loud as some people think that they need to be. So the level coming off the stage is controlled and maintained, and that allows me to be able to paint a better picture of what’s going on.