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DiGiCo Powers Canada's First Drive-in Concert
Canadian Country Star Brett Kissel Takes the Stage in the West
17 July, 2020 by
GerrAudio Distribution Inc., Peter James
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Written by: Kevin Young

July 7, 2020

Since the restrictions implemented to fight the pandemic went into place, Hamilton Ontario AV house, Soundbox Productions, have been preparing for the advent of drive-in shows. “This is nothing like we’ve done before. From the audio side to the big picture of the event, I think the most motivating part of this is how companies and individuals are rethinking the way they do things and reinventing themselves to remain productive,” says Colin Moore (Manager – Special Projects at Soundbox).

As special projects go, Brett Kissel’s drive-in concerts in Edmonton, Regina, and Saskatoon – the first of their kind in Canada – certainly qualify.

Moore and Soundbox have an ongoing relationship with Kissel, Moore notes: “Brett’s one of the artists I do lighting and video for, so when he reached out and said, ‘We’re doing it’, I suggested getting Soundbox involved to figure out what was needed for audio.”

Obviously, the biggest difference between drive-in and regular concerts is that there’s no PA and audiences tune in via their car radios. In Edmonton, Kissel and his band played eight shows over the course of two days in the main parking lot of the River Cree Resort and Casino, the first of which was packaged and broadcast regionally via 840 CFCW and across Canada on Stingray Music.

For the mix-to-FM stream and monitor mixes, Soundbox provided two DiGiCo SD12-96 consoles, purchased from GerrAudio Distribution, which were accompanied by two DiGiCo SD-Racks fully loaded with the new 32-bit I/O cards.  ‘FOH’ engineer, Joel Bird, was stationed backstage in a broadcast trailer and monitor engineer, James Bundy, was positioned on stage left. "The consoles were setup in a redundant loop, connected over fibre," Moore explains.

“With talkback and so on, there were more inputs needed for monitors,” says Jamal Bleasdell, Head of Soundbox’s Audio Department. “So we had the two SD-Racks outfitted with AES bi-directional Cards and 32-bit input and output cards, and instead of having an AES splitter and sending it down a com send via optical, we had the Axient handhelds going AES into the SD-Racks so FOH could pick off those lines from the rack."

Bundy and Bird began using DiGiCo consoles whenever possible some years ago, initially two SD9s, but as Kissel’s input counts grew, they moved to SD12s. “The SD12s allow for better workflow,” Moore notes, citing the console’s dual screens, new 32-bit cards and optional 96-channel upgrade.

Bundy and Bird have nothing but praise for the consoles in this application.

"The DiGiCo’s depth and clarity – especially with the new 32-bit cards at 96kHz – allowed me to maintain full, energetic mixes the band craves on stage, even without the energy of a FOH PA system,” Bundy says. “Being back playing live was emotional for everyone, so it was critical for me to take what they put out, elevate it, and send each musician the same amount of energy they gave me without damper. The SD12 not only facilitated that but amplified the experience ensuring no energy or emotion was lost.”

“After months of wondering what was next, being back on the SD12 felt like home again,” Bird adds. “I was able to settle in and quickly adjust for this style of mixing. The rest was easy. It was my first time using the new 32-bit preamps while running at 96 kHz and I instantly noticed an extension and newfound smoothness in the highs, which let me run more channels flat. There was a noticeably smooth frequency response across the whole spectrum, which ensured I could capture what the band was putting out and translate it to the audience’s car stereos cleanly and effectively.”

James Bundy, Monitor Engineer
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Beyond familiarity, rock solid reliability also factored into their choice of DiGiCo, Moore says. “That was biggest thing for these shows (and any show), and that’s the reason Soundbox has invested heavily in DiGiCO. We didn’t have room in the truck for a third console, but we knew the SD12s would come out of their cases working fine. Even if there had been an issue, there’s something unique about the way GerrAudio and DiGiCo support touring artists and production houses like ours. I have complete confidence in their service and, on my end, that reliability and support is huge.”

While the same package was deployed for Kissel’s later shows in Regina and Saskatoon, Edmonton was the litmus test for how successfully the energy Kissel and his crack live band put out could be translated to a drive-in audience.

That test was a rousing success, Moore says: “It went great. There were no issues with the gear and the shows were fantastic. Everyone listening – in their cars, at the station that was broadcasting and packaging it across the country, people we know who’ve mixed Brett’s records – they all said it sounded incredible. Obviously, Joel and James nailed it on the mix for broadcast and the band, but I think the DiGiCo gear helped in making it such a great product to go to air.” The band was similarly impressed, he adds, during the shows, and when listening to the broadcast. “They’re studio guys who are very tuned in to sound, and the DiGiCo, from their preamps to the processing, I think, played a huge part in the success of these shows.”

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That success, he sums up, wasn’t just important for those taking part and listening in. “Right now, being able to put such an incredible product together, I think that shows our industry and audiences that you can have a real musical connection and similar energy as you would in a ‘business as usual’ live setting.”

How commonplace drive-in concerts become in the near future is impossible to say, but this effort shows how firms like GerrAudio, Soundbox, and DiGiCo, in partnership with artists like  Brett Kissel, can work in challenging circumstances to provide music lovers a balm for the present and a way forward to bringing live music back again.

Photo credit:
Dale MacMilan &
Ben “Darty” Darnell