Carrying On With CSN & Audix
By Randy Alberts
Which is your favorite Crosby, Stills & Nash gem? "Wooden Ships," "Teach Your Children," perhaps "Long Time Comin'"?
For Rance Caldwell, CSN's longtime monitors mixer the past 25 years, that's an impossible question. But with a little help from his Audix mics-on tour with the band since the mid-'90s-there is one song that shines for him in every show.
"It's called 'Takin' It All'," says Caldwell of CSN's song about camaraderie and life on the road. "The Audix microphones let you hear all the different nuances they put into it. That song always gives me a chill."
Rance left his first career as a Texan petrochemist in the early '70s to hand build PAs, snakes and Silvertone guitar amps. Once he did his first live sound gig for his friend's band, Corduroy Cowboy Company, there was no turning back.
"I decided back in those days that sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll were much more appealing to me than acidizing, fracturing and cementing," laughs Caldwell, now a happily married man. He went on to join Showco and tour with Black Oak Arkansas, ELO, Kool and The Gang and countless others before joining CSN in the late '70s. "I realized I'd much rather have a good time than wear a lab coat around a bunch of chemists."
Musicians & Monitor Guys United For Good Sound
Among other great acts Caldwell toured for years with Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the legendary MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) No Nukes tours-the latter is where he met and began working with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. Except for the occasional tour with Stevie, benefit shows for Tom Campbell's Guacamole Foundation, or his role as union steward and technical supervisor at the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Florida, Rance rarely mixes outside the CSN family. Besides CSN's busy touring schedule and an upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion tour, Rance also mixes short tours for Stills' California Blues Band, CPR (Crosby, Jeff Pevar, James Raymond) and the Crosby-Nash shows.
"Because those guys are still loud and proud up there for three hours a night, I can get their vocals just as loud as I need," he says. "When a performer can clearly hear their voice or instrument and translate those emotions with a microphone to the audience, that says a lot about the mic they're using. The Audix stuff has been a great, long-proven addition to our repertoire."
With the exception of just one mic, everything on CSN's stage is Audix. D6 on the kick; D2s for snare and rack toms; D4s on the floor toms; SCX1 on the hat; CX-111s for the overheads; and D3s for the guitar amplifiers. And for those golden CSN vocals, OM6s and OM7s. Rance adds that, beyond the stage, Audix is an important part of what the band does in their home studios, as well. Graham Nash and David Crosby each have a pair of SCX1s they record with, as does Stephen Stills who also used his CX-111s and D2s on his album Man Alive released last September.
"Every Audix mic has a transparent voice that lets a song carry the message on its own without coloration," adds Rance. "The fidelity and stage rejection is incomparable."
Like an architect, carpenter or mechanic, Caldwell carries and takes good care of his tool kit: a suitcase full of Audix mics. He says he never has a problem pleasing his artists when it comes to building a great sounding live show.
"Regardless of the venue we're in, at least I know I've always got Audix on my side. No diaphragm fatigue here! I pack my Audix mics and a phase checker in suitcases; those are my most valuable tools. Hey, I'm a contractor building a sound every night for Crosby, Stills, and Nash-and the Audix mics are my foundation. A contractor in any field takes care of their tools. In my audio world, microphones are my tools."
Monitor Guys Are Different
Caldwell, who mixed monitors for Jackson Browne's legendary "Running On Empty" tour, once received a coveted Mix TEC Awards nomination for best live sound. The nod was in recognition of his efforts on CSNY's live tour in 2002, the band's first in a quarter-century, but Rance is the last person to trumpet that laurel the industry offered him. Still, one can't help but assume that what is stated about him on the CSN website today is absolutely true: "Celebrating 25 years of no feedback."
"Really, my only award every night is when I mix a great show and nobody looks over at me or says anything about the sound," laughs Rance. "That's my goal every night: that everything is 100% flawless. All that matters to me is that I do my gig so that all the guitars are plugged down the right holes and the audience is happening. That's the only medal of honor that counts, just knowing I've mixed a great show and that everyone there appreciates it."
According to Rance, live monitor guys are different from FOH guys because it's always the monitor guy who is looked at first when something goes wrong-even when it has nothing to do with the monitors. They're the ones right next to the stage, the first ones to get "those looks" from the band even when it's a bad guitar cord, amplifier or backline problem.
"Well, you know the saying, right?" he says. "'Friends don't let friends mix monitors.' You've got to get into a performer's head to read what they're thinking long before they ever have to look over at you. I'll sit there sometimes and wonder, 'Now what the hell is he thinking right now?' You listen to their mix, review, and try to figure out what he's thinking. I enjoy that process."
Give us an example, Rance.
"OK�Jackson Browne. He used to look over and give me three blinks of his eyes. That's when we knew we were happening on the monitor mix. Both eyes, three blinks. That was his sign to me and Buddha, his manager, that we were happening. I really enjoy this work."