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Muse Of The World

Marc Carolan: Mixing Muse Live
Published April 2016
By Matt Frost

Muse Of The WorldPhoto: Julien Fabre / Creative Commons

For 15 years, Marc Carolan has been in charge of the live sound for one of the biggest — and most technically ambitious — bands in the world.

Marc Carolan first started working for Muse back in the Summer of 2001, as they trekked across Europe touring their critically lauded second album Origin Of Symmetry around the festival circuit. During the subsequent 15 years, Carolan has been ever–present as Muse’s front–of–house engineer and has witnessed, at very close quarters, the three–piece’s evolution from popular and powerful indie rockers to arguably the most technologically innovative stadium act on the planet.

While Marc has mixed other bands during the last decade and a half, including Snow Patrol and the Cure — as well as running his own Dublin–based recording facility, Suite Studios — it is understandably Muse who have taken up the majority of his time. There have been five studio albums since Origin Of Symmetry and each successive world tour tends to stretch out to around 18 months’ worth of shows.

When we catch up with Carolan, he’s enjoying a well–earned Christmas break with his family back in Ireland, before heading out for a second batch of US dates on Muse’s highly ambitious and visually stunning Drones tour.

“The show is awesome!” Marc enthuses. “It’s technologically pushing it and the staging is huge. In the beginning, obviously, there were a lot of new challenges but we’ve got there now and the show is up and running and it’s mega. It’s amazing.”

Home Schooling

As a kid, Marc Carolan always had a keen musical ear and, during his teenage years, he started dabbling with recording and cutting his own material at home.

“I started playing the guitar when I was four and, when I was seven or eight, I started classical violin,” Marc explains. “Then, I kind of shelved the classical violin when I was 14 and picked up the guitar again and started playing in different bands locally in Dundalk, which is the town between Dublin and Belfast where I’m originally from.

“I always used to mess around with two tape recorders so I could multitrack. My Dad, although a teacher by profession, also spent time moonlighting as a drummer, so we had a drum kit in the house and other different bits and pieces. I saved up my pocket money and bought the Amstrad four–track [the immortal Stereo 100], which also had a turntable and a radio tuner on it. It was a wacky bit of kit but great to muck around on, and I used to make my own albums because I could play a couple of different things. I learned the rudiments of tracking and bouncing but I didn’t have any good microphones or anything like that. It was very raw but it taught you the rudiments of what was going on.”

In the mid–’90s, Carolan went on to study Telecommunications and Electronic Engineering at college in Dublin. It wasn’t long after starting the course that he happened to cross paths with a familiar face from Dundalk.

“I was at this small underground gig and I bumped into this guy who was a neighbour of mine from back home,” says Carolan. “He and a friend of his had basically just bought a load of studio kit for a soundtrack and movie they were making. They didn’t really know how to use it so they asked if I would help out. We ended up setting up this cool little eight–track studio and, because the guys were involved in running underground clubs, I had access to all these bands and we started recording them. There was a really vibrant underground scene in Dublin at the time and we set up a little independent label to release stuff. In fact, the first eight–track recording I did was for a band called Wormhole, and Roadrunner [Records] ended up licensing it. I basically blagged my way in the studio and then, when these bands were doing gigs — even though I’d never done it before — I said, ‘I’ll come down and do the sound,’ and that’s how I started in the live domain. My career was always very much half and half between studio work and producing and then live work although, of late, it’s definitely skewed a lot more to the live work.”

Between 1995 and 2001, Marc not only balanced his time between recording in the Dublin studio and mixing local live gigs, he was also handed a few opportunities to go out on tour, which really served to help hone his burgeoning front–of–house skills. His first trek outside Ireland was a small club tour with An Emotional Fish, and that was soon followed by an extensive sojourn with Bawl, who had just signed a deal with Mercury Records.

“I was basically self–taught in the studio and I was just learning as I went with live sound,” explains Marc. “I would mush the techniques. A lot of what I was doing was probably technically wrong but I used to use some of the stuff that I’d do in the studio for live shows and, at the time, not a lot of people were doing that.

“Another thing I started doing quite early on with Bawl was to try to convince the band to hire a nice compressor or a reverb, so that, even when they were doing the smallest, tiniest club, they would have something that would make a difference at every show, however small that difference might be. I’d just try to make them stand out a bit more.”

Meeting Muse

Around this time, Carolan was also working very closely with JJ72, another local band who were starting to enjoy commercial success both inside and outside Ireland. As well as producing their early records, Marc was also the group’s FOH engineer, and it was at one of their gigs in 2001 that he first encountered Muse.

Marc Carolan still uses an analogue Midas XL4 for Muse’s current world tour.Marc Carolan still uses an analogue Midas XL4 for Muse’s current world tour.Photo: Steve Jennings“JJ72 were opening for Muse on tour when Muse were at the kind of big club/small theatre level,” says Carolan. “Muse weren’t massive but everything was starting to kick off for them on that tour. Actually, I think Chris [Wolstenholme], the bass player, had been to JJ72’s Bristol gig on the NME Tour [2001]. Amen and Starsailor were on the bill as well and Chris apparently liked how JJ72 sounded. He never said anything to me and I didn’t meet him on the night or anything but, anyway, when JJ72 began opening for Muse, they seemed to like what I was doing and they offered me the gig.”

Marc’s own personal live audio philosophy was certainly starting to take shape by that point in time. “I was definitely starting to hone it a bit more by then,” he explains. “Retaining dynamics is a big thing I’m into. Not being afraid of pulling some of the studio techniques in but knowing when to tastefully use them. I guess part of what any engineer’s doing across those formative years is trying to develop their taste as well as their technical ability — trying to give yourself your own stamp on sound and your own tasteful bag of tricks that doesn’t stamp all over the band’s sound. I think I was really learning how to use volume properly and learning that being loud all the time was not always the best thing. I definitely developed my preferences in terms of how I operate a show and the ergonomics of how I like things, which is very important to me.”

When Carolan was offered the Muse FOH gig, he understandably jumped at the chance, although he did still respectfully fulfill the outstanding shows he had scheduled with JJ72. Marc’s first Muse performance behind the board was at the Soundarena Rock Festival in Wohlen, Switzerland. He remembers the experience well.

“I was shitting myself!,” laughs Marc. “In a more general philosophical sense, people can be very quick to judge a sound engineer on the sound of a single show but you never truly know what’s going on until you’re behind that mixing desk, which was the case with Muse. I must say, I was just straight away taken by their sheer power. The level of musicianship just blew me away completely! It went by very quickly though and it was a festival show so it was the old 20 minute line–check on headphones and go. I think the first 10 shows I did with Muse were festivals so I didn’t actually get to soundcheck them properly until I‘d done a bunch of shows! But, luckily enough, all the feedback was really good from management and from other people who were around, so that was that.”

Were Muse very specific about the sound they were looking for when Marc Carolan first joined their camp? “The relationship still works in the same way,” explains Carolan. “Matt is very specific about his guitar sound and he’s got it very much dialled in at source. The same applies to Chris Wolstenholme. He’s really, really good at getting his bass sound at source and it sounds great. Dom Howard is one of those very rare beasts in that he’s a drummer who can really tune his drums. They all have, over the years, developed a good technical knowledge as well. A lot of times, we don’t overtly talk about exact specifics of what’s going on but there just seems to be a trust and an understanding that’s developed over the years. If they give me a specific direction, I know it’s for a very specific reason because they don’t do it all of the time. I also found that with the Cure. Robert [Smith] has a very specific direction for things and it just makes things much easier.”

Channels For Muse

Following the 2001 festival season, when Muse embarked on the Origin Of Symmetry production proper, Marc was finally able to put a full FOH spec together. One of his first decisions was to choose an appropriate desk.

“At that point, very early on, I did look at some of the digital console solutions that were around, but I still went for the [Midas] XL4 which I’m still on,” he explains. “I love the XL4’s preamps, the EQ and how it reacts. It does something within summing as well where it really glues the mix together. As far as my philosophy goes, I’m not like the analogue purist who has things like ‘No digital desks’ written on my spec! I’m not a Luddite. I really believe in the tool for the job and I’m equally comfortable on various digital consoles. I do find some of the analogue purism a bit boring, to be honest, but if it’s the right thing for the job, then I use it, and that’s why the XL4 is still my console of choice on Muse. It’s just great for guitar, bass, drums — the meat of the matter, as I would call it. Basically, for the Drones shows at the moment, the XL4 is mainly handling that element of the band and then I also have a Midas Pro 2C sidecar, which is handling the keyboard elements, and it’s now also handling my automation for everything that’s on the XL4.”

Muse singer Matt Bellamy is a  long–time user of Neumann KMS mics.Muse singer Matt Bellamy is a long–time user of Neumann KMS mics.Photo: Marck Schoenmaker / Creative CommonsMarc Carolan’s approach to outboard has also remained consistent during the course of the 15 years he’s worked for Muse although, naturally, his utilisation of particular pieces of gear has evolved with the band’s various, ever more ambitious, stage shows. Vocals have always been an area of particular complexity.

“I’m very specific about outboard,” says Marc. “Every choice has evolved and is there for a reason as opposed to being the flavour du jour or using something that’s vintage because it’s vintage. I just try to find the right tool for the job. Vocals are a bit more of a challenge on Muse for a variety of reasons. We have multiple gain stages of vocals, so we have a normal clean vocal, an overdriven Avalon [VT737sp] vocal and then a full–on distorted SansAmp PSA–1 vocal. And then there’s sometimes combinations of those. We’ll also use live vocoders. And now, with the Drones tour, we’re able to do any of those combinations at any of a multiple of 10 mic positions. Traditionally, the challenge for me was the fact that Matt likes to move his head quite a bit when he performs. My take on that has always been, rather than going up to him and saying, ‘Don’t move!’, I actually adapted my engineering style to make that work.”

Upon his initial hook–up with Muse, Carolan immediately began utilising Neumann KMS 104s and KMS 105s as means of “adapting” to Matt Bellamy’s unique style of lead vocal delivery.

“I use the Neumann 104 or sometimes the 105 depending on positions,” explains Marc. “A lot of engineers don’t like those microphones because the first thing they say is, ‘Oh, there’s too much spill,’ but my take on it all is that you’ll always have spill so why not have nice–sounding spill? And that’s what the Neumann gives you. It gives you very flat, un–hyped spill but it also sounds great off-axis. As he’s moving his head in and out of the zone, the mic’s maintaining a lot of the tonality. When I go to squeeze it up, it’s giving me a more uniform response as he’s moving his head in and out of things. Over the years, you’re tweaking it and learning it and you just start to pre–empt things. I used to use a 104 with JJ72, although I used it for different reasons with them. I just liked how the mic sounded, but I knew about its properties. Bear in mind that, before I started mixing Muse, I’d already seen a lot of Muse shows because JJ72 were on tour with them. And the thing that always surprised me when I first saw Muse was that I’d be coming down from the dressing rooms, walking by the side of the stage, and I’d be thinking, ‘They’re monstrous!’ But then I was always disappointed when I went out front, so I started to study why that was. That’s a thing I always did as a young engineer. Whenever I got the opportunity to hear other people at work, I’d just try and learn as much as I could all the time by listening to what other people did and learning what I liked and what I didn’t, and trying to figure out why people did different things. So, by the time it came to me having a crack at Muse, I knew this mic would lend itself pretty well to Matt because of the way he performs. I was using it on my first Muse show and I still use it.”

Skan–tastic

In September 2003, Muse released their third album Absolution, which hit number one on the UK album chart and spawned the band’s first top 10 single, ‘Time Is Running Out’. The band were on the rise and this necessitated a scaling up on the production side. As well as introducing new pieces of gear such as Avalon VT737sp mic pres, this was also the tour where Marc began enlisting the services of Skan PA for Muse.

For many years, Muse’s PA system — currently a  d&b J–series rig — has been provided by Skan.For many years, Muse’s PA system — currently a d&b J–series rig — has been provided by Skan.Photo: Steve Jennings“Skan are still the PA company that I use and they’re just fantastic,” enthuses Carolan. “They’re real sticklers for detail and their gear is always impeccable. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of odd ways of routing and I’m quite specific in the order and patching of things, but Skan immediately got why I wanted to be that detailed about things. That gave me more confidence, as the relationship went on and on, to try different ideas even though they’re not standard practices, and that’s paid a lot of dividends over the years. For instance, a very simple example of that would be the way I subgroup things — like when I subgroup kick drums, I’ll just cross–patch them back into a single channel on the desk. Then there’s other things like the order of compressors versus different chains. I get really particular about the layout and ergonomics of things. I think Skan kind of got a kick out of it all because they were such sticklers for detail themselves and they liked any new challenge. This was also the first tour that we had an [L–Acoustics] V–DOSC system.”

There were a number of challenges on the Absolution tour partly due to the fact that the album itself was such an incredible–sounding production. It was also the first time the band were consistently playing arenas. “We were widening the palette of what was going on,” says Marc. “Synths were coming into it, live MIDI triggering was coming into it and the palette of vocal distortions and stuff like that was expanding and getting better. It was also nice because I had a front–of–house package put together for the tour, so I was able to bring the tweaks along with us as we went. The big challenge was getting the dynamics and impact of Absolution across because it’s such a great–sounding record, but there are a lot of subtleties in there as well.”

Upping The Ante

With 2006’s Black Holes And Revelations long player came even wider scope in terms of the sonic soundscapes Muse were creating, and this necessitated bringing on board live keyboard player Morgan Nicholls. Everything was understandably getting more and more complicated in the mixing department.

“Again, the palette was expanding,” says Marc. “It’s important with Muse that if you have a song with some synthetic elements followed by a song by the ‘bare band’, that they don’t sound any different in scale. So one of the challenges was the integration of that balance and then also the fact that the palette was expanding again with the types of sound involved. And, actually, at the start of Black Holes, I went digital. I was on a Digidesign Venue and had 24 channels of [Midas] XL42 as preamps/EQs. I think we pretty much did the first half if not three-quarters of the Black Holes tour with that setup. So, again, that was another change and you learn different techniques by doing that and it certainly brought scenes and automation more into my world, which is something that expanded on the subsequent tours to where I am now. And the thing is that, as these albums were progressing, the dynamics in any given song meant that I really had to start using more and more scenes and automation as I was developing the mix to get it better. I guess, philosophically, the things I use have always been song–driven. They’re not purist engineering exercises. Everything always has to have a musical reason. [With the digital setup], I just realised that — although it would take more work to get the automation I needed happening on the XL4 — it could be done, so why not just do that because I was already using so much Midas outboard? Why not just use the XL4 with the same logic? You know, I was feeling a bit of that, ‘I should be digital!’ but then I thought, ‘Why should I be digital?’ There was kind of a prevailing sense at the time of, ‘OK, we’re all going to go digital now so just get on with it!’”

Stadium Ultimatum

Another big development that came with the Black Holes tour was Muse establishing themselves as a festival headliner and a bona fide stadium act. On 16th and 17th June 2007, Muse headlined their first dates at Wembley Stadium and Marc was insistent that he and the band take a more ‘localised sound’ approach.

Muse’s monitor engineer, Adam Taylor.Muse’s monitor engineer, Adam Taylor.Photo: Steve Jennings“Through the years, I’ve done supports in stadiums,” explains Carolan. “And I always worked with the same philosophy: try and learn; try and listen; try and see what you like; and try and see what you don’t like. One of the things that I’ve always tried to do is to localise sound as much as possible. So traditionally, where artists would have stuck a PA and maybe a couple of delay towers in, we’d put in two sets of delays. But, at that time, we were contractually obliged to use Wembley Stadium’s own ring delay system. That was a challenge for me: I wanted to try and bring a bit of that immediacy to the show because, traditionally, people have always moaned about the fact that they just don’t feel connected to a stadium show. I wanted to try and somehow address that, and it was a bit of a fight. Because we hadn’t done stadiums before, the standard answer was, ‘Well, that’s not how stadiums are done.’ It’s only when you fight this kind of assumption a couple of times and you win a few times that people start listening to you. But, luckily, I’ve always had support from the band on this stuff. We went for it, we did the two delays and it did really work.”

When it came time to play Wembley Stadium again in September 2010, during Muse’s subsequent tour for the The Resistance album, Carolan and the band decided to take things one step further.

“I guess, by the end of Black Holes, we were fully established as a festival headlining act and we’d started playing stadiums,” says Marc. “But with The Resistance, things went up another notch. So we went out with a bigger arena show, where we had the three platforms. We moved into 270- to 360–degree audience coverage in arenas. The XL4 was fully packed and we started introducing multiple microphone positions much more on that. And we toured our own ring system in stadiums, which was expanding on the idea of localised sound throughout the venue, trying to bring the sound more in people’s faces, as it were. The concept basically means not relying on the delays alone to get clear sounds to the upper parts of the stands. Rather, we flew a system up there, which wasn’t really the norm at the time for stadium shows. It has now kind of since become the norm. Again, it was a little bit more of a resource, but Muse are always up for taking that extra step to make it better as opposed to just making do. The ethos was trying to not have a bad seat in the house. The Resistance tour was also where we changed the PA from L–Acoustics V–DOSC over to d&b J–series, which we still use now.”

Laying Down The Law

On 2012’s The 2nd Law album, Muse once again upped the creative ante, with some tracks even showcasing what has been described as “excursions into dubstep and dance music”. The accompanying tour, which again included fans encircling the stage, was similarly ambitious but, as ever, Marc Carolan’s sound and PA requirements were always central to the overarching show design.

“The evolution of my side of things has always been in tandem with how the show itself has developed,” explains Carolan. “I’ve got a very good relationship with Oli Metcalfe, who is Muse’s lighting designer and show designer, going back to before I was there. The two of us have a very good symbiotic relationship. What’s great for me is that, even when Oli is designing the stages and how the show is going to look, he brings us in very early and incorporates PA design. There have been some famous instances in the touring industry’s history where the show designers have kind of pushed the PA to one side or they just kind of forget about the PA. They just care how the thing looks. There have been some disastrous results over the years, whereas we’re quite fortunate with Oli in that he incorporates where the PA should be optimally from the outset, which is a much more intelligent way to look at things. With Muse, the music is definitely not secondary to the show! We’re lucky with Oli. You don’t have people arriving on the first day and saying, ‘What an earth are those speakers doing there?’”

The ‘spotter’ rig: a  member of the Skan PA crew has to keep visual contact with Matt Bellamy, muting and un–muting the various vocal mics depending on his position on stage.The ‘spotter’ rig: a member of the Skan PA crew has to keep visual contact with Matt Bellamy, muting and un–muting the various vocal mics depending on his position on stage.Photo: Steve JenningsSo what kind of live mix challenges did Marc face during the The 2nd Law tour? “Obviously, The 2nd Law had some quite synthetic elements going on,” says Marc. “But it’s a very diverse record, so the diversity in the programme that I was trying to mix got even wider. But I remained on the XL4 and really pushed the programming and the automation side of things again. In the evolution of how I’ve used automation, the goal has always been that, when I mix the show, I’m not thinking about all that stuff. I’m just reacting with the band and mixing the band and so the automation is more to just free up my headspace from, ‘OK, change the scene now. Change the scene now.’ I can forget about all that stuff and just concentrate on what the band are doing, how it feels and how the audience are reacting. That’s almost like the emotional side of the mix. The 2nd Law took another step in that direction.”

Tones & Drones

Muse’s current tour for their 2015 long player Drones is arguably their most ambitious yet, both visually and sonically. For a start, have you ever seen a show where up to 12 computer–controlled balloon drones float around the arena above the heads of the audience? We didn’t think so! It’s also the first tour where the band have played ‘in the round’ in the middle of each arena (previously their 360–degree performances have always been at the end of each venue).

“Drones has been the biggest challenge so far,” says Marc. “But, actually I ended up with a lot of experience with the U2 360–degree tour because both Snow Patrol and Muse opened for U2, so I ended up doing 50–something shows on that tour. I had the great pleasure of working beside U2’s long–standing engineer, Joe O’Herlihy. So, again, it goes back to what I was harping on about before about keeping your ears open and trying to learn all the time. One of the big things is that you have to consider reflected sound a lot more and manage it because, instead of firing in one direction, you’re firing at four. Obviously, this show — from the visual aspect and from the Drones aspect — is a monstrous production, so using resources intelligently becomes important. It’s ot just sticking as much PA up there as you can, because it doesn’t make sense with a production like that.

“One thing I haven’t really touched on is that the constant throughout all these shows has been Matt Vickers from Skan. He’s always been the system designer for me. The process starts when Oli, as the show designer, says, ‘This is roughly what we’re thinking about doing,’ and then we’ll go off and think about that. With Drones, the concept that it was going to be in the middle ‘in the round’ would have been about a year before the tour. After Oli has explained his initial concept, Matt will come back to me with ideas, and then Oli will come back with a firmer idea and some visuals of the stage and what it’s going to look like. The great thing with d&b is that they’ve got very good prediction software, so we’re modelling stuff all the time and we’re looking at how the sound is going to behave in the venues. What I love about Matt Vickers is that he’ll always have something new that I haven’t mixed on before and I have to trust him with, which is exciting.”

d&b Arena

So which ‘new’ setups, gear and/or approaches have the team introduced for the Drones tour? “One of the real tricks in going ‘in the round’ is getting even sub-bass and not having a horrendous amount of sub on stage killing the band. Another new thing we’re using on Drones is d&b’s Array Processing. Essentially, what it does is it allows you to truly have an even coverage along the plane of the arena. The end result of that is that even up at the top, up in the Gods, it’s much more in your face. It’s fuller and it’s richer. Usually, roughly where I’m mixing, there is kind of a sweet spot but that sweet spot is no longer the sweet spot because everywhere is the sweet spot. It’s a very powerful tool that’s allowed us to do all sorts of tricks.

Marc Carolan’s mixing rig includes a  number of choice analogue processors, as well as a  Midas Pro 2C (below), which he uses for keyboards and automation.Marc Carolan’s mixing rig includes a number of choice analogue processors, as well as a Midas Pro 2C (below), which he uses for keyboards and automation.Photo: Steve JenningsMuse Of The WorldPhoto: Steve Jennings“I’m very lucky in that my FOH Systems Tech, Eddie O’Brien, and I started out in Ireland around the same time, and I really trust his ears. Another challenge in this is that both Matt and Chris will spend a lot of time in front of the PA. The stage has a centre round main stage and two long runways that come off it, bisecting the arena. The band are performing and singing on all different parts of that. There’s about 10 different mic positions. The way that I’m engineering it is all about keeping the coverage even for the audience and then adapting to the band being in those positions. The other thing we’ve added this time around is a vocal spotter. We used to have all these multiple vocal positions and myself and Adam Taylor, Muse’s long–standing monitor engineer, would have to be watching the band all the time and turning on the mics relevant to wherever the band were. With this show, it just became too complex. I’d basically have to spend the entire show just watching the band members and turning on the relevant mics, which would mean I’d have no time to mix the show. So we developed a system where one of the Skan PA guys basically does that for us.”

Naturally, Carolan also had a few worries about how the plethora of sizeable airborne drones would affect the sound. “Obviously, sound doesn’t go through solid objects!” says Marc. “But, we had this before on the stadium shows, where we had these big massive inflatable UFOs and lightbulbs. I realised, from that experience, that — if these things keep moving and don’t stay still — then it will be OK. I think an audience member can accept that the sound has dropped if they see that something’s moving across the PA. But, if it’s something that’s just in front of the PA and doesn’t move and blocks their sound, then it becomes a problem. Luckily we haven’t really had too much of an issue with the drones... and they really are spectacular!”

Outboard Muse

Marc Carolan gives us some insight into the outboard he’s currently using on Muse’s Drones world tour. “I use Bricasti M7 reverbs, which are just fantastic,” Marc enthuses. “I bought my first M7 blind a couple of years ago and it was one of the first 20 units. There’s a lot of BSS [DPR] 901IIs peppered around the place, the BSS multiband dynamic processor, which they don’t make anymore. It’s a Swiss Army knife for me. I use the Tube-Tech LCA2Bs on the bass and guitar. They’ve been a constant, going back 10 years. We have Empirical Labs EL8 Distressors for all the vocal compression. I just love them; they’re so versatile for the different types of things I have to do, and they’re repeatable and accurate.

“For the main left/right bus, I have a GML 8200 EQ, which you just have to have! Again, that links back to my studio background. I don’t compress my left/right mix ever. Some people do but I don’t like doing it. In the live domain, the one thing you have on your side is dynamics. When you’re studio mixing, you’re always thinking about the headroom within things and trying to get the mix loud, but, in the live domain, you don’t have any of that. You can keep the impacts of your snares and kicks. You don’t have to think about the technical constraints of the format. I find it odd that some engineers get really into L2–ing the life out of their mixes and making their live mixes as compressed as if it were a studio thing. You can keep all that beautiful front end of the snare and the kick or make things loud and quiet. I’m using the Tube-Tech SMC 2B multiband compressor, but I don’t really use it as a compressor. What I do is I just use it on the super–high end. A tiny bit of really fast attack/release compression just creates a really pleasing upper–harmonic distortion. It’s all very subtle stuff with that.

“Effects–wise, all the vocal delays are the old Line 6 Echo Pro, because I like to mix things up instead of just having a digital repeat. I use the old Eventide H3000 D/SE for vocal doubler stuff. A lot of stuff is sitting in the mix tastefully but then there’s moments where there’s quite obvious effects happening. I use the old [Yamaha] SPX 2000 for snare and a little bit of dbx 120 harmonic processing on the kick and floor toms. Again, it’s very subtle. What I like to do as well with drums is I’ll alternate whether the sub is on or not quite a bit. I do a lot of stuff like that to change the flavour of what’s happening. You can end up creating impacts where it sounds like everything has suddenly got really loud whereas, in fact, it hasn’t. You’ve just found a way to make things quiet before, which means that — over the course of the show — you’re not fatiguing your audience, where they might get to the end of the show and everything’s been nice and loud but they can’t hear anything by that point! That approach elongates my career as well because I’m not killing myself at 115dB every night. That leads to a short career!”

Glastonbury Showers

On Sunday 27th June 2004, Muse headlined the prestigious Pyramid Stage on the final night of the Glastonbury Festival and, for Marc Carolan, things couldn’t have got off to a more inauspicious start!

“It was during the Absolution tour and, at the time, I think it would have surprised a lot of people that we were the Glastonbury headliner,” says Marc. “Muse were still very under the radar at that point. I remember myself and Matt Vickers from Skan walking out to front–of–house to get ready for the show. We’d set up the console very early that morning. We didn’t soundcheck or anything and we’d covered it up. But when we got out to the front–of–house tower later on, there was basically a waterfall pouring onto my mixing desk! It was horrible and nobody really was that bothered but, in the end, Muse played an absolute cracker and I think that was one of the key moments that turned Muse into what they became. The band actually played a complete stormer, we had a brilliant show but it was really nerve–racking for me because we kind of had to build a bivouac over my console out of plastic sheeting... But the water kept pouring into it so I did most of that show with this bubble of water over my head! I was sort of waiting for it to go but it never did explode! It wasn’t enough that I was mixing my first headliner at Glastonbury, I had to do it under those circumstances!”

Published April 2016