Oxford, UK, December 14, 2023 — Peter Gabriel recently completed his first live tour in six years, covering Europe and North America. This tour supported his latest album, ‘i/o’, which is his first release of original studio material since 2002. Both legs of ‘i/o – The Tour’ carried three Solid State Logic Live mixing consoles, including an L550 Plus at front-of-house, another L550 Plus for band monitors and an L650 for Gabriel’s monitors, plus a compact SSL SiX to mix Gabriel’s keyboards.
Peter Gabriel, an artist and studio owner, has a longstanding association with SSL. Within his personal production spaces, and at Real World Studios in Bath, England—a commercial complex he owns—he has installed several of the company's large-format studio consoles. Since their introduction, Gabriel has exclusively relied on SSL Live consoles throughout his tours.
The best sounding desk in the world
“Interestingly, I was the first person to use the SSL Live desk on his tour,” reports veteran monitor engineer Dee Miller, who has been working with Gabriel since the end of the Growing Up Tour in 2003. “I've been using the SSL Live desk since its inception. I'm extremely comfortable with it and I find it very easy to navigate”.
“It absolutely sounds stunning. As far as I'm concerned, it’s the best sounding desk in the world. It's the only desk I use now.” Miller, set to mark 40 years on the road in 2024, has spent the last two decades collaborating with Robert Plant. Additionally, he had a long history with Jeff Beck and has worked with renowned artists such as The Who and Diana Ross. On i/o – The Tour he typically created 14 stereo in-ear mixes for the nine musicians and crew plus one for any potential musical guests.
Richard Sharratt, who has been Gabriel’s front-of-house engineer since 2010’s New Blood Tour, used a variety of consoles before SSL Live was introduced, including with other artists and clients for whom he has worked. “You're conscious of the differences when you use a different desk and you come back to SSL,” he comments. “The SSL Live has just got that lovely warmth, that analogue thing. It sounds open and clear and just generally better, and we have more room for everything in the mix.”
Sharratt continues, “I love the layout of the L550 Plus. You can reach everything easily.” He used four Bricasti and the internal revebs on i/o - The Tour. The internal effects are really good on the SSL,” he says. “Peter’s vocals are a challenge because they are just so dynamic and because of his style of singing. I use the de-esser and multiband comp, a fair amount of inserted 10- band EQ and also more EQ to just tweak his mic to get more gain before feedback. But none of the compressors are working too hard.”
Establishing a creative workflow with SSL Live
The tour’s production setup included 128 of MADI recording, Sharratt reports: “Peter insists on recording soundcheck at shows whenever he’s on stage.” Those recordings are a core part of Gabriel’s longtime creative workflow, both on the road and in the studio, where he records every musical idea, however fleeting, for potential future compositions, sometimes pulling them from the archives many years later. For his FOH mixing purposes, Sharratt adds, “The band inputs are within the first 96.”
Gabriel’s song presentations range from a solo vocal accompanied by a piano to a full-on band performance with the musicians firing on all cylinders. To handle the transition from one song to the next, Sharratt typically uses a single automation scene snapshot to set his mix up for the next number. “I don’t have scenes within a song but it's a good starting point. The scene fires MIDI to the Bricastis and changes all the internal effects, EQs and the VCA layout, so I can have different things in front of me for different songs.”
Miller, too, makes extensive use of the Live’s scene recall capabilities, he says. “It’s all automated — mutes, groups, sends, EQs; the lot. Peter is quite particular and there's a lot going on in his music, so the only way you could do it is by using scene snapshots.”
Minimizing outboard gear
Miller uses the SSL Lives internal processing and scenes in preference to any outboard equipment. “I never use any outboard. Everything internal is fine for me, and I love everything on it. I love the reverbs. I only use a couple of small reverbs for a couple of members of the band, so I don't need anything outboard. Plus, you’ve got SSL compressors on there. What else do you need? It's the industry standard in the studio.”
In his experience, Miller says, artists can clearly hear the difference when they change from another brand of monitor console to the SSL Live. “One hundred percent they can, without a doubt. Everybody goes, ‘Wow, that sounds good!’”
Unlike the FOH engineer, the monitor engineer tailors the mix for each musician based on their personal preferences, notes Miller. “They tell you what they need,” he says. It’s important to him that he can deliver what they need with the utmost clarity. “All I have to care about is how the desk sounds. The SSL Live is so clean. There's room for everything in the mix,” he says. “This desk, to me, is the benchmark.”
This latest tour was somewhat bittersweet for Miller after four decades on the road, half of them travelling the world with Peter Gabriel. “I’m back with Robert Plant for a couple of weeks in the U.K., doing very small shows, then I'm going to do some stuff locally in London, but I've run my course,” he reveals. “This was my last big tour — and a lovely way to go out.”
The SSL Live console used on i/o – The Tour were supplied by Britanita Row Productions. Peter Gabriel’s new album i/o is available now on Real World.
About Solid State Logic
Solid State Logic is the world’s leading manufacturer of analogue and digital audio consoles and provider of creative tools for music, broadcast, live and post production professionals. For more information about our award-winning products, please visit: www.solidstatelogic.com.
All photos credit York Tillyer