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David Loy is a Front of House Engineer, Monitor Engineer, and Production Manager who has mixed live for crossover country artist Kane Brown since 2017, in addition to shorter runs and one-off gigs with other high-profile acts including Sturgill Simpson, Blackbear, Alicia Keys, and Miguel. In recent years, Loy has gained experience mixing for broadcast, live-streamed, and pre-recorded performances, culminating in Kane Brown’s recent Amazon Music Live performance.
Always diligent to make sure his mixes translate from arena sound systems to smartphone speakers and everything in between, Loy has used IK Multimedia nearfield monitors as reference speakers in his rehearsal and touring rig for years. After recently upgrading to IK Multimedia’s new flagship iLoud Precision MTM monitors, Loy sat for an interview to share his story, his approach to live and broadcast mixing, and a few pieces of wisdom for aspiring Front of House engineers.
You’re working at a high level relatively early in your career. What has your path through the music business been, and how did you get to where you are now?
I grew up in North Carolina, serving in church with my dad, who’s a music pastor out there. That's where I got exposed to the tech side of everything, and then I moved to Nashville in 2015 and did the Blackbird Academy’s live program. I didn't go through any sort of proper studio training, but I went through that program and then started freelancing. It's definitely scary at times, but I enjoy choosing the different artists that I like to work with and sticking with them.
I freelanced with multiple acts between late 2015 and early 2017, and just as I was coming off of a tour and trying to find my next thing, I called a friend of mine about a gig I was interested in. I was trying to do some research on this artist who had opened for Kane Brown in the past, so I called my friend and asked, “What do you know about this artist? Do you think it'd be a good fit for me?” And he was like, “Wait, are you looking for a gig? I need a guy next week if you want to come work with Kane.” I looked at the dates while I was on the phone, and I was like, “Man, this guy's out the entire time! He’s opening for Jason Aldean, he’s doing a bunch of clubs, he's doing a bunch of theaters. I’d love to be a part of that.” And he said, “Cool; bus call is Wednesday.”
It sounds like you were in the right place at the right time, but something made Kane’s camp trust you enough to bring you on tour, and that has turned into a six-year relationship at this point. What are some of the qualities that you think make a good Front of House engineer?
Something I try to advise friends of mine when they're starting out is to always be listening. Be the last person to talk. There are a lot of situations where you might have the answer, but especially early on in a camp, it's always good to offer that after everyone else has spoken. Because if you don’t know everyone in the camp yet, you might not know who you're in a room with at the time. While it's good to bring experience, opinions, and quality control—those are all things that you're being paid to do—you should only bring all that to the table when it's your turn to speak.
Another tip is to always try to stay ahead and be prepared. There have been multiple times in the last two years that I look back on and think, “Man, I'm glad I was recording that show,” or “I’m glad I prepped that Pro Tools template last week when I had a couple of spare hours.” Sometimes, things that I was doing just out of boredom have actually ended up helping my client down the road. In 2020, I really dove into learning Pro Tools, because I had never used it before. I hated Pro Tools until 2020, and then I was sitting at my house doing nothing for months on end and I'm like, “You know what? I'm gonna go learn the one software that I don't want to learn because everyone else uses it and I don't want to look like an idiot when I have to deliver a session to another engineer.”
It’s good to stay ahead of the game so that when something comes up all of a sudden, and you only have two days to do it, you've already put the thought into it. If I know that a song we're working on is going to be a single, I go ahead and prep a live version on my own time. I just go ahead and find a good take at rehearsals, prep the session, load the template, build all the playlists, and put it away. That way, when I get a call at some point down the road in the record cycle and they say, “Hey, we're doing Jimmy Fallon next week and we need a reference track,” I've already got it started.
Kane Brown’s music jumps from country to pop, R&B, and beyond. How do you approach mixing a show with such different elements?
The record is always your first reference. Always listen to the record first. Our show director is typically who comes in next and adds ideas like, “We're gonna get our band to add big hits right here, or a guitar solo here, or a drum solo here,” and I start piecing the show together with them. Following that, the rehearsals are usually when I start getting one-on-one with the artist.
I love mixing country, pop, rock, and R&B, but all of them have different elements and different expectations from the crowd. I’ve found that a lot of country crowds are having a great time if they can hear clear vocals, clean guitars, and deep drums. But then if you mix a pop song, there's a lot of synths, there are more guitars, more drums, and there's a lot of programmed stuff. When you get into R&B, there are a lot more keys, there’s an organ, there are tempo changes; there are a lot more things in every genre you add.
Kane’s team does a really good job at picking the instrumentation to match the songs. So if it's a rock song, there are not a lot of delicate instruments on stage. If it's an acoustic song, then there's a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, and keys. Thankfully, Kane and the band have done a really good job at making sure that whenever there's a genre shift in the set between the pop, acoustic, and rock stuff, the arrangement matches it.
How do you incorporate nearfield monitors like the iLoud Precision MTM in your workflow?
I use the nearfields mostly during rehearsals. I bring them on the road, too, but it's rare that I have time to set them up on the console because our schedule is pretty crazy. But I don't do rehearsals without my nearfields. Because you can multitrack large channel counts onto a hard drive pretty easily nowadays, I archive everything and use it as a way of dialoguing with the band.
For example, rather than trying to explain how I’m hearing something, I can just say “Come stand back here and listen to the playback.” However, you need to make sure that reference is accurate. It's a good test of hearing your mix without the big arena, the big arrays, the subwoofers, and all of the other things that can sometimes lie to you during a rehearsal process.
Just put up some nearfields that you trust—in my case, it’s the iLouds—and have everybody come listen before you take it into the bigger room and turn it up nice and loud to see how it translates on a PA. The majority of the time, it's incredibly close, and it gets me to a solid starting point.
Before the new iLoud Precision line came out, you used the original iLoud MTMs as well as the iLoud Micro Monitors. How did you discover them, and what is it about the iLoud range that keeps you coming back?
The first time I heard them, I was mixing one of the first projects that I got to do for Kane in early 2019. I wanted to do it right, so I texted a friend who had a studio space at his house and said, “Hey, can I rent your space for a couple of days?” I got to his house and he’s got a pair of really nice monitors that a lot of people have at their studios, but then he pointed to the iLouds and he said, “You should mix on those. You'll be surprised.” So I started mixing on them and I was like, “Oh gosh, there's a lot of content in this mix that I need to clean up.”
The Micros surprised me from the beginning, just with the sound I was hearing, and then after actually mixing with them, I was shocked at how well my mixes were translating, especially on consumer products like TVs, Bluetooth speakers, etcetera. I used them in my home setup as well as on the road.
I was taking them everywhere because I could throw them in my Pelican case to check on an airplane and still have plenty of room for my microphones, interface, cabling, and all that stuff. Plus, the Micros and the MTMs allow you to mix in untreated spaces. You can put them on your desktop and they’ll account for the frequency response of the sound bouncing off the desk. You can use them in an enclosed space with no treatment, and on tour, that's incredibly valuable.
When did you upgrade to the Precisions?
I recently bought a house, so I was finally able to build out a mixing space at home. That was my first attempt at building a space with proper treatment and the works. I was trying to figure out which monitors I wanted to put in there, so I went on Vintage King's website just to do some window shopping and I saw that the Precisions had just come out. I started reading the reviews on them, watched the videos, and then I went and talked with Cody at the East Nashville Vintage King location. We listened to a couple of different monitors, but when we got to the iLouds I looked at him and I said, “That's crazy; that sounds incredible.” And on top of that, the DSP is pretty stellar. So that's what I went with.
Are you using the built-in DSP and automatic calibration features?
Yeah, I use the auto-calibration. I don't even play a track through them without doing that first. I'm very cautious around auto-correction technology like that, and maybe that's just me being a curmudgeon, but I will say the auto-correction on the iLouds is incredibly clean and I appreciate how it actually shows me exactly what it's doing.
Any auto-calibration that doesn't show me what's going on immediately makes me worry. It helps to know exactly what that graph is showing, like the nulls in the room and even the difference in sound between the placement of the two speakers. Then, you can look at the room and see that maybe it's because you’re in a corner, or it’s that window over there or something like that. It's never going to be perfectly flat, but it's gonna get you much closer than you were.
And with the DSP, you can go in and add more filters on top of that, which is wonderful because you can get it flat first and then build a “people pleaser” EQ setting. The artist walks in, you hit a button, and all of a sudden it slaps like a PA.
In fact, the last broadcast gig we did was an Amazon live stream for the NFL postgame show, and I used the Precisions for that. Since I knew it was going to be live-streamed, I knew the majority of people would be listening on AirPods, Bluetooth speakers, Roku TVs, Sonos speakers, and things like that, so I really appreciated that the Precisions have a bunch of different voicings. There's a smartphone voicing, a 49-inch TV voicing, an NS-10 voicing, and a Bluetooth speaker voicing; and you can just punch through them during the performance and hear how your mix is going to translate.
How did you get into mixing for broadcast and post?
A lot of it stems from working with Kane. You never know when a live performance is going to be needed for something. And, being the Front of House Engineer, I'm always recording, which I recommend to a lot of engineers that are starting out. If you're at Front of House, just record everything. It’s the same premise in the studio too. If the artist is in the room, you hit record because they won't stop and wait for you. If I'm in rehearsals and Kane's in the room and we're working on new material that I know is gonna be a single, or if we're doing a show where the room sounds really good, I already have that archived.
When 2020 came around, we started doing more and more TV and live-streamed stuff. That opened up an opportunity, and because our management works hand-in-hand with our entire team, they were willing to let me handle some of those. I don't mix a lot of records because I don’t think I’m qualified for that, but I am good at taking something that’s already made and making a live performance sound like the record. The target's already there, so in post, I can take that live recording and make it sound like the record but with more energy, audience sound, adding overdubs, making the room feel bigger, and things like that. My wheelhouse is taking a performance and making it sound as big as it can while also fixing any mistakes or flubs.
What's your favorite aspect of being a live engineer?
I'm a big fan of the travel. Any day I have off, I'll just walk around and take photos and see the sights. I love the venues changing too, but that can be both a blessing and a curse. I love the venues that you walk in and you can tell there was intent with how they built it. There's acoustic treatment and the speakers are placed right; it's not just a bunch of hodge-podge stuff thrown in a room together. Those are the venues where you walk in and you're like, “We're gonna have a good show tonight.” Then the band has that mentality too, and it's really engaging.
Then, there are shows where the venues are much harder and you have to do a lot more “combat audio,” but it keeps you sharp. For a while when I was freelancing, all I traveled with was a mic package and my interface in a Pelican case, and I’d be forced to use a console that I hadn’t touched until that day. The unpredictability of the live world is really, really enjoyable for me. I love a puzzle, and I love trying to figure it all out no matter what type of gig it is.
How do you navigate those unpredictable situations?
Working with Kane, the days of having to jump around from console to console are much rarer now, but something that I learned early on was to listen to a reference track that you know well, whether you’re tuning a PA or you're listening to nearfield monitors. That helps you remove all the points of failure. If there’s a problem, but I just listened to a track ten minutes ago and what I heard was correct, then I know it must be something in the mix, the console, or something downstream. But if you check your reference track and it sounds off from the start, then you know the problem is before that.
That’s why I love the iLouds. Even the iLoud Micros are incredibly consistent. There have been multiple instances where I've gone into a broadcast situation and they have some incredible nearfields, but I don't know how those sound in that room. So I just kindly say, “Hey, I'm sure these sound great, and I'll use them, but I'm gonna build the mix on what I know.”
Going back to the importance of being prepared, you have attended several training sessions from DiGiCo, Yamaha, SSL, Shure, and other live sound brands. Is that something that's required and expected of you as a freelancer, or have you just put your own time into it?
That's just me trying not to fall behind. There are elements of technology that have come out in the last five years that I’m actively trying to learn in the background. It might not be stuff that I use on tour with Kane, but you never know when you'll need it.
One example of that was the live stream we did for Amazon. We brought in our audio package and I proceeded to mix my normal mix, but I had to figure out how to get it integrated with their team. They were using a Yamaha console at 48 kHz with Dante networked audio, and we're on a DiGiCo at 96 kHz with no Dante integration, so I had to figure out how to give them my mix without converting it and sending it through two more preamps.
What I chose to do is pick up an interface from Yamaha that would allow us to merge my MADI stream with their Dante stream without any weird clocking issues. They could also send audio back to me, so in my mix room on the other end of the compound, I was able to listen to the mix after their console and could hear any final limiting they had going on the embedded stream. So that’s why I try to stay on the up and up with technology. It helps you keep one foot forward, you know?
Would you recommend other engineers get those certifications?
Yeah, and a lot of them are free. If you live in Nashville, Atlanta, LA, or New York, the majority of large brands set up free trainings in your area; you just have to sign up for the newsletters. Every now and then I'll get a Yamaha Pro training newsletter at a conference in Nashville, and if I'm in town, I’ll always try to make it to DiGiCo, too. Shure is another great resource; they do a lot of wireless trainings.
I had a friend that just drove to Atlanta from Nashville for an RF training session just because he values that technology so much, and—I kid you not—he just landed a wireless gig not two weeks ago. You never know when you’re going to need that knowledge, but you’ll be glad you put in the work to stay sharp.
What’s next for you after this tour?
More touring! After we finish this European run, we go back into rehearsals in March, and then we start back up on our domestic arena tour and we’re headlining arenas the majority of the rest of the year. We're doing Stagecoach in April and Fenway Park in June. Those are gonna be a blast. I’ll also be working on some more post mixing for Kane that I’m really excited about.
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