Popular Polish singer-songwriter, Dawid Podsiadlo, rose to fame by winning the second series of Poland’s X Factor in 2012, securing himself a recording contract with Sony Music. Following the success of his two Diamond certified albums, Podsiadlo embarked on a stadium tour, where FOH engineer, Rafal Smolen, relied on SSL L300 consoles, supplied by GMB Pro Sound and Polish distributor Audiotech Commercial, for no-compromise sound processing.
Smolen is just as at home mixing audio for live concerts as he is in the studio, where he can often be found mixing albums and film scores. He started working with SSL consoles 16 years ago in a studio environment, and hasn’t looked back.
“I’ve recorded and mixed many, many albums using SSL,” he says. “It is a quality stamp; quality is guaranteed in everything you do.”
Although Poland's music scene may not be comparable to the UK or US, Smolen says it still has its own music industry powerhouses, such as Podsiadlo, whose tour he has been recently working on:
“He is a big star in Poland. The Polish music industry is very local because of the culture and the language, so we have huge stars which only exist on our soil. I'm still trying to learn from his career because he is a really special guy who won Polish X Factor at 20 years old; he became a huge star by doing his own thing in music.”
When SSL first released a live console, Smolen immediately knew he wanted to try it for FOH work.
“I was sure that this would be something special in terms of quality and processing, and I was right,” he smiles. “When I tried it, I hadn’t heard this level of quality of sound processing in my life. It was amazing. With SSL, I have a console where I can push the compressor very hard – I can EQ as much as I can, and the sound is still there.”
Smolen used an SSL L300 console on the Dawid Podsiadlo tour, which saw the singer perform at some huge venues.
“The L300 was the best possible choice for this tour,” he says. “I got comfortable working with it, as it quickly became apparent that whatever I did on this console would always sound exceptional.”
Smolen is a big fan of the SSL compressor, and the console's Dynamic EQ has blown him away.
“I’m very picky with EQing, because I know that I want to get rid of some frequencies, but not for good - and that's exactly why the Dynamic EQ became my go-to tool,” he reveals. “When I heard it, I simply couldn't believe it! I can take the frequency down very hard, and I can get rid of it. And I don't hear any issues. I was like, ‘no, it's impossible!’ I just dial it in, and what I want to get rid of disappears – and it’s so easy to use.”
The large faders and bigger controls also make Smolen’s job easier, while he also made use of automation on this tour:
“When I work, I programme my show, song by song using automation, and we don't run on a time code, so I don't have any running automation written there,” he says. “But I do have snapshots where I do use a lot of automation within the SSL. It always scares me that if I go deep into recall filters and store filters that I will forget something, and something will not be recalled how I want it to be, or will not be stored – but it is all fine with the SSL. It’s pretty foolproof: I haven't had any issues or found myself in any situation where the console did something that I didn't want it to do.”
Smolen found that the L300 handled the mix of powerful electronic pop songs and mellow tracks effortlessly. He also ended up getting pretty hands-on with his mixing.
“I always keep my finger on his vocal, and I do control the guitar and the synthesiser all the time using the faders,” he explains. “The SSL helps me to push the main instrument parts to make it more organic and powerful whenever I can. The L300 is not a big console, and in this show we had approximately 80 inputs, so using stems for mixing was great.”
In the studio, Smolen never runs individual channels to the master mixing bus, preferring to put everything on stems so he can make some general tweaks in automation and cueing if needed. He has a similar approach on the road.
“I always run my individual channels to some stems and some sub groups, and the same is applied to my live mixing; I have my individual channels there, and I work on them when I prep the show,” he explains. “I'm bringing stems as my stage mix, so when I'm mixing the show I don't have to go back to the channels to raise the guitar. It means instead of three pages, I only have to raise one.”
Smolen says that he needs to be extremely consistent when it comes to his sound.
“Let’s say there’s a compressor on the guitar on the stem,” he says. “When I push the individual channels, they will hit harder with the compressor, and if I don't want that, I can raise the stem itself, so it's only bringing the guitar with the sound I want up. When I am moving a stem, I'm moving my ready-sounding instruments or group of instruments.”
The L300's reverbs get a big thumbs up from Smolen – he uses it lot in his mixes:
“I really like the sound [of the reverbs] because you can squeeze the sound out of it, and I really noticed this when we were playing shows. When we were touring in the biggest venues in Poland - about 15 concerts were to audiences of 20,000 people - some engineers would come up to me after the show and ask me what kind of reverbs I had used. I said that the reverbs and the delays were from the console, and they were like, ‘whoa!’. People were really surprised that I was using reverb from the console – but the quality of the processing is simply that good.”
One of the Dawid Podsiadlo concerts was held at the National Stadium in Warsaw, which Smolen says was always intended to be a 'one of a kind' show:
“We wanted it to be a real, one-time event that would really amaze people and make them want more. That was our goal,” he says. “I am not someone who likes to brag, but it was the National Stadium, which is the venue where probably 90% of the live music concerts that took place there were a disaster, because it has horrible acoustics and it's a really difficult venue to play music in. However, this event was a great success. It was attended by music journalists and other musicians, and all the feedback said it was the first concert that sounded fantastic, which was a really great achievement for us and our partner company GMB Pro Sound who worked on the PA.”
Dawid Podsiadlo has some smaller gigs planned for 2020, where Smolen states that he will be using SSL once again.