Fresh off being named FOH Engineer of the Year in the Country Music Association’s CMA Touring Awards for his inaugural tour with Kenny Chesney, the highly acclaimed Robert Scovill began rehearsals for the 2023 tour in February at SoundCheck Nashville. Going into the 2022 Chesney tour, shares Scovill, “I had no idea the scope of his fan base. It’s incredible. We were in Foxborough, Massachusetts, at Gillette Stadium for the last two nights of the tour, where the Patriots play. That was his 20th and 21st time selling out that stadium. And when I say selling out, I mean, wow, clean to the upper rafters. I caught myself kind of thinking, ‘Well, man, how many times have the Rolling Stones sold out the stadium in Foxborough?’ And it was like that every stadium we went to. He truly owns the audience as a live performer; he’s a rare beast in front of people, no question.”
“When we began last year’s rehearsal,” Scovill recalls, “it was all new to me. With a year of touring with Kenny under my belt now, I’m so far ahead of the game here that I can dig in to all the real detail work and it’s going fantastic. Kenny has one of the great voices I’ve ever pushed up on a fader. In terms of just being able to put it anywhere I need it in the mix, and having strength and presence and bigness to it, it’s just a miracle vocal to work with live.”
One core tool in Scovill’s vocal processing arsenal has been the use of Eventide pitch shift algorithms. “Working in digital console technologies,” says Scovill of his long use of Avid desks at FOH, “I leaned on Eventide plugins very heavily when it was in TDM land, I couldn’t get enough of it. When we got into the AAX DSP world, there was a big hole in my plugin architecture that I had to refill. The biggest hole still in AAX DSP is pitch change. As much as I’ve looked, I’ve never found anything even remotely close to what Eventide were doing with their plugins or their hardware. I’m using it in a really traditional way. It’s been done on a bajillion records this way – harmonizing the voice, harmonizing the reverb and harmonizing the slap delay, and just tucking it in right behind all of those things. It gives an element of width. I have yet to find anything else that can do it that well.”
Having tried various hardware approaches with older Eventide hardware units, Scovill faced road ruggedness issues and the necessity of filling four rack spaces to deliver two channels of Eventide 910 or 949 algorithm pitch change. Thus, he began what he called a “search for the Holy Grail Harmonizer set up.” Once off the 2022 tour and looking in earnest for a solution, Scovill remembered that a few years prior, he’d been impressed when he had been handed an H9 pedal to try out. “So I thought,” he recalls, “‘You know what, I’m just gonna get another pedal and I’m gonna make my own drawer with these pedals in there and this whole chase is going to be over.’”
Scovill’s solution involved taking a stock, two-space rack drawer and inserting pass through plugs on the back panel to another 19-inch rack panel stood off at the rear with XLR connectors for audio (even though he’s running unbalanced), USB and MIDI connectors for control options and an IEC power connector to feed the supplies in the drawer (“I didn’t want any wall warts involved,” he opines, “I hate the freaking wall warts”).
While tested and working, USB and MIDI control have remained on standby. “The thing that really sold me on the concept was the iPad control by Bluetooth. And it has proven absolutely fantastic.” After having past issues with Bluetooth and interference on the road, Scovill said he was initially skeptical of relying on it with the H9 but hasn’t looked back since the first day of rehearsals. “It’s so easy to get paired to it. I love having that control where I can manage my presets and do everything on the iPad sitting right in front of me over beside the console, even though the H9s are sitting in the rack.”
“I can do all the pre-delay, et cetera in the console, then pitch up, pitch down with a little bit of modulation and off you go. I do love having the chorus available to me now as well. I’ve already started programming it into the show here where there are some songs with backing vocals using chorus as opposed to pitch change. The same for Kenny’s vocal. There are times where it’s way more meaningful to have chorus on it than pitch change.”
Scovill is currently using the standard chorus algorithm in the H9, and the venerable 949 pitch change algorithm. “I’ve been using it, it feels like, for centuries now,” he says of the 949. “I still use it all the time. It’s simple but effective and missed when it’s gone. But gimme time. I bet I come up with some more stuff here, now that it’s so easily accessible.”
For now, with his H9 solution, his quest is complete. “It’s just worked out sensational,” Scovill concludes.