When Prince completed the ‘One Nite Alone’ Tour 2002, his latest version of the ‘New Power Generation’ was widely considered to be his best lineup yet. With familiar faces like Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer taking the stage with longtime bassist Rhonda Smith and more recent recruits like drummer John Blackwell and keyboardist Renato Neto, one gets the impression that Scottie Baldwin himself similarly brought both his longtime familiarity with Prince’s methods of operation and the resource of recent outside professional experiences to the console this time around. The results on the new recordings are quite spectacular, from both a sound and performance perspective. ‘One Nite Alone…Live’ is an unequivocal gesture of virtuosic power, ensemble integrity, and an unabashed celebration of real music played by real musicians. Baldwin captured it all for the record, mixing directly from his FOH console to 2-track digital for release. This shows some serious confidence in both Baldwin and some serious dedication to capturing the magic of a rock monarch like Prince. Baldwin described how his familiarity with Prince’s vision brought the finishing touch to this exciting project:
“Prince is really proud of my mix and he loves the album. I’ve learned to always put the music first. I like to think of myself as being humble and having a great degree of humility in that sense. After all, music is why people are there at the shows. This live box set captures the proper relationship between technology and art in this business. Similarly, I have to balance state of the art digital operation with the warmth of analog. The idea was to capture the energy and dynamics of this great live band on a recording. Prince gave me a lot of input and creative license in that respect. He knows how to use the gear himself, but wanted me to bring my ideas into play, just as with his band. Every aspect of this release is about innovative cooperation and individual contributions to the success of the whole. The clarity and warmth of the engineering gives a transparency, a sonic integrity that is very much part of the music. In this sense, the EQ is so good that you don’t notice it. A kick drum sounds un-EQ’d in this sense, it sounds like a big fat kick with top end and clarity, but without the overbearing, ‘audible’ or ‘big smile’ EQ with tons of lows and a clicky high. That transparency all goes back to source as well. I really pay attention to that aspect of the mix, to the original source or instrument as much as the sound of the PA. I know the music just as well as the musicians - and learn their instrument sounds. I know every one of Prince’s songs intimately, and know, for example that on ‘Pop Life,’ the lead vocal is panned right to four o’clock, and there’s a 227 millisecond delay with one repeat at 100 percent volume panned at eight o’clock. The transparency of the mix is so deep from front to back that you don’t need to use volume to get clarity. Audience members often come by the console and say they can hear everything, yet their ears don’t hurt, like it’s unusual for that to happen to them! The width is easy – you get stereo from every console – but the depth and clarity of the instruments is unsurpassed with a good set of ears and hands on the console.”
“In retrospect I’m actually glad I didn’t go to any engineering school, I’m glad I cut my teeth in the Minneapolis clubs. That hands-on experience helped me to get my break as a drum tech for Prince in those early years and really gave me the musical background I was looking for, developing my ear for live sound on a more instinctive level. To me, it’s all architectural. It’s about building upon a solid foundation of fundamental principles of sound. Of course, having golden ears can be a curse as much as a blessing. We tend to reproduce things as we hear them. Warmth, response and nuance are the key here.”
“After all, the people that download the songs are the ones that make the whole thing go on. The engineer mixing the show is responsible for extending their enjoyment of the sound of the song into a live performance, consistently and appropriately. A good console allows this kind of transition to take place seamlessly, delivering the kind of sound that people want to hear live. Of course, arrangements change, but they do so mostly in a conceptual sense. As the engineer, I have to know the songs and my own gear in order to be prepared to innovate on the fly and at the drop of a hat. So, rather than just emulating the sound of the recorded song to a live audience, there can room for variables at the front-of-house."
“From this perspective, I really believe that Prince's courage is a lot of the reason the album came about. I’m convinced that the album sounds as good as it does due to the fact that we deliver a consistantly high-quality show every night . Discs one and two from the set are the live shows through the touring FOH console. The aftershows are on the third disc, cut from various brands of consoles that were either in-house or hired for use at the clubs. They all sound great: I’m obviously proud of how consistent the aftershow cuts sound, as they were taken from various nights. Prince is really proud of the box set as it's a document of a great live band being recorded in a simple but effective manner, unadorned by studio trickery. Prince allowed me as a live sound engineer to become a recording engineer with relative ease proportionate to the integrity of the recording. For example, running an outboard finalizer and adding the low end back onto a recording inevitably gives you a very processed ‘live’ sound that can be distracting - too polished to be convincing as the warm sound of a live low end signal. The FOH mix went straight out of output 1 to digital recording and straight out of output 2 to Prince’s camera. That was it! It was straight out all the way, no crowd mic’s or anything. I asked Prince if he wanted crowd mic’s and he told me he wanted it to sound just like a studio recording with the punchiness and dynamics of a live show. In that sense, it gave us the ability to partake in the best of both worlds. Mid-way through the ‘One Nite Alone’ tour I was told that he’d be releasing the album, but that didn’t change the way I mixed. I made some real time adjustments for effect, like muting the P.A. and inputs when Prince left the stage just before the encore, and pushing up just his vocal mic to record some crowd sound. I had a scene on the console named ‘crowd,’ and all the VCA’s would move down except for Prince’s vocal, which would go up. The engineer back at Paisley Park Studios then processed the crowd sound and edited it to provide some between-song ambience. It’s very difficult to tell that the songs were recorded in different cities across the US. Prince stands behind the fact that he can - and does work with any kind of gear and make it sound like him. I just sweeten that approach, allowing the performance to come through with clarity and expression, warmth and detail. This kind of capacity gives me, as the engineer, the sense that the sound we are achieving is balanced and predictable as opposed to temperamental and merely serviceable.”