Let’s get this out of the way: Los Angeles-based Avery Watts looks like a rock star: he’s 6’5”, with blonde good looks that scream “Southern California rocker.” But if you think he’s about looks rather than substance, you could not be more wrong. Watts is a serious, talented multi-instrumentalist who plays every instrument on his records—drums, strings, guitars, the works—and puts on hard-rocking, explosive live shows with an 8-piece band that includes a cello and a viola. (Shades of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra!) His records are complex, carefully crafted, multi-layered affairs; an Avery Watts song could have as many as 50 to 100 tracks.
Furthermore, Watts has something to say: his music presents intense, thought-provoking, positive, take-charge messages. And while he looks and performs like a rock star, he doesn’t quite fit the classic stereotype in that he practices clean living and doesn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard Watts on TV broadcasts of the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NASCAR, Formula 1 Racing, X-Games, and the Olympics. Do you fly the friendly skies? You can hear Watts on the in-flight music at United Airlines, too! His songs also grace the major motion picture The Covenant, as well as video games such as EA’s Skate. He’s a hot artist with broad appeal, and he’s very much on the way up.
On stage and in the studio, Watts relies on PreSonus gear. Lots of PreSonus gear. On tour, he uses the FireStudio Project, Studio Channel, BlueTube DP, and most recently, a StudioLive 24.4.2. In the studio, he adds a TubePre and HP4.
“The lifeblood of our live show is my FireStudio Project interface,” says Watts. “It is one of the few pieces of gear that I won’t play without. Our sound is multi-layered, and I wanted the ability to faithfully reproduce it live without a 50-piece band and an input/output list from hell. I was using another audio interface but I wasn’t happy with it. When I discovered the FireStudio Project, all my prayers were answered. The price was great, the jacks were higher quality, and the included software provided better routing flexibility for both monitoring and streaming audio to the front-of-house system. I love that it’s rack-mountable and is clearly built with quality in mind.
“From one FireStudio Project, we stream up to eight different premastered audio tracks to front-of-house and the monitor system simultaneously, as well as MIDI-controlling our stage lighting and sample-based instruments. We run the entire band on a grid via a click/cue track that is fed to the drummer’s in-ear monitor from the FireStudio Project. The timing of our entire show rides on this one unit—and, of course, having a great drummer! If we used a lower-quality device, we could risk the grid slipping out of place, skipping, or just flat-out stopping, and that is the stuff nightmares are made of. But the quality and reliability of the FireStudio Project are unparalleled. We’ve never had a problem with it, and I can put on the same show every night with the confidence that everything will always go off without a hitch.”
Like Kansas violinist and fellow PreSonus artist David Ragsdale, Watts uses his Studio Channel to enhance live strings. ”We have two insane string players, one on cello and one on viola,” Watts explains, “and properly mixing them with a full-on rock band was a challenge. The viola in particular would, at times, sound a bit harsh and slightly brittle. Once we ran the viola’s wireless unit through the PreSonus Studio Channel, all of our problems were solved. The Studio Channel’s tube preamp did an amazing job of warming up the electric viola’s sound, the compressor helped to level out the dynamics, and the EQ rounded out the tone by knocking out some of the harsher high-end frequencies.
“For the cello, I use the BlueTube DP preamp to add even more richness,” Watts continues. “I’m currently using the other channel on the BlueTube DP for one of the vocal mics, as well. In a live show, that tube warmth really makes a difference in sometimes less-than-optimal acoustic environments.”
Even with the careful technical planning that is typical of the Avery Watts band, getting eight monitor mixes right every night was an ongoing headache. Watts credits their monitor tech with finding the solution. “Our monitor tech claimed that the StudioLive 24.4.2 digital mixer would fix all the problems we were having–and he was right,” explains Watts. “With it, we were able to save our monitor mix settings from show to show and cut our soundcheck time to virtually nothing! The StudioLive has the perfect audio features for us, and it’s compact, so we don’t need to take up half of the stage with it. Now we have an almost plug-and-play setup at any venue we step into, regardless of the house’s setup!”
Speaking of careful technical planning, Watts offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to read the manual of each product before you hook up your gear and start playing with it. It may sound boring but I’ve gained a ton of insight about my gear simply because I took the time to read about it before I started pressing buttons. This is like ‘measure twice, cut once’: You’ll save an immense amount of time.” (The PreSonus technical-support team all instantly became Avery Watts fans when they heard this!)
Watts has his choice of gear; why PreSonus? “By far it’s the quality and the attention to detail,” Watts explains. “Every PreSonus product I’ve ever used has unmatched quality and a price tag so affordable that it makes you do a double take. Also, I think it’s important to get feedback from real-world users to see how products can be improved, modified, or changed, and PreSonus does a great job of that.”