Mötley Crüe Rocks its ‘Final Tour’ with a Custom-Built Playback Control Rig

By November of 2014, Mötley Crüe’s epic ‘Final Tour’ was attended by over 1.3 million people. Throughout the duration of the band’s 158-show journey across six continents, they relied on a custom-configured rig by Playback Control to automate each performance’s audio, video, pyro, MIDI effects, and lighting. According to Nikki Sixx, the band’s legendary co-founder, bassist, and songwriter, Playback Control’s turnkey automated rig allowed the band to fully bring their creativity to the stage.

“Our ‘Final Tour’ show was about pairing musical textures with visuals, like lighting and fire,” Sixx explained. “The Playback Control rig automated these theatrical features, and incorporated sound effects created in the studio that couldn’t be replicated on stage. Playback Control helped us to bring our studio on tour, and get elements like the pyro and the music to work together automatically.”

Since Mötley Crüe is comprised of a bass, guitar, drums, and a vocalist, they struggled to easily replicate their complex studio sounds– like textured background vocals – live. For years, they had experimented with and painstakingly managed the reproduction of these sophisticated sounds. Just in time for the ‘Final Tour’, veteran audio designer Viggy Vignola, who had worked with the band as a sound technician for over twenty years, helped to program their studio sound effects and accompanying stage features into an automated playback rig for the band’s live performances.

“I built a Playback Control system for Mötley Crüe to automate pyro, video, lighting and audio scenes via timecode, with MIDI program changes for Tommy Lee’s drums,” Vignola explained. “It took myself, Nikki and Tommy Lee, about a month to program all of the audio in the studio – which was the easiest part of the system’s configuration. The rest of the show, including features like pyro, which would erupt in time with the music, had to be done when they were putting on the final touches.”

The playback rig for the ‘Final Tour’ show was custom built in collaboration with Playback Control co-founder and CEO Lance Wascom to include automated audio playback, as well as stage video, pyro and lighting. All features were programmed into multiple MOTU Playback Interfaces with DP9 Software on a timecode, so that audio and MIDI effects would come into a song automatically when needed without the band’s involvement, while pyro and lighting features were configured to work with the show’s set list.

Vignola programmed Mötley Crüe’s system to run up to twenty-four audio playback tracks –  including two separate timecode outputs and eight electronic drum outputs. The rig was also built with four master Apple 13” Macbook Pro computers to run the ‘secret sauce’ software, with a back-up 13” Macbook Pro for Tommy Lee’s drum triggers, which were programmed to automatically toggle between effects when necessary. Vignola also programmed wireless MIDI control for Tommy’s drum coaster and teleprompter.

According to Sixx, Playback Control took reliability to the next level; even traditional playback rigs, which depended on the drummer to manage the timing of effects live, left room for error. “Tommy Lee used to have to think about hitting a pedal to bring the live recording audio in while playing the drums in front of thousands of people,” he explained. “Accidents happen, but with Playback Control, we didn’t have to worry about that. Everything was programmed to automatically play at a certain point in our live performance.”

Since Mötley Crüe filled stadiums of thousands of people at a time, it was imperative that the system was bullet-proof. “Playback Control is the most reliable system you could have, which was a top priority for the band,” Vignola commented. “Every system is built to incorporate a patented Dual RTR (Real Time Redundancy) technology that eliminates the standard ‘Master-Slave’ computer system that doesn’t protect against undetected glitches or outages. Instead, it can incorporate two or more Apple computers to operate independently, but in sync with one another, thereby creating multiple masters. If one drops out, the other will take over automatically.”

The ability for artists to reliably bring studio effects on tour opens up a new level of possibility during the recording process, says Sixx. “In the early 1980’s, we tried to find a way to replicate the chopped guitar effect in ‘Wild Side’ live,” he commented. “This effect is a charming part of the song’s sound that needed to be heard on stage. With Playback Control, artists don’t need to worry about how they are going to re-create a sound made in the studio live. There’s a new idea that the studio can go on tour with us, and that idea allows a band to be even more creative during the songwriting process.”

Sixx continued, “The playback rig is another instrument in itself, and it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves — similar to a DJ’s turntable. Viggy developed this system knowing what artists need. It takes all hesitation away from the band on stage. We know when the pyro is going to fire, we know when the audio effects will come in. Playback Control is really great for performers.”

Playback Control rigs are currently being used by Kenny Chesney, Lenny Kravitz, Selena Gomez, and more.