Fergie, Will.i.am, Taboo and Apl.de.ap are Off to See the Wizard.The Black Eyed Peas: Live Sound on Tour
After a few summer festivals, The Black Eyed Peas’ The Energy Never Dies tour began with September shows in Japan and October shows “down under.”
And the Stage is Set
|A stagehand’s view of one of the Clair i5
and i5b line arrays being flown.
This feature article is provided by ProSoundWeb
The Peas are riding high from three recent Grammy Awards and the double-barreled success of Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling, which close the show with obligatory confetti cannons. The set starts with smoke, green lasers, pop-up appearances and “Let’s Get It Started.” Ten songs into the set, Apl.de.ap and Taboo have solos, followed by a pop interlude from Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, and finally, Will.i.am rocks the house with a DJ set played from a platform that rises from mid-arena at the end of the runway, including a free-style rap based on (tour sponsor) Blackberry text messages sent from the crowd scrolled across the ample video screens. European dates begin in May, with plans to “follow the yellow brick road” to South America and Asia.
|Donovan Friedman at the racks of Crown
MA-3600VZ and QSC PowerLight 9.0 amplifiers.
At the third U.S. show, I watched Donovan Friedman and Sean Baca fly the stage-right side of the Clair i5 line arrays at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena. The 14-box Clair i5 arrays are powered by Crown Macro-Tech MA- 3600VZ amplifiers, with the companion 14-box i5b low-frequency extension arrays powered by QSC PowerLight 9.0pfc amps. The arena side sections are covered by 8-box i5 and i5b arrays, while the side sections farthest back are reached by 3-box arrays of three-way Clair R4 enclosures.
An ego ramp extends out into the middle of the arena floor. Across the front of the stage on each side of the ramp are 14 dual-18 Clair “Bow Tie” (BT) subwoofers, powered by Powersoft K10 amps. They support P2 frontfills and Showco SRM wedges, all powered by Lab.gruppen PLM10000Q amps. Four more BT 218 subs are used on each side of the stage, and 6-box arrays of Showco “Blue” Prism enclosures are flown as sidefills, also powered by Crown MA-3600VA amps. Audio services are supplied by Clair Brothers, which had a similar system in the arena four nights earlier for John Mayer.
|Front of House Engineer Dave Haines (left) and Monitor
Engineer Ryan Cecil with the Digidesign Venue console.
Front of House Engineer Dave Haines has been with the Peas for a dozen years – the group’s entire career – and was instrumental with the recording that originally got them signed to Interscope Records. As a Pro Tools veteran, he was an early adopter of the Avid Digidesign Venue console, and has probably logged more hours on it than any other engineer. Haines uses the original D-Show Venue control surface with a single 16-fader sidecar. His quiet confidence belies the energy he will unleash on 15,000 fans. There’s remarkably little outboard equipment.
Under the console, a rack holds a TASCAM CD-01U CD player, TASCAM CD-RW901 recorder, plus a pair of Shure DFR11EQs for two channels of feedback suppression used on Fergie’s vocals, which Haines says helps considerably. Finally, a Dolby Lake processor is set up for eight channels of Mesa EQ for the main system.
|Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer and MaxxBass
bass enhancement plug-ins are applied to the
main left-right mix bus.
Beside Haines, a Motion Computing Tablet runs the Lake Controller
software, while a second computer equipped with an Edirol UA-25 USB interface and an Audix TR40 microphone runs Rational Acoustics Smaart. Backstage, six more Dolby Lake Processors are used for the mains and three more are in the monitor rig.
Assisting Haines is System Engineer and Crew Chief David Moncrief, a touring veteran who previously worked with the tour’s Production Manager Tim Miller on ‘N Sync, which Miller also mixed. Haines relies heavily on Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer limiter and MaxxBass bass enhancement plug-ins, which are both used on the main left-right mix bus. The L2 is also inserted on the Juno and Moog keyboards, ddrum electronic kick drum, and Will.i.am’s DJ rig. They were heavily employed on the record, which he strives to accurately reproduce, recreating the album’s dance club vibe in arenas by “pushing the low end and getting the bass in your chest.”
An Antares Auto-Tune plug-in is used shamelessly as a contemporary dance music effect and is Haines’ “go to” compressor, also applied to the main mix to keep it “in the box.” Other plug-ins include EchoFarm and ReverbOne for effects as well as Focusrite’s ISA 110 and 130 from the Forte Suite for Fergie’s vocal, who Haines also mixes when the Peas aren’t touring. Her presence in the show forces Haines to walk a tightrope between mixing a pop show and a hip-hop concert, at which he succeeds brilliantly. He paraphrases Spinal Tap with the audio department’s motto: “It’s a fine line between thump and mud.”
|Reaching for the sync’ing feature on the
new Sennheiser IEM systems.
Boston native Ryan Cecil, who I originally met on Norah Jones’ first tour, mixes monitors on a Digidesign Profile. His challenge, even more than for Haines, is that his performers really expect to hear the album every night. His favorite plug-in is the Crane Song Phoenix on keyboards, and he also uses Antares Auto-Tune because, unlike other artists who use it to enhance their singing, the Peas like it in as a contemporary effect and want to hear it in their monitor mixes. He also mentions the Focusrite EQ and uses Smack! as an insert on Fergie’s vocal mic. “While the tour pays for the Antares, Waves and Crane Song plug-ins, I prefer to manage as few authorizations as possible,” Cecil says. “I find most of the plug-ins included with the Venue are very high quality.”
Cecil has two racks of Sennheiser’s newest wireless products, including a dozen channels of SR 2050 IEM transmitters with an AC3 antenna combiner, which he uses for 10 wireless monitor mixes and a couple spares. Ten channels of Sennheiser EM 2050 wireless receivers (a ProSoundWeb Readers’ Choice Award winner), on an ASA antenna splitter, handle all of the Peas’ handheld and headset microphones, including a couple of spares. Both the antenna splitter and combiner are used with the new ruggedized versions of the Sennheiser A 5000-CP helical “bubble” antenna plus an omni-directional antenna that also accompanies an RF booster way out on the runway, which Dave Bellamy of Burbank-based Soundtronics helped engineer.
Sennheiser Wireless System Manager software is used for control and monitoring, along with the Professional Wireless Systems Intermodulation Analysis System (IAS) to coordinate frequencies daily. One of Cecil’s favorite features of the new Sennheiser IEM system is the IR sync’ing feature, which makes quick work of reprogramming the packs if frequencies are reassigned.
Plenty Of Flexibility
|Fergie with a “blinged-out” Sennheiser SKM
2000-XP handheld transmitter.
All IEM ear molds are Ultimate Ears UE7 except for Will.i.am, who chooses Future Sonics. Cecil is going back and forth between the two models himself until the tour settles down, when he will switch over to Sensaphonics earphones that are made of soft silicone and more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, since he also mixes two support acts on this tour.
The Sennheiser SKM 2000-XP handheld transmitters, with 935 capsules, have custom “bling”.
Fergie also uses a Shure Beta 54 supercardioid headworn mic, with Sennheiser ME 3 supercardioid headset mics on the guys because they better stand up to high-SPL voices without overloading. (Cecil adds his thanks to Sennheiser’s Krysty Jo and Kevin Jungk for their support.) He’s also taken to spraying the microphone grills with Microphome, an alcohol-free, disinfectant cleaning and deodorant foam that leaves a fresh mint scent.
A Logitek PRE-10 Input Extender facilitates actively switching the four main in-ear mixes to a spare transmitter, allowing Cecil to quickly accomplish spare IEM changeover without searching through pages on the console. Similarly, a custom Clair 4x4 switcher in the RF rack cross-patches the four main mics with spare mics while also conserving inputs at the same time.
As mentioned previously, the kick drum is electronic rather than acoustic, generated by a ddrum. The snare is mic’d top and bottom with a Shure SM57, with a Shure SM81 condenser on hi-hat cymbals and Beta 98 mics on toms as well as individual cymbals from underneath.
Heil Sound PR30 mics are applied to electric guitar cabinets, with a large number of Radial Engineering JDI active direct boxes seeing action. Assisting on stage left are Simon Matthews, Jeff Lutgen and patch-master Thomas Huntington.
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