Ever wondered how the sound is run at massive shows? We’ve recently seen a little insight into this with an article detailing the sound setup on the current Beyoncé tour.
While we use this blog mostly to focus on news, tips and new products related to home studio recording, every once in a while we like to go a bit off topic to see how the other half lives. More importantly, even though this is sound engineering on a huge scale, there are some great tips that can be condensed and applied to our home recordings, as well.
A Front of House Area Bigger Than Most Stages
Anyone that walks into a show on the current “Mrs. Carter World Tour” likely is immediately impressed by the huge stage set up employed by the artist. But the attention of sound engineers will likely will next turn to the front of house space, which seems nearly as big as the stage (by relative front of house standards).
Of course, not all of this is devoted to sound, as many of the cameras for the show are housed here, as is the video production unit. Additionally, it turns out that later in the show Mrs. Knowles (or, Mrs. Carter) will make use of the space as a second stage when she zip lines over the audience in the middle of the show. So how does this all come together?
A Hands-On Artist
The first thing that the tour’s front of house sound engineer, Stephen Curtin, points out to ProSoundWeb.com is that Beyoncé is very hands-on with her show, and not only reviews tapes of every show, but also offers specific pointers when it comes to the sound of the performance. For instance, she wants to ensure that her voice is not only clear, but also significantly out in front of the music. Curtin says this can be be more of a problem than it may at first seem because of the wide dynamic range of her vocals. Here’s how he distinguishes the production of the vocal live versus in the studio:
“The vocal’s going through a few different stages, but it’s not limiting her dynamic range; it’s just harder live than in the studio to be able to go with the music,” Curtin said. “She’s got to be limited beforehand, to find out how low she can go before she’s lost, so it’s a case of balancing compression to get it to sit in a pocket of 8 dB as opposed to 20 dB.”
The Nuts and Bolts of the Sound System
For the sound nerds like us, Curtin even offers the processing chains the signal goes through, which as you may imagine is a bit more complicated than your typical live gig. The signal goes “from the Sennheiser EM 3732-II receiver for her Sennheiser SKM 5200-II custom chrome wireless handheld (with MD 5235 dynamic capsule) hits the pre-amp on Curtin’s DiGiCo SD7 console at front of house, gets tamped down a bit by an inserted Avalon 737 compressor, and then receives a ‘light squeeze’ from a Waves C6 compressor plug-in before finally settling at the master fader.”
With this kind of chain, perhaps it’s no surprise that Curtin uses 80 channels for Beyoncé and her band. The artist and her backup singers primarily use Sennheiser wireless microphones, and Shure in-ear monitors, not that monitoring is a simple experience, either. In fact, two monitor engineers are used at each show.
So while this may be out of reach or your home studio (or at the local venue if you are running any live sound), it is interesting to see how the pros of live sound are working, and how you can make use of their methods, as well.