The Who Tap Into Power of Shure for Halftime Show

A big part of the Super Bowl telecast is the halftime show, which has become a major production in its own right, with the biggest names in music performing their hits live on a gigantic yet temporary stage. “It’s really an incredible production,” says Simon Higgs, monitor engineer for The Who. “I mean, what’s really amazing is the stage set-up, which has to be put in place and assembled in minutes. And, everything working on the first go – sound, lights, and pyro. That’s quite a show in itself!”

The Who are, quite simply, rock legends. Among the iconic images in rock history are lead singer Roger Daltrey swinging his Shure SM58 like a lariat, and guitarist Pete Townshend’s dramatic windmill guitar riffs. “The Who have worked with Shure microphones for over 40 years,” notes Bob Pridden, the band’s audio consultant/producer. “Getting ready for the Super Bowl, one thing I knew I could count on was that Shure wouldn’t let me down on Sunday night.”

In addition to a full stage of Shure microphones, The Who used four channels of the new PSM 900 personal monitor system in their performance. Lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist Simon Townshend, and drummer Zak Starkey, along with monitor engineer Simon Higgs, used the PSM 900. “We had the chance to try PSM 900 prototypes on the (autumn 2009) Daltrey tour,” notes Higgs. “Roger and I both think they sound incredible, and they have been absolutely flawless for us. So we were keen to use them for the Super Bowl.”

Longtime Super Bowl audio vendor ATK Audiotek was again present to support the audio mission, with wireless guru James Stoffo as Entertainment RF Engineer and Thomas Pesa to handle monitor system design. “Normally, I would be quite hesitant to use any new product at an event like the Super Bowl,” says Pesa. “But the band really wanted to use them, so we gave it a try in rehearsals and found it to be rock solid. And since we had on-site technical support from Shure and James Stoffo, we went with the band’s request. And I’m happy to say everything went off without a hitch.”

Out of more than 1,000 total wireless frequencies being coordinated by the NFL, James Stoffo was responsible for around 100 intercom, microphone, and in-ear channels being used by the musical acts and their support. “This was my first time using the PSM 900 at a major event, and it performed flawlessly,” he notes. “I’d be happy to see this system on any of my shows as the go-to in-ear system.”

Monitor engineer Higgs is a big fan of CueMode, a patent-pending feature in the PSM 900’s compact P9R bodypack receiver. “Basically, CueMode lets me hear any monitor mix with a button-push. It saves me so much time and trouble, and really shows this system was designed for monitor engineers.” Using CueMode, up to 20 mixes can be directly accessed via the up/down buttons on the receiver. The PSM 900 system also features Shure In-Ear Monitor technologies such as variable RF output, digital stereo decoding, Scan and Sync, automatic RF Gain Control, dedicated RF Mute, MixMode capability, and Audio Reference Companding.

All microphones on The Who’s stage were Shure hardwired.  Ranging from Roger Daltrey’s classic SM58, wrapped in trademark white gaffer tape for strain relief, to new models like the KSM313 ribbon mic and KSM44 studio condenser on Pete and Simon Townshend’s guitars and Pino Palladino’s bass. Zak Starkey’s drum kit used the SM91A boundary mic in kick drum, Beta 98s on toms, Beta 56A on snare, KSM137 on hi-hat, and a combination of KSM32s and KSM44s overhead. Backing vocals are by Pete Townshend, Simon Townshend, and John “Rabbit” Bundrick; all sung through Beta 58A microphones.

One burning question often asked after events like the Super Bowl is, “How live was that performance?” The Who’s audio consultant, Bob Pridden, explains. “There is an amazing amount of planning that goes into this. In fact, we were asked to record the medley live in the studio by January 1, so they could plan the timing on the pyro and other production elements. I can assure you that every instrument and microphone on stage was live. But the producers have backing tracks in place from our rehearsals last week, because you can’t risk losing a vocal. So the answer is, The Who played their Super Bowl show 100 percent live.”

Reflecting on the experience the day after Super Bowl XLIV, monitor engineer Higgs says, “Basically, it was a rock solid performance with great sound…just what you would expect from The Who, and what The Who always expect – and get – from Shure.”

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