DiGiCo Desks Support Janet Jackson World Tour
Janet Jackson embarked on a major world tour at the end of August, hitting the road on the initial North American leg with audio production provided by VER Tour Sound, including a pair of DiGiCo SD7 consoles at front-of-house and monitors.
At the end of September, StubHub announced that the early dates, in support of Jackson’s new No. 1 album, Unbreakable, placed the tour among the top 10 hottest concerts of the fall season based on sales through the online ticket marketplace.
The non-stop Unbreakable show, which features over 30 songs in just over 90 minutes, generates 109 inputs, including Pro Tools tracks, to the two DiGiCo desks. Even with all those sources, Kyle Hamilton, Jackson’s FOH engineer since her previous tour, in 2011, has no need for additional outboard effects. “I’ve always stayed away from using extra outboard stuff, just because I don’t need it. Everything I need in a desk is already there. If I need a nice tap delay, it has it. If I need a standard ‘verb, it has it,” he says. In addition to the SD7 he is also using a DiGiGrid MGB coaxial MADI interface to record to a laptop for subsequent virtual soundchecks.
He likes to keep things simple, he continues. “Reverbs are for when you’re in a sterile environment, to create atmosphere and ambience. I just add the stuff that makes it cohesive for the environment that we’re in. My goal is to mix to make it sound like the record with a live feel. That particular method has kept me working for the last 22 years.”
Hamilton, who is only carrying four outboard mic preamps—for vocals and bass—in addition to the console, continues, “I have a high-powered desk, the SD7, and the desk itself sounds great. What I’m getting from the band sounds great. Our Pro Tools is incredible and the stems are all amazing, because we take time to go through all of that meticulously. So I don’t need to add extra processing.”
He adds, “Pro Tools is the sixth band member. If you break it down to a five-piece band it sounds empty if you don’t have all the elements there. The meat of everything comes from our band; the sweetness comes from Pro Tools.”
Hamilton has worked with a who’s who of major artists, including Pharrell Williams, Wale, A$AP Rocky, Rick Ross, Rihanna, Demi Lovato, Prince, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, Nicki Minaj, Jamie Foxx and many, many others, over the course of more than two decades. He has been using DiGiCo consoles since 2008, when he took a D5 out on a Lionel Richie tour. “I’ve used them all: SD5, SD10, SD11; from the biggest to the smallest. I know the DiGiCo family very well,” he says.
Monitor engineer Jim Roach, whose resume includes Guns N’ Roses for the last three years, Maxwell, Jill Scott, Brian McKnight, Joe Cocker and Keyshia Cole, among others, is another longtime DiGiCo fan. “I’ve been using DiGiCo since 2010, maybe a little before, and I used a D5 in 2007. The audio quality is stellar,” he says. “With other digital consoles, I sometimes find myself missing the old analog sound, but DiGiCo happens to have a sound that I love.”
Roach feeds 44 outputs to Jackson and the five band members—drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and a DJ—and the three background vocalists, all on in-ears, plus nine dancers, on side fills, as well as the production and technical crew. The DiGiCo console has proved to be very useful on this project, as the musicians experimented with different instrumentation and song arrangements during the extensive rehearsal period, he reports.
“It’s the most flexible console I’ve ever used,” says Roach. “On a show like this that changed and evolved over the course of 10 weeks of rehearsals—they were trying out different ideas—it was great to be able to change the console around every other day to meet the new configurations.”
The Unbreakable World Tour is currently scheduled through the end of June 2016. The current North American leg is followed by several dates in Japan. Following a brief hiatus over the holiday season the tour will resume in January 2016 in the US before heading to Europe in late March, returning in May for more shows in the US and Canada.
DiGiCo SD7 Glides in to the RSC’s Swan Theatre
DiGiCo consoles have been a fixture of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 2003, when a D5T – the theatre specific version of the original D5 Live – was installed in its Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. Twelve years of sterling service later, that same D5T has finally been replaced with a new DiGiCo SD7.
The D5T was initially bought for use on the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Beauty and the Beast, a development that RSC Head of Sound Jeremy Dunn remembers well.
“We previously had a 44 channel analogue console but, even with the D5T’s then colossal 96 channels, the sound designer always needed just one more,” he smiles. “The D5T served the theatre for eight years, before the 1400-seat venue was redeveloped and we installed an SD7T.”
Since then the D5T has continued in frequent use, first in the temporary Courtyard theatre while the main house was redeveloped, then for touring and residences in the Roundhouse, London, before most recently alternating with a second D5T in the RSC’s 450-seat Swan Theatre.
“When the time came to purchase a new console for the Swan Theatre, there was a strong feeling from show operators and designers within the sound department that we needed the dual redundancy of engines, PSUs and optical/MADI that we enjoy with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s SD7T,” says Jeremy. “For ease of programming, it was also felt that we should stick to the DiGiCo SD series. Personally, I also like the sonic invisibility of DiGiCo consoles, the endless I/O and the space they save.”
Installed in the Swan Theatre this October, the SD7 was supplied with three new SD-Racks, each fully populated with 56 I/O, plus both MADI and optical connections.
“It may seem indulgent to have such a large and powerful desk in a 450-seat venue, but our shows play in repertoire and changeovers can be limited to only 90 minutes between matinee and evening performances. This usually involves an alternate band position, so instant show recall becomes very useful and it saves a lot of time and errors,” says Jeremy.
“Currently only the big productions from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre are transmitted live to screen, but when the decision is taken to go live from the Swan we’ll be ready, as the extra MADI Ports on the SD7 make connection to the outside broadcast trucks so much easier.”
The first productions set to benefit from the new SD7 will be productions of Euripides’ Hecube, Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne and William Congreve’s Love for Love, where the SD7 will take control of a live nine-piece orchestra with some large, unusual and interesting percussion set-ups, with up to 48 channels of sound effects directly connected through MADI, along with a number of a radio mics and effects machines
“Our studio is also using an SD11, while our SD9 – which recently toured with the Taming of the Shrewand Othello – will be the new console for our re-developed The Other Place venue which opens in 2016, celebrating 400 years since Shakespeare’s death,” says Jeremy.
The RSC is busily employing further DiGiCo consoles hired from Autograph. These include an SD7T onMatilda at the Cambridge Theatre, with another for Death of a Salesman at the Barbican from November.
“We were also introduced to the SD10 in recent hire for Oppenheimer at the Vaudeville theatre,” says Jeremy. “Although the SD10 has no redundant engine, we had support from Autograph. They have been critical to the success of our London shows, especially as support from Stratford upon Avon is two hours away.”