DiGiCo Audio Consoles at Core of Vodacom CEO Awards, Major Tom Productions, MTV EMAs, and Evita

DiGiCo audio consoles have recently played major roles in the Vodacom CEO Awards in Midrand, South Africa; several productions overseen by UK rental company Major Tom; the MTV EMAs; and the latest production of the iconic musical Evita in South Africa. 

MGG and DiGiCo Take a Bow at Vodacom CEO Awards
The prestigious Vodacom CEO Awards recently took place at Vodaworld in Midrand, South Africa. For the very first time, full service rental company MGG was appointed to supply complete technical requirements for the event, which had a modern vintage theme. Audio engineer Fanie Pieterse ensured the theatrical performance was complimented with exceptional sound, deploying a DiGiCo SD10 and his brand new DiGiCo 32-bit ‘Stadius’ Mic Pre-Amp for the live sound aspects.

Audio has been Fanie’s passion for as long as he can remember. “I used to be in the sound team at school,” he recalls. “It’s quite funny, because I would wake up early on a Saturday morning to set up the sound on the sports grounds. I would then play rugby, and when everybody went off to a party, I would play with the sound system.”

After completing an audio course at Damelin college in Cape Town, Fanie phoned Mark Gaylard, owner of MGG. In fact, he called him twice a week for a period of six months, until Mark employed him and Fanie has never looked back. “This is the closest thing to what happiness should be,” he smiles.

For the past five years, Fanie Pieterse has operated on the DiGiCo platform and professionally and meticulously ensured excellent audio at this year’s Vodacom CEO Awards.

“DiGiCos are the most flexible consoles I’ve ever worked on,” says Fanie. “They sound great, but because they’re so adaptable, working on this platform is really easy. The SD Range is intuitive, enables you to patch the console to anyone’s patch list, no matter how random it may seem, and there are features that allow you to operate according to your own personal preferences.”

The vocals and all live aspects, such as the guitars and saxophones, were run through DiGiCo’s cutting-edge 32-bit ‘Stadius’ Mic Pre-Amp, which delivers an improvement in converter technology and, consequently, sound quality. For Fanie, the new Stealth Core 2 upgrade has also made a difference.

“Every channel now has full DSP, where before you were limited to a certain number of channels,” he says. “The results we achieved at the awards were fantastic and that’s down to using DiGiCo.”

DiGiCo and Major Tom Make Light Work of the Touring World
Taking the challenges of the audio industry in its stride one tour at a time, UK rental company Major Tom has built a stunning reputation for itself, providing world-class sound to some of the biggest touring acts on the circuit. With a wealth of choice available when it comes to mixing consoles, there is a reason it keeps going back to DiGiCo.

Major Tom keeps a full range of DiGiCo consoles in its inventory.

Major Tom’s credits include Ed Sheeran, Rod Stewart, Maria Carey and Passenger amongst others. These world class acts demand the very best equipment and Major Tom is committed to ensuring that those demands are met. This includes keeping a full range of DiGiCo consoles in its inventory.

Passengers monitor engineer Charlie Bryson has been working with Major Tom for around five years now, with his choice of console being an SD10.

“I’ve used a DiGiCo SD10 on monitors for the last year with Passenger, with a short stint on an SD5 for the Australian leg of the tour,” explains Charlie. “When we first started talking with Major Tom about our specifications for the tour, the SD10 was top of the list for me. I love the overall flexibility of all SD Range consoles; you can start with a blank canvas and set them up to have exactly what you need to see, and have it right in front of you at all times.”

Charlie splits every header amp into two channel strips in order to have one set of inputs for Passenger and another for the band.

“This allows me to control and change Mike’s [aka Passenger] mix down to the finest detail without affecting the band at all,” he says. “I don’t know another console where I’d be able to do that with such ease.”

Charlie also chose the SD10 because of the variety of size of the venues on the tour.

“I could take the SD10 into our biggest show in the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam and have it comfortably handle all the extra ins and outs we had that day. Two weeks later, we were at Vicar Street in Dublin and squeezed it onto one of the smallest stages of the tour.”

The team at Major Tom know that having this flexibility is key to ensuring that the right tools are available for every job, helping them to maintain their position as one of the leading audio rental companies.

“Major Tom has a great little close-knit group of people who really care about what they do and how they look after their clients,”says Charlie. “In fact, when I spec’d the SD10 originally Major Tom didn’t actually own one. But instead of giving me one of their other consoles, they went right out and bought one.”

Mariah Caray’s FOH engineer Lorin White has been working with Major Tom since Mariah started her residency at the Colosseum, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and has been using two DiGiCo SD7s ever since.

“We changed audio provider at the start of the residency and I didn’t know who this company was from the UK,” he says. “I felt compelled to research them and it seemed like they had a great track record and momentous history. Their relationships with my favourite console maker and one of my favourite PA manufactures cemented my decision to work with them.”

Russell Coburn, who works closely with Lorin, taking care of Mariah Carey’s monitors also loves his SD7.

“Like Lorin, I’m using an SD7 running the latest version of Stealth Core 2. With Mariah and her supporting band it’s necessary for me to have access to as many channels, Control Groups, and Auxes as possible during a show. Combined with the reliability of the dual engines, the high amount of customization and layout options, the SD7 is one of, if not the, only console I trust to deliver every night. I really can’t say enough good things about it, it’s never let me down.”

As for I/O, Lorin and Russell Gain Track dual SD Racks at the monitor position.

“Our racks are configured with almost every card slot used, due to my large output count,” says Russel. “Gain Tracking has massively simplified our package from the days of using several active splitters and four SD Racks. We have also implemented the DiGiCo Orange Box, configured with optics and MADI cards for networked MADI access, without having to use up our local MADI ports on the consoles.”

The care and attention to detail provided is what really sets Major Tom apart from the competition, as is its inventory of DiGiCo consoles.

“The SD10 one of the most spec’d desks in the world right now,” says Major Tom’s Andy Banks. “Almost every engineer loves them and they’re impossible to keep in the warehouse. In fact, we could have sent out twice as many as we have. DiGiCo consoles are very reliable and the backup is amazing. It’s by far the best support we get anywhere.”

DiGiCo in Full Control at MTV EMAs
It had been more than 20 years since the EMAs descended on London, but it certainly did not look or sound that way at the SSE Arena on November 12, 2017. Hosted by Rita Ora, the production was in the safe hands of long-time MTV audio supplier, Britannia Row, whose specification this time around was dominated by DiGiCo.

Long-time MTV audio supplier, Britannia Row, utilized DiGiCo consoles at the MTV EMA’s

After more than two decades of working with the EMAs, Britannia Row’s console deployment has now been condensed mainly to DiGiCo consoles. The prime reason for this, according to company director, Lez Dwight, is that DiGiCo has the clear market share on both sides of the pond.

“We have a long-standing relationship with DiGiCo, and find the technical support and service absolutely world class,” Lez explains. “MTV is always a challenge from a technical perspective, and this year was no exception; the performance area covered the entire arena floor, but this area was also built up off the floor by 4.75 metres, giving room for large lifts and sub stage space. We had three separate locations for monitor desks, RF, and FOH, and the five DiGiCo SD Racks and fibre loop capabilities helped us to achieve this.”

Two SD7s were assigned to monitors, with three SD5s at FOH – two for the show, one for prep – and the presenters and guests all went through two SD12s. Every artist on the night, barring The Killers, used DiGiCo, and it was a very smooth operation all round.

“It was a spectacular show from an audio and visual standpoint,” says Lez. “Fourteen acts performed in just two hours without any issue, but really that’s just another day in the office for our stellar crew, led by Pete McGlynn.”

It was, as usual, very much an international affair, with flawless performances on the night from a string of eclectic artists including Eminem, Stormzy, U2, Demi Lovato, Kesha, David Guetta, and Camila Cabello.

“The EMA audio team did a great job keeping up with what was, from what I saw, a busy schedule,” says Camila Cabello’s FOH and production manager, Ryan Cecil. “Colin Pink and the whole Brit Row crew were a pleasure to work with and took great care of us. It’s always fantastic to be able to walk in, dial in your EQ preset, load up a stock DiGiCo reverb, and know your artist will be hearing the same sound as they are on tour, even though it’s on a completely separate system. The SD7 and onsite support from [DiGiCo’s] Mark Saunders makes shows like this so easy for me, every time.”

Standout artists on the night were Taylor Swift with six nominations, followed by Shawn Mendes, who won four of his five, making him the most awarded artist of the evening.

DiGiCo SD 7T Drives Evita
South African audio engineer, Emily Adams, was working on Pieter Toerien’s previous production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, when she was asked to do Evita, the original West End and Broadway production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical. The show premiered at Montecasino Teatro in Johannesburg and recently moved to the Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre and will tour Asia in 2018. Emily is deploying a DiGiCo SD7T at the Front of House position.

Emily is deploying a DiGiCo SD7T at the Front of House position.

The South African Evita cast is led by British actress Emma Kingston and the production has received rave reviews. ‘As always, it is a joy to experience the talent of the South African cast – one that would deserve a standing ovation anywhere in the world,’ said the Sunday Times Live, while IOL Entertainment wrote, ‘Evita is a truly world-class production that allows you to see the flawed and ordinary woman behind the figure who became the pride of a nation.’

It has been an incredible experience for Emily.

“It’s my first production as head of department on a show of this scale,” she says. “I started as an RF technician and I have done many shows at the Teatro Theatre, but I’ve always been the deputy head of sound and only mixed the occasional show, not actually run the show. This has been really challenging and I’ve loved every second of it so far.”

Many sound designers say women make excellent audio operators because of the way they take a subtler approach with their mixing.

“The designers for many musicals want a natural sound, so that the audience doesn’t walk away feeling like they have been ‘blasted’ for two hours,” says Emily. “For Evita, especially in the second act, I tried to make the smaller and more beautiful moments as delicate and natural as possible. It just brings out more of the emotion.

“For the first two weeks, I was so focused and invested, I would often get caught up in the emotion. I definitely take that on as an operator; I frequently get very drawn into the moment while mixing.”

Emily says she has also been lucky that she has such a great professional support system with the designers and operators that she works with and that this has contributed to making her the technician she is today.

This is not the first time that Emily has worked with a DiGiCo console.

“I would definitely choose the SD7T if given the choice of console for a musical,” she says. “The SD7T is so user-friendly and easy to navigate. It doesn’t take long before you’re jumping between layers and editing.”
The programming for Evita came from the Broadway production and was adjusted for the South African version and the audio cues are extensive. With many of the finer details done already, Emily took the basic structure and adapted it.

“I did things like assigning the correct cast members to each Control Group per cue and I shifted a few groups around and renamed them,” she explains. “But what was interesting about the way the show had been programmed, which isn’t how I’ve ever done it before, is that QLab triggers the desk cues. I’m used to triggering QLab from the console, so it’s a reverse way of how I normally work, but I like it because if I go to a cue too early, I can easily correct it without worrying about triggering an SFX on QLab. I also have more control on the console to jump between cues to edit.”

With a processing channel count of 253, the SD7T on Evita is almost maxed out. There are 38 radio mics on the production, which already takes up a fair amount of space.

“Five of the principles are double mic’d, so their channels have an alternate channel as well. We’ve used pretty much every channel,” laughs Emily. “It’s a bit of a beast of a setup, definitely one of the bigger ones we’ve had in this theatre in the last few years in terms of the audio.”
Along with the SD7T, an EX-007 was also used for the show’s tech production period.

“It was actually great because normally when you do a show and you’re in the tech period learning the mix, you will have the designer or production engineer in your space 24/7, adjusting various things,” she says. “So, you’ll be mixing and they will be leaning over editing. With the EX-007, it meant that while they were editing, I could focus on the mixing. But in addition, if they wanted to move into the house with it and do some adjustments, they had the freedom of getting out from under the balcony to get a sense of the whole picture.”

Monitoring onstage for the cast includes five sets of foldback sends; there is a UPJ on either side at the front end of the extension of the stage and then inside each wing is a d&b E8 that has been fitted into the set, facing onstage – there are a total of eight monitors. The monitors are post fade and controlled from FOH, all running through a Meyer Sound Galileo management system. Emily has control from the DiGiCo if needed.

“If I need to adjust something I can do it from this end,” she says, “but we generally don’t touch it once the show is set up. It all gets balanced and set beforehand during tech and shouldn’t need to be adjusted.”

The Meyer Sound system, which is made up of 16 M’elodies per side, multiple delays and side fills, has made mixing a pleasure for Emily.

“Many times, when working on a production, the house is smaller one day and bigger the next and it can sometimes be difficult to adjust and know that all areas of the house are happy,” she says. “But this system is so well structured across the whole auditorium that I never have to worry about that.”

Working alongside many of the original Evita creative team was a personal highlight for Emily.

“We had the original choreographer and costume designer, as well as Dan Kutner, who was directing the show on behalf of Hal Prince, who was very much in the loop. You wouldn’t normally have a choreographer giving you sound notes, but because he knew what Evita sounded like originally, he was trying to recreate the full picture of the show. It was really amazing to have this input. The knowledge and passion from everyone in the team, as well as the equipment we use, is what makes this production so amazing.”

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