Coordinating Audio for Live Events, Part 1

When one of the world’s biggest companies threw its annual party for employee’s this year, the company rented out Wembley Arena and hired Sound By Design to handle all sound systems and communica 9/09/2010 7:27 AM Eastern

Coordinating Audio for Live Events, Part 1

Sep 9, 2010 11:27 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Coordinating Audio for Live Events, Part 2
The annual gathering for a multibillion dollar company is a huge bash, and when the event came to Wembley Arena, local company Sound By Design was called in....

When one of the world’s biggest companies threw its annual party for employee’s this year, the company rented out Wembley Arena and hired Sound By Design to handle all sound systems and communications. From London, we have Phil Chapman and Dave Shepherd to tell us how they brought it all together and made it work. Up next on the SVC podcast.

SVC: Phil and Dave, thanks so much for being with me here on the SVC podcast, and this job at Wembley Arena looks like a huge event. But first of all, tell me a little bit about Sound By Design. It looks like you do a lot of things there, and I saw you’re website. It didn’t specifically mention anything like the project we were going to be talking about now, so what sort of things does Sound By Design do?
Phil Chapman: We have a history of specialist design in acoustically difficult environments. We have two business centers really. One that’s based primarily on corporate events—most of them small and no where near as big as this one, but then we also are specialists in classical reinforcement and do quite a lot of things at difficult places like the Royal Albert Hall and venues like that. This job straddles both really. It’s more entertainment than it is corporate really, but it’s technically a corporate show. [Timestamp: 1:45]

So the client you had on this looks like a very big outfit, and I guess it would have to be. Anybody with the resources to rent out Wibley Arena for their shindig there has to be a substantial group. So what’s Forever Living? What do they do and how did you get associated with them on this?
Dave Shepheard: Forever is a multibillion dollar company founded in 1978—just yet gone past their 30 year anniversary. They’re actually ran in 145 countries worldwide. They basically manufacture and sell wellness products, which is based on aloe vera. And they’re the largest grower of aloe vera in the world—something grand, about 9.5 million distributors throughout the world. And it’s all based on drink, nutrition, weight management, skin care, and they also do stuff with bee pollen products as well. We’ve been working with them for now about 11 or 12 years over in the U.K. [It] started off with just monthly events for the U.K. leg of the company and building that up into the European work. We’re also taking on the events they do, the big yearly events they do, in Africa as well. And I was over in Nigeria earlier this year as well and then we take on the Asia leg next year starting with Guadalupe. [Timestamp: 3:03]

Well, you’ve been with them for a long time and the results must have been good. I mean, all of this time they keep calling you back.
Shepherd: Yes.

Let’s get into this event a little bit. Describe what this annual gathering for the company is from a technical side. What do they do that needs your support?
Shepherd: This show is their annual; what they call their rally and profit share. So part of the show is based about recognition of their distributors, so basically everyone gets to shake hands and meet founder and chairman of the company so a lot of it is based around that and it’s just […] the company is recognizing everyone’s achievements. And the other side of the event is their profit share. So they’ve given away in Europe this year about 6 million, we’ll say, Euros to distributors of which the top individual check was around 465,000 Euros to someone, but they range all the way up to 1,000 Euros to other people up to the higher amounts. Also open to the training sessions, so a lot of the case of people higher up in the company will give valuable training sessions to the new people and this is done in spurts with lots of entertainment as well. So which I know we talked about and we’ll talk about later on, but we have to have a monitoring for not only the arts but for the guest speakers and the members of management side of the company. They could work in such an arena like that, [but] they find it quite hard to stand on stage and talk for a half an hour or so, so it’s key that we give them good monitoring so they can hear themselves and they can feel a lot more comfortable and then it’s more natural to them on stage. But there are also other things, [like] lots of sound effects that we produce for animations; there’s also graphics work. [Timestamp: 4:49]

So you’re rolling in stuff and you’ve got live mics. In fact, you’ve got a lot of live mics, a lot of RF stuff, wireless intercoms, and things. Now, how is it to work in Wembley Arena? That’s obviously a big place, and what are the tech facilities like and the architecture, and what’s it like to do a big thing there?
Chapman: Well, it’s quite an old building. It was built in the early 30s, and it’s just a giant rectangular concrete box actually. And it was built for what are now the commonwealth games at the time, and it’s actually a giant swimming pool under the floor, so it tends to be a bit boomy, and they can have problems with it. They’ve tried to request to the government to have it filled in, but the building is listed, so you can’t fill the floor. So it’s about 12 and a half thousand seats. The whole area has gone through a whole big regeneration at the moment, and they’ve just spent 35 million pounds refurbishing it so it’s had some acoustic treatment. They’ve put the stage at the other end, giving much better backstage access and improved loading. So it works a lot better than it did the last time we were there with this show, which was about 10 years ago or something. [Timestamp: 6:03]

So they’ve improved the rigging. They’ve installed a mother grid above the stage, and it’s fairly accessible area of West London. It’s got good access to motor way routes, but it can get a bit snarled up at times. They’ve just built the new Wembley Stadium right next door to it, and they’ve recently demolished an old concrete conference center that was there, and the arena is taking over some of the conference—small conference-type events, and so the whole area is being spruced up quite a bit. So yeah, it’s not too bad a place to work. [Timestamp: 6:37]

So what’s it like as far as an RF venue? Is there a lot of RF coordination required I mean, is there a lot of RF stuff going on in that area?
Chapman: Well, given that the stadium is right next door, there can be a fair amount of stuff going on, but mostly right next door to each other, there is a reasonable distance between them and being a giant reinforced concrete box is to an advantage with RF. And we haven’t had much problem there to be honest. So it’s usually coordinating what’s going on in the building is more important than trying to work out what’s outside. But, obviously, over in this country, all of the RF licensing is a legal requirement and is all regulated through a company employed by the government to deal with that. So you have to preplan and book all your frequencies in advance, and they help coordinate with other companies and so if everyone is doing it legally and properly it does help minimize any onsite problems. [Timestamp: 7:38]

Obviously, there was a lot of mixing to do and a lot of acts, as you said, entertainment in between speeches, and that’s going from opposite extremes where you’ve got to have clarity of speech and then suddenly you’ve got a big music act to take care of. Where is the FOH mixing location and how is the sound monitoring environment there. You said it was pretty boomy?
Shepherd: The venue is quite reverberant. They allowed us to throw some good money at the design of this event, and I actually put speakers wherever I decided I needed them. FOH was positioned at one point in its normal position at the lower end of the bleachers, but for other technical reasons, it had to moved back where it was originally between the main arrays and the delays. We had to put it back a bit just for access to it and also for viewing for the public as well. So we actually ended up deciding on a point where the natural cross over between the main arrays and delays were [and] putting FOH there and having everything tie on the line to that point. So it was easy for the FOH engineer to be able to monitor, and he had a realistic idea of what the whole venue sounded like. [Timestamp: 8:50]

And you were using a lot of wireless gear. What all were you using there? I know you used something like, what, 50 microphones?
Shepherd: Yes, we had 50 Shure UHF-R radio mics, which was 10 handhelds and 40 belt packs. The belt packs consist of lapels, head worns, and even condensing mics for one of the acts using Phantom battery packs as well. Twelve PSM700 IMs, 12 HME wireless coms—which work with Wi-fi on some frequencies—and 24 Motorola GP340s as well. [Timestamp: 9:25]

That’s a lot of things going on all at one time.
Shepherd: It was.

Coordinating Audio for Live Events, Part 1

Sep 9, 2010 11:27 AM, With Bennett Liles

Obviously there had to be some people on stage coordinating all of this for who gets what microphone and when and all that kind of thing. How many people did you have on stage working this?
Shepherd: I had a main arrays engineer with me who basically coordinates everything onsite making it all work and then we had stage guys. They’re all the actual level of the quality of engineers that we have on the show. They’re all essentially FOH engineering level or that’s the standard, so even the guards have been doing the stage are very good at running around and sorting out radio packs as well, and they’ll go and fit a lot of them. [Timestamp: 10:03]

And you mentioned that you went with a Shure UHF-R system. Why did you go with that particular make and model?
Chapman: It’s something that we stock ourselves anyway and also stability. We had heard of some issues about LED walls and having interference with RF. We then, after a lot of research, discovered a problem with a specific manufacturer of stuff, which just worked because we actually found out that Shure, on that particular vendor, where they’d had problems. The Shure stuff worked very well. It was actually fine, so it was part of the reason and that we’ve just had a lot of good work with Shure UHF-R series. It’s very stable, very nice sounding. [Timestamp: 10:42]

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Coordinating Audio for Live Events, Part 2
The annual gathering for a multibillion dollar company is a huge bash, and when the event came to Wembley Arena, local company Sound By Design was called in....

And for a show of this size with Shure wireless mics, I guess you used the Wireless Workbench software?
Yes we do; yeah.

OK, that has a lot of features. How was that especially useful for this show?
Chapman: Mainly for the RF monitoring. We had 50 receivers spread out. It was easier just to have a couple of screens and localizing a little monitoring, seeing what’s going on, checking on signal strength, and also pack labeling; color tape is used in some cases on the packs actually to be able to label each pack physically, and it’s a lot quicker to do it from a computer than flash it all up to the units, receivers, and transmitters from there. [Timestamp: 11:21]

Yeah, you can coordinate other RF sources with that or is it just for mics?
Chapman: No, the Wireless Workbench is purely for the radio mics, and you can monitor the IMs on that. [Timestamp: 11:31]

OK, I didn’t know how much stuff you could enter on that and just tell it, in whatever way, what’s going on with everything.
Chapman: You can enter because even the IMs that we were using are a Shure product, the PSM700s. Unfortunately it’s a 12 year old design, and so what they don’t interface with Wireless Workbench, you can tell the program that you’re using them and it can help to coordinate frequencies if you’re using it for that purpose and things like that. But we hope to soon upgrade to the new PSM900 system, which is fully integrated with it and is basically just a new UHF-R for IM. [Timestamp: 12:08]

And I believe you’re networking all the receivers in the system with twisted pair and using routers.
Chapman: Yeah that’s right. I mean we had three racks of receivers. Each rack had its own switch in it, and they were all connected up with Cat-5, and then each switch was just plugged into a wireless router, which we had set to automatically dish out DHCP addressing to the receivers. Sometimes we do have problems with that. Occasionally in certain venues depending upon how much Wi-fi is going on, but at that point, you can manually assign addresses to each receiver, but we didn’t need to in this case. [Timestamp: 12:44]

Well, that could get to be more of a challenge in the future because of all this new wireless mobile broadband stuff that’s coming along.
Chapman: Yes.

And of course, you’re aware that there have been substantial changes over here as far as the FCC who runs our wireless.
Chapman: Yes, absolutely.

So how’s it been over there? I understand there have been changes going on there too.
Chapman: Yes, we’ve got similar things happening over here—a lot of Europe trying to standardize the radio frequencies, the different things they usually don’t oversee. The government is looking to sell off a lot of spectrum to big companies, so we are being forced out. We currently sit in channel 69 for shared units across companies. Unfortunately that’s all being sold off, so anyone who has a current license for channel 69 is being offered a partial rebate while the government is being pushed down into 38, I think it is. But we’re losing a lot of the interlead spectrum between as well, so I think we’re running into a rather third of the space that we currently have, but that all is going to happen as soon as the 2012 Olympics has come and gone as London is the last part of the country to have it’s analog television switched off just after the Olympics. So at that point, well hopefully, we’ll have all our new systems up and running by then, but it’s only this week that they’ve announced the rebate scheme, so I am currently looking into what we can and can’t sell or get money for from the government really. [Timestamp: 14:15]

Well, maybe by that time you’ll have some experience to look at from over here, in terms of from the user stand point, what people have been doing because I don’t think it’s really hit a lot of people over here yet even though it’s all legal and in place now.
Chapman: Oh, OK. I read about it in magazines, and obviously I’m aware that some manufacturers […] have offered rebates schemes and things. Yeah, it’s very interesting to keep an eye on it because it’s going to hit us fairly quickly I think. [Timestamp: 12:42]

All right, Phill Chapman and Dave Shepherd of Sound By Design, and this has been great talking about the Forever Living annual gathering at Wembley Arena and how you handled all of that, which is still amazing to me. And in part two we’re going to get into the FOH console and some potential challenges from a large LED wall, I believe, and some other things, but thanks for being here for part one.

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