- by Blair Jackson
in Production Profile
Chances are, even if you are not a “Belieber,” as the hard core fans of 19-year-old Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber call themselves, you probably know someone who is. Bieber has become a true worldwide phenomenon since he burst on the scene in 2009. He has sold millions of albums and toured relentlessly since June 2010, first on the My World tour (U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico and South America, through October 2011), and, since September 2012, on the Believe tour, which runs through November 2013 and will have hit old and new locales in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Central and South America, Asia and even a few dates in the Middle East and South Africa. There is no escape; surrender to the Bieb!
Bieber’s Believe tour (named for the smash 2012 album of the same name) has mainly played large arenas in the U.S.; the summer 2013 leg, which started in Southern California the last week of June, was slated to move across the mountain states, the Midwest, into select large cities on the Northeast, dip into Canada for a few shows, then move down the eastern seaboard to Florida.
Plenty of Spectacle
The Believe tour is an enormous Clair Global production, which sports a gargantuan three-deck stage: Bieber is usually on the lower deck (which also has a strip that thrusts out into the crowd), and often with his 12 dancers accompanying him. The second deck is where you’ll find his excellent small band, his DJ and three backup singers. The top deck hosts Bieber’s short but intense drum solo (he’s very good; he also plays acoustic guitar and grand piano during the show, but mostly sings and dances). There are lights galore, LED screens of varying sizes, a few pyrotechnics, hydraulic lifts and a spectacular entrance in which Bieber “flies” out to the front of the stage wearing great, ornate wings. The 90-minute set has plenty of spectacle, but also a solid musical foundation. The mostly young, mostly female audience eats it up and screams for more.
The Second Time Out
Much of the live sound team for the current Bieber tour is intact from the earlier My World jaunt, with a few exceptions, as is the band. Which helps explain why this has been such a seamless and trouble-free operation as it winds its way around the globe.
“It’s an incredibly easy show,” enthuses FOH mixer Gordon Mack, one of the 2010-11 tour holdovers. “It’s so dialed in on the console at this point, it’s always smooth. And everyone associated with this tour is completely professional; it’s a really strong team.” Mack is a respected veteran mixer whose résumé includes tours with the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Chaka Kahn, Madonna and Prince.
Asked if there’s anything about the Bieber tour that has changed his basic approach to mixing, he says, “I’ve gone from theaters with John Legend to arenas and stadiums. You obviously have to take into account the bigger rooms with Justin, but I don’t really do anything different. Once I hear what it is, and see what we’re doing in terms of what the band is presenting, I make a mental picture of the way I see things going. I’ll close my eyes and try to put everyone where they should go and make sure I hear everybody and I do that whether I’m in a theater or an arena. To be honest, I don’t look at the stage very often, unless my artist is all over the place. Justin does move around a lot, but if I’m listening to the band more, I don’t need to see them. If I can close my eyes I can concentrate on just what I’m hearing, and I hear better with my eyes closed.”
Mack mixes the Bieber show on an Avid VENUE Profile, noting, “It’s not a terribly hard show in terms of it being too many inputs; it’s two or three layers. And actually, a lot of it is drums.” Indeed, of the inputs dedicated to the music, 32 are for drums and percussion triggers — 22 for Melvin Baldwin’s huge kit, the other ten for Bieber’s brief moment on the skins. “Melly has two kicks and each has two mics on it [Shure Beta 91 inside, and a Beta 52 outside],” Mack says. “Then he has five snare mics: the main snare and a second side snare doubled [Heil Sound PR20 top, Shure SM57 underneath], and a third high snare [57 on top]; two hi-hats, one on either side [Shure SM81s]; five toms [three rack, two floor; all Sennheiser e904s]; and two overheads [Audio-Technica AT 4050s] and a ride [SM81]. We also have a [Radial JDI] on the trigger. We worked out the levels of the pads with Melly early on, so that’s been smooth, too.”
Music director and long-time Bieber lead guitarist Dan Kanter (he gets to shred here and there during the show) has his electric axes — mostly Les Pauls — captured at the amp by a single Heil PR30, while his — and Bieber’s — acoustic take a Shure UR1 wireless. Wizard Jones’s keyboard arsenal comes into the Profile via Radial J48 active direct and JDI passive direct boxes. The tour’s usual bass player, Bernard Harvey, was on a leave during the early summer swing, replaced by Dave Parks; in both cases, the bass went through a Radial J48 DI. The core four in the band is augmented by DJ Tay James and three backup vocalists, who sing into Crown 311 headset mics (through Shure UR1 transmitters).
Bieber’s main mic is a Crown 311, which allows him to dance like crazy and still sound good. “The Crown really gives us a good, fighting chance on combating the girls screaming on a nightly basis,” comments monitor engineer Alex MacLeod, “because it rejects outside noise really well and it keeps the element very close to his mouth.”
Bieber also utilizes a hand-held stick with a Heil RC-22 capsule and, on one song, a Heil Fin — a dynamic mic with three internal LEDs that make the body glow when phantom power is applied. “Gordon experimented with a bunch of capsules and ended up with the RC-22,” MacLeod says, “so I inherited that capsule, and I’ve been very happy with it. Like the 311, it rejects the audience pretty well compared to a [Shure] 58 or 87 — or something of that nature. We’ve had ups and downs with getting Justin to not cup the mic, but with that particular capsule it doesn’t change very much, which is really good for us.” MacLeod notes that the Fin “is similar to the Shure 55 — the Elvis mic — but it’s a little shinier and it looks more like the emblem on the front of a Cadillac than a microphone, and it lights up all red. The only way we were able to get that wireless was to use an XLR plug-in transmitter [Lectrosonics HM].”
Since the band is so small and the crowd arrives with an expectation that the music will sound somewhat similar to the way it does on the albums, it’s not surprising to learn that there is also a judicious occasional use of tracks from Pro Tools—up to 12 channels are allotted—featuring “drums loops and various things that can’t be played by the band,” Mack says. Still, there’s no mistaking that the live musicians are doing the heavy lifting night after night; this is no “canned” show.
When it comes to signal processing, Mack eschews outboard boxes and relies almost entirely on what’s in the Profile, “plus — I like to have a good chorus in there [for the lead vocal], so I have a Waves 9 package, but I don’t use it for much besides that. Beyond that, I’ll take the D-Verbs that come in the console.
“I’m absolutely a minimalist,” he continues. “I don’t like to have a lot there because it’s more things in the loop to go wrong. So, for me, the least amount of gear that you have that can still do the job is always best. And if what the band is giving you is good, you don’t have to do as much. They did a great job with preproduction and coming up with the sounds they want to hear, so I don’t have to do much with the individual elements during the show.”
On Monitor Island
Alex MacLeod, who came on board at the beginning of the Believe tour after working mainly with R&B and hip-hop artists such as Frankie Jay and Neo, oversees the construction of what he calls “monitor island” early on the day of each show, after the PA has been flown. Because the massive stage and lighting rig take so long to put up, MacLeod’s 6-by-12-foot world, which is dominated by a DiGiCo SD10 console, is set up on a riser wherever he can find space out on the floor, then rolled into a spot downstage near the left corner. “I’m three feet lower than the main deck and I have a pretty good view of most of the stage,” he says. “I can see Justin at all times. I can see Dan Kanter at all times, and I can see Dave, our bass player, a little bit.”
MacLeod has his work cut out for him. “I’m running 41 outputs, so between the hardwires and in-ears, it’s a total of 17 ear mixes; all stereo,” he says. “Then I have wedge sends on top of that. I have a few wedge mixes for the band. DJ Tay has wedges and ears, our drummer Melly has wedges and ears — he has a [Clair] BT-218 drum sub, a [Clair] SRM wedge on top of that, and ears. Dave uses one wedge in front of him and ears. Also, on the last couple of songs of the show, Justin never wears his ears, so he has SRM wedges in the grate downstage — and sidefills.” Nearly everyone onstage is outfitted with Ultimate Ears UE 18s, except Bieber, who uses UE 11s — “They work a little better for vocalists,” MacLeod feels — “and two of the three backup singers, “are on [JH Audio] JH16s because they brought these into the gig and didn’t want to switch.”
A tour of this complexity needs an extensive talk-back system… or three. MacLeod notes, “One is between all the techs, so they can communicate with each other and with my tech, because I can’t see any of my backline guys—they’re all in worlds behind each musician. I can’t see all of the musicians; I can’t see our Pro Tools operator, who also does the main coordination with Justin. So we can get notes from him anywhere on the set, if he needs water or a change in his mix, whatever it is. Then there’s another talkback system where we can talk to independent people just by a push of a couple of smart keys on my desk.
“As you might expect,” he continues, “RF coordination is sometimes an issue because we have so much of it, between the nine channels of transmitters I’m running at my rack and the 16 channels of IEM all next to me; I have all that. Then, a big challenge was that they also added 16 channels of wireless intercom. We have five units of it, which adds up to 20 channels of belt packs, so by the time our RF guy, Niall Slevin, gets all that tuned, and my stuff, it’s somewhere around 76 channels of wireless. Niall spends a good six hours just coordinating frequencies every day, then we spend about two to three hours walking frequencies and retuning.”
The Systems Approach
And then there’s the Clair Global PA, which goes up each day under the watchful eye of crew chief and systems engineer Arnie Hernandez, who got his start with Showco in the mid-1990s and later moved over to Clair sometime after they acquired the Texas SR giant.
For the Bieber tour, the main hang consists of 14 i-5s and i-5B cabinets per side; each of the side PAs is a 10-cabinet array of i-3s; there are eight Clair BT-218A subs per side on the ground; and the front fill is supplied by three Clair P-2s per side.
“For most of the venues it’s exactly enough,” Hernandez comments, “and in the places that we go, like Staples [in L.A.], where you have to supply some supplemental PA for their upper concourses, they already have a good system in place and methods for delaying. In some of the low buildings in Europe, because the stage is so high, I had to drop a couple of cabinets so the side spots could hit Justin when he’s on the upper deck. But in general, it’s been great.” Hernandez noises the PA with “an older version of Smaart Live.”
The speakers are powered by Lab.gruppen PLM 20K’s which Hernandez describes as “fantastic amplifiers. Ten years ago, when the amplifier networks were still kind of new and cutting edge, it was hard to envision where we are now, but I’m so glad we’re here, and the Lab.gruppen are clearly the best choice for this kind of tour.”
The Real Challenge
Of course, even the loudest and cleanest system is no match for 15,000 screaming girls, but the Bieber crew faces this nightly challenge philosophically — they make no attempt to compete with the fans. As Hernandez puts it, “I was on a tour a few years ago where there was a lot of screaming and the managers wanted me to mix over the girls. The problem with that is that the P.A. couldn’t do it and the mix also suffered. Our goal on this tour is to leave the mix where it is and if the girls want to scream over it, that’s their thing. It’s not about making the mix so in their face that they’re having to yell over the P.A.”
“Oh, my God, those girls can scream frickin’ loud,” adds Gordon Mack with a laugh. “If they want to hear the music more or they want to sing along, they’ll come down a bit. And they do. I want the mix to be ‘comfortable loud,’ but beyond that, they’re in control, I guess.”
Clair Bros. Global
FOH Engineer: Gordon Mack
Systems Engineer: Arnie Hernandez
RF Tech: Niall Slevin
Monitor Tech: Joel Merrill
PA Techs: Henry Fury;
Main PA Hang:
(14) Clair i5’s and i5B subs/side
Side PA Hang:
(10) Clair i3’s/side
Subs: (8) BT-218A/side ground
Front Fills: (3) Clair P-2s/side on ground; (14) i5B subs/side flown
Amplification: Lab.gruppen PLM 20k
Avid VENUE Profile
Drive: (2) Lake, LM44 digital audio system processors
Console: DiGiCo SD10
Slants: (14) Clair
IEMs: Ultimate Ears, JH Audio with Shure PSM1000 Transmitters
Mics: see stage input list below