Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser World Tour

by George Petersen
in Production Profile

Sarah Brightman tour photo by Steve Jennings.Classical-crossover sensation Sarah Brightman’s Dreamchaser World Tour kicked off in Guangzhou, China in mid-June. Now, having just completed the Asian and North American segments of this 67-stop marathon, the show is currently playing in Central and South America, and goes back to China in January 2014, followed by the Middle East, Russia, Finland and Eastern Europe in February. It’s truly a “world” tour.

FOH crew, (left to right) David Barriault, Colin Boland and Jonathan Trudeau. Sarah Brightman tour photo by Steve Jennings.The staging is bare, with soprano Brightman and one or two dancers accompanied by four musicians — M.D. Peter Murray on keys and piano, Olli Cunningham (Korg Kronos, Roland GAIA, Yamaha Motif XF8), drummer/percussionist Mark Pusey and multi-instrumentalist Gunther Laudahn on guitars, harp, bouzouki, glockenspiel, zither and sitar.

Dominating the stage is a huge LED video screen that — rather than the usual approach of displaying larger-than-life images of the performer — offers a dazzling array of outer space and cosmic images worthy of any big-budget Sci-Fi epic.

Brightman has previously toured with a symphony section, but this time, the live band is augmented on some songs with orchestral tracks. “In the past we’ve brought in orchestral players on stage, but the Dreamchaser tour has a lot of video synched to a large video screen, and was no place to put them onstage without obstructing the visuals,” says FOH engineer/sound designer Colin Boland, who in addition to a long history of working with Brightman, has also mixed for artists ranging from The Pet Shop Boys to Prince and classical crossover artists, such as Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church.

Onstage crew includes sound control tech David Darlington (left) and monitor engineer Becky Pell.Keeping It Simple

“Each band member has a submixer, and I get a left and right feed for each at front of house,” Boland adds. The guitarist uses a Yamaha 01V; the keyboard and multi-instrumentalist use an Allen & Heath, the drums come from the Roland V-Drums mixer. “I worked with them a lot in rehearsals and these guys are pretty solid. They’re all well-disciplined, well trained and it’s very quiet on stage which is great for me.”

Boland mixes on an AVID Profile — with a few extras. “At the beginning of the tour I bought the Waves Mercury plug-in collection and the Studio Classics collection, which basically turns the board into an SSL. I’m using a lot of the SSL plug-ins and V-Comps — mainly for vocals — along with SSL Channels, de-essers and a graphic. I used to carry an Amek/Neve 9098 preamp/EQ and BSS DPR-901 [dynamic equalizer] for Sarah’s vocals, but now that I’ve gone digital, I’ll build a subgroup with a graphic across her vocal and then use some of the Waves plug-ins. Frankly, I don’t think I could have gotten by on this tour without them.”

Keeping with the minimalist theme, “there aren’t really many mics on the tour — just 10, “ Boland says. “We’ve got a pair of overheads, a large tom mic, mics on the handheld percussion and the vocal microphones. We get a large sound, which is helped by the Spatializer plug-ins from the Waves package, which gives me different widths for the different input types.”

The auto-gating function on the Optogates plug-on noise gates used on the musicians’ Sennheiser e935 background vocal mics also contribute to clean input feeds.

Obviously, the lead vocals are a major concern. “We’ve been using the Neumann KK-105 wireless heads with Sarah since 2004,” Boland adds. “She also uses a Sennheiser HS-1 headset for three songs and a Schoeps for one song. The Schoeps is used for one of the operatic arias and it’s on a straight stand. When she goes for some really high notes, it can be challenging, but it works pretty well. It’s an older version of the MK2 and handles the dynamics better.”

The all-Meyer stage left P.A. hang.The System

The front-end FOH and monitor system is from London-based Capital Sound, with racks, stacks and system control from Solotech. “We’re doing a mix of theaters and arenas, so we have a Meyer Sound MILO as our main system in the arenas, and MICA for the side hangs, and when we do a theater show, we use the MICA’s for the main system,” notes system tech Jonathan Trudeau.

As to the Arena rig, “it’s pretty simple,” says Trudeau, “with 16 Meyer MILO’s per side, 12 MICA’s per side also. Also in the rig are six 700-HP subwoofers in cardioid mode on each side, with four on the ground. We’re using six M’elodies as front fill and in some places, four CQ-1’s and four MSL’s as well.” System control is via four Meyer Galileo 616’s; and Trudeau uses Smaart 7 for room analysis. “It’s all simple and works great. We don’t believe in complicated.”

Optogates on the musician vocal mics automatically gate the signal when the players move away from the mics.Monitorworld

Mixing monitors and handling RF is Becky Pell, who has been working with Anastacia for years, along with stints with Il Divo, and boy bands A-Ha and Westlife.

Monitor rack includes four XTA DP 224 system controllers and four FFA 6004 amplifiers, each with four 1,500W channels.A DiGiCo SD10 is used for monitors. “I’m a faithful DiGiCo user and find them very intuitive to get around,” says Pell. “They sound great and I love mixing on them. The only outboard gear I use is a TC System 6000 reverb, which gives me a really rich, natural sounding reverb — exactly what I need to give me that operatic feel. Everything else is in-board. The multiband compressors on the SD consoles are fantastic. I can easily narrow in on any frequencies and keep the vocal sounding natural to Sarah. It’s a big help.”

Pell also handles all the RF for IEMs and wireless. “I do a combination of wedge and in-ear mixing. Sarah’s on radio mics and ears, and mixes across the front are four Martin Audio W8LMs on a stereo mix,” Pell explains. “Those are a bit unconventional, but I’ve used them on other tours. The guys in the band like it, because electronic instruments can feel a bit unnatural up there, so the wedges and the W8lM’s give it a nice feel and vibe without being too loud.”

The musicians are also on in-ears, with a Butt Kicker added to the drum setup. All are hardwired to cut down the need for RF. In terms of referencing her mixes, Pell (and Brightman) are on Ultimate Ears UE11 earpieces. “They seem to be the best for vocalists. The band is on different ones; a couple of the guys are on ACL’s, the others are on Ultimates.”

The IEM transmitters are Sennheiser 2000 series. “I’m a big fan of their in-ear stuff — the packs are nice and small, they’re user-friendly and artists tend to enjoy using them.”

Sarah Brightman tour photo by Steve Jennings.Problems and Solutions

“My main challenge with the radio stuff is we have a huge LED screen onstage and it kicks out a large amount of low-level RF that can cause interference,” says Pell. “The small TTi PSA-1301p RF analyzer I carry with me has saved my bacon on more occasions than I can count. We’ve taken this tour worldwide; available frequencies in different places can vary widely and I’ll find TV channels all over the map, and that RF scanner has been tremendously valuable.”

Interestingly, one challenge that Boland faces comes not from the gear, but from the audience. “Sarah appeals to a wide range of ages. Some older people don’t quite understand the volume, but that’s the way it is. So it’s a balance of trying to make it loud enough to do the music justice and warm enough, but not enough to hurt people. The whole show averages about 98 dB; with moments where it goes to 103 dB. At other times, it’s about 79 or 80 dB — it’s a huge dynamic range.”

But Boland has no issues with the system, which blended perfectly into the Dreamchaser tour approach. “I’m a long-time Meyer user. I’ve toured with the MILO system before and definitely like that,” says Boland. “Choosing MILO came as a result of picking the right system for the tour and getting a good deal, which is important these days. Sarah wanted this tour to be louder, but she also wanted it to be very cinematic. We’re using a lot of subs, so the effect is like going to an Imax theater, where you get that vibe of the sub and the width from the Spatializers. So the feel is actually very big.”