Lil Wayne Tour ProfileBLENDING ALBUM AND STAGE INTO A TIGHT PERFORMANCE 7/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
Rap shows seem to carry a preconception that they are loud, non-musical. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for Lil Wayne. Blending his hip-hop vocal stylings with a rock-solid band, Lil Wayne’s performance is as tight and dynamic as his smash 2009 multi-Platinum Tha Carter IV. In fact, both front-of-house engineer Demetrius Moore and monitor engineer Sean Sturge stick to the album’s sound to guide them in creating their mixes.
During rehearsals, both engineers created the snapshots on their digital desks to not only mimic the album, but to also accommodate guests onstage—including Mac.Mane, Nicki Minaj, Drake and Busta Rhymes. “I’m definitely trying to re-create the album,” says Sturge, who is no stranger to hip-hop shows as he’s previously worked on the Up in Smoke tour, as well as outings for Eminem (the past 10 years), 50 Cent, Jay-Z and the Beastie Boys. “It’s what I’ve found and experienced in the past. Working with the Beastie Boys, a lot of their songs have different effects on their vocals and that is something I’m dealing with for Wayne. We had to make sure that the Auto-Tune [vocal] was how it should be for each song—to make sure that the mix of his Auto-Tune vocal and his [live] vocal are correct. And that’s not the easiest thing to do, let me tell you. It’s all about EQ’ing. In Auto-Tune, it’s basically feeding back on itself, so when you put speakers and microphones with that, it amplifies itself [as opposed to] a regular vocal. That’s the other thing that you wouldn’t think to do with monitors, but just the way they time-align the P.A., I would time-align the sidefills with the downstage wedges and put a delay on the sidefill. So when you stand centerstage, the subs—the fills—and the wedges get to that center position at the same time. So if you walk to the left or walk to the right, there’s continuity.”
The system—and the rest of the gear—is provided by Eighth Day Sound. Front-of-house engineer Moore feeds Dolby Lake all digital from his DiGiCo SD7 board (with the new DiGiCO SD racks all in a fiber loop), which also runs all digital to all the amps. The main hang is 18 d&b J8s a side with six J-Subs flown offstage of that and 12 B2s on the ground. Side hang comprises 12 J8s. The 270 hang is 12 Q1s.
“Wayne morphs from rap star on a record to a rock star onstage, so making sure the guitars are present is essential to his live shows,” says Moore, who previously held FOH tech position on the artist’s 2009 tour; Tim Colvard was FOH engineer. When Colvard couldn’t do FOH for these sets of dates (he was on the Usher tour), Moore was asked to step up to the desk. “I rely more on the band than any of the Pro Tools [tracks], so we get a bit of a different sound than what’s on the record. I use the Pro Tools just for key signature parts from the record and then use the band to fill up the rest. While the drums and keys can create a live version of what’s on his recordings, the DJ [DJ 4ourfive] plays a couple of songs from his rig, but he predominantly plays intricate samples that add key notes to every song. [Lil Wayne’s] songs have a wide range of instrumentation with dynamics, so I try and mix the band as a soulful funk band with a rapper.”
Sturge is also mixing on an SD7 with the upgraded 96k racks, finding that the upgrade in snapshots was a wonderful addition. “For hip-hop concerts and considering that rappers generally don’t do an entire song, we had a set list of 56 songs where it’s one verse, half a verse and then 10 different artists coming on and offstage. That’s where the snapshots come in handy, with mics being turned on and off without you having to do anything.”
Monitoring on this tour includes eight SD2 subs, 20 wedges, eight channels of in-ears, six channels of SKM EM3032 Version 2, SKL 500 (for Wayne and some bandmembers), six channels of Shure UHF for all the Young Money artists and two Q-Subs for the drummer. Sturge handles a combination mix as Lil Wayne is all wedges and the band is all in-ears. “The band was upstage under his set, so the band was literally 30 feet upstage from the downstage edge. Each individual had a mix of themselves. Wayne sings everything live. With a hip-hop artist, they enjoy it being loud for the simple fact that he wants to feel the beat and hear himself. We had as many speakers on the stage as we had on one side of the stage.
“As a monitor engineer working with speakers, you have to know the music you’re working with and your re-creation of it because you have to put it all together, especially working with a band. You have to know in the snapshot when to make the guitar go up, make the bass highlighted. You need to know the music you’re working with.”