Rihanna Tour ProfileHIP-HOP DIVA BRINGS EDGINESS TO THE STAGE 8/18/2010 8:17 AM Eastern
Despite sagging ticket sales—a malady that is festering across the majority of this summer’s tours—Rihanna’s Last Girl on Earth tour showed no signs of slowing down when Mix caught the act at Mountain View, Calif.’s Shoreline Amphitheater in mid-July. “We’ve never done a tour to this capacity,” Rihanna said during an interview with AOL. “The production is unbelievable and the costumes—we just took it to a whole new level. Visually and sonically, it’s going to be a big step up from the last time. We just keep growing, and this time it is a massive production that I cannot wait for.”
True to that statement, the 22-year-old hip-hop songstress enthralled the mostly female crowd with a solid set list that belies her youth—accentuated with numerous costume changes, select songs performed at a more “intimate” Stage B and an incredible stage set. Sonically, from “Umbrella”—which blasted her onto the scene, thanks in part to the collaboration with Jay-Z—to her most recent, “Love the Way You Lie” from Rated R, a tune with Eminem that’s burning up the radio airwaves, Rihanna and backing band/vocalists sated the crowd’s hunger to get the most out of their ticket.
And this starts at ground zero, with front-of-house engineer Tony Blanc and monitor engineer Vish Wadi—engineers new to Rihanna’s tour, but longtime engineers in their own right.
Blanc is mixing on a DiGiCo SD7, which he calls “the best board of its type on the market. I do have a rack of outboard gear, which is mainly a personal taste in compressors. Once the Waves package [SoundGrid/MultiRack] becomes available for this desk, I may be tempted to leave my old AMS and Crane Song units at home.” Using 70 inputs, Blanc mixes the show in such a way that when concertgoers look at the stage, they can see what they hear. “My style, the only one I know, is to make it the best possible,” Blanc says. “I can’t stand it when the bass drum is all that you hear at a show.”
To create this smooth and consistent mix, Blanc uses sidechain EQ and multiband compression on Rihanna’s vocal so it sits nicely in the mix. “We tried various caps for her and found the new Sennheiser large-condenser capsule 965 works great for her vocal style and range,” Blanc says. Background vocalists Ashleigh Haney and Kimberly Ince sing through wireless SM58As. Any guests sing through an SM87C. In addition, the engineer has created snapshots, although the EQ and dynamics stay the same from soundcheck on through the final song. “Each day is saved as a city,” Blanc explains, “and I roll through the show from the Start page.”
Blanc is also recording the show, using Nuendo running through an RME ExpressCard. The SD7 allows him to do a MADI patch so that he can group the 70 inputs in the 56 MADI lines available. Also in his personal outboard rack are TC Electronic D2s; Klark Teknik DN6000 spectrum analyzer; AMS RMX16 reverb; Crane Song Trakker, ST8 and HEDD 192; DPR 901 frequency-band comp; a Wendel drum unit; Waves MaxxBass; SPL Transient Designer 4; and dbx 120X subharmonic enhancer.
The Clair Global–supplied rig is a standard i5/i3 package for arenas. According to Blanc, depending on the building, there are eight to 14 i5s per side and four to 12 i3s per side.
Drum mics include AKG D12s and Shure SM91s on kick; SM57s on snare; 460s on hat, ride and overheads; and Beyer Opus 88s on racks and floor. “There is no rocket science to microphones; it’s about the placement,” Blanc says. “The drum tech [Chris Achzet] is ridiculously good, so it sounds huge—period.” Bass (Eric Smith) and keyboards (Kevin Hastings and Hanna Vasanth) are DI; guitars (Nuno Bettencourt and Adam Ross) take Sennheiser 421s and Shure 57s.
Over at monitor world, engineer Vish Wadi is also manning a DiGiCo SD7, using onboard effects such as reverbs on drums, background vocalists and acoustic guitars. He’s also using a TC Electronic M5000 reverb unit on Rihanna’s vocal. Asked about his mixing style, Wadi says simply: “I do not believe there is a style in mixing monitors. You give a mix of what the artist or the band needs.” Enough said.
Like Blanc, Wadi has most of his presets dialed in before the band hits the stage, but is making small changes due to room acoustics—the tour is hitting mostly amphitheaters—and any tweaks Rihanna needs, which she denotes to Wadi via hand signals.
The band and Rihanna are on in-ears (Ultimate Ears’ UE7s for the band; UE11s for Rihanna); sidefills are Clair R4s. “Stage volume has not been an issue,” Wadi says, adding that he has run into some frequency problems but can easily find a new frequency. “I like working with Rihanna. She’s a very professional artist.”
Blanc echoes Wadi’s description of Rihanna: “The whole project is a blast to be involved with. All is good. I’m looking forward to hopefully many tours to come.”
Sarah Benzuly is Mix’s managing editor.