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Live Sound Showcase: Katy Perry – Pragmatically Prismatic

NEW YORK, NY-Since the release of her fourth studio album, Prism, back in late 2013, pop diva Katy Perry has hit some significant landmarks in her career, tying Rihanna for the most number‐one singles on Billboard’s Pop Chart after the release of the album’s third single, “Dark Horse,” back in February.

Seen here floating above Chicago’s United Center, Katy Perry and her backing vocalists each belt nightly into Sennheiser MD 5235 capsules on SKM 5200 series wireless transmitters. NEW YORK, NY-Since the release of her fourth studio album, Prism, back in late 2013, pop diva Katy Perry has hit some significant landmarks in her career, tying Rihanna for the most number‐one singles on Billboard’s Pop Chart after the release of the album’s third single, “Dark Horse,” back in February. Charts‐wise, this isn’t Perry’s biggest achievement to date, as her third studio album, Teenage Dream, is tied with Michael Jackson’s Bad for the most number‐one hits off a single album.

Accompanying the releas e of Prism, Perry embarked on an 11-month world tour, with the first leg starting in Belfast, Northern Ireland back in May, with the help of Lititz, PA-based Clair, which is supplying audio support for the tour.

Along for the tour is Perry’s longtime FOH engineer, Peter Keppler, manning a DiGiCo SD5 console. “This is the first time we’ve used DiGiCo with Katy,” explained Keppler. “Manny (Barajas, monitor engineer) and I got together and decided we both liked the DiGiCo a lot sonically. It’s a really good-sounding desk and we went with the 5 versus the 7 because I think it’s more reliable.”

The SD5 also takes up less space, which for Perry’s tour is pertinent, as the monitor position is under the stage, underlining the clean visual approach above, where nothing is on the deck at all, except for a five-piece band with drums and keyboards.

The SD5 also helps Keppler keep in touch with the other engineers on the tour. “You can send text messages on the SD5, which is very helpful,” he said. “Everyone is on in-ears and I’m not, so for me to talk to them, I need a mic, which can be distracting during the show. It’s easier to text them.”

Keppler also uses a number of plug-ins, both built-in and added to the console, giving him a variety of tools to work with during a concert. He uses Waves C6 multiband compressor, Vitamin and TrueVerb for the majority of the show, along with a few unorthodox effects such as a Stomps plug-in. “I’m a big Waves suppor ter,” said Kepler. “It’s the only thing we’re using that completely separate from the SD5, but Waves integrates itself into the desk. The console also has a lot of great features— dynamic EQ, multiband compression, and some other really nice effects.”

For each show, Perry sells between 15,000 and 20,000 tickets, requiring a sound system that can cover a huge crowd. “The tour has to be in at least a hockey arena or larger, especially due to the size of the stage. The depth of the stage is 155 feet front to back, and the main part of the stage has two ramps on either side leading to B Stage,” explained Keppler.

To make sure the entire audience gets the same experience, Clair hangs the PA system in 11 zones, using a Clair i-5D line array system. “It’s based on an older i-5 system, but incorporates all the components of a multibox system into one box,” Keppler explained. A total of 16 i- 5Ds hang per side for the main system, with a combination of 16 i-3s and numerous BT-218 subs for side hangs. The entire system is powered with Lab.gruppen amplifiers.

Much like her past tours, Perry’s Prismatic Tour includes numerous costume and set changes, as well as constant movement around the stages, requiring Clair to provide a plethora of wireless mics for the singer and her performers. Perry uses a Sennheiser MD 5235 capsule with a SKM 5200 series wireless transmitter, and the entire team uses in-ears, with the exception of a few monitors on the stage for the dancers. “On the entire stage, I don’t think anyone is connected to a wire,” said Keppler.

The wireless does cause a bit of a challenge though, especially when Perry moves to the B stage in front of the main speaker system. “She spends a lot of time on the B stage, 105 feet in front of the PA system,” he explained. “The microphones tend to respond differently when out in front of the source they are hooked up to. There’s quite a bit of delay added.”

Hidden behind the dramatic lighting is a sizable Clair PA system based around the company’s new i-5D boxes. Speaking a few months into the tour, Keppler said that for the most part, soundcheck before the shows includes a quick walk through of the songs, usually without Perry. “The first dozen shows or so, she was involved, but now that we’re 40-plus days into the show, she doesn’t go to soundcheck often,” Kepler said.

During the concert, Keppler said Perry sticks to her set list, only changing up the order occasionally during the acoustic portion of the show. “With the amount of choreography and cues in the show, it really has to stick to the set list,” he explained. “We definitely give the show a live feel though. For some of the songs, she’s asked me specifically to keep it closer to the recording.”

Katy Perry’s music director for the tour, Kris Pooley, worked closely with her beforehand, carefully specifying the pre-recorded music on an Aphex USB 500 rack. “For example, as part of the show, we have a boys choir sing the bridge of a song, so we recorded them in a studio before the tour,” Pooley said. “I like to work with 500-series modules and I had been fishing around for something that would let me record and mix in one device.”

Cole Gion, Pro Tools/playback engineer for the tour, manages all the pre-recorded material on site. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes into these records,” Gion explained. “We have up to 100 tracks sometimes, plus sound effects, and the band can’t play all of that.”

Gion’s 16 channels of playback pass through a collection of gear that include an Antelope Orion interface, various 500 series modules in a Radial Workhorse rack, a Radial SW8 backing track switcher and a JRAK rackmount adaptor for the company’s DI boxes. “I’ve been using the SW8 and JRAK for over eight years,” said Gion, “and they’re really well-built, road-worthy, and the fact that they’re modular makes it easy for me to fill the system. The show’s completely reliant on them; they’re the kind of playback system that runs the whole show.”

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of live music being made. “The band plays a lot,” said Keppler. “Instead of using loops, sometimes we have the drummer trigger the same sounds from the drum kit. That creates more a live feel, but still retains the album sounds that Katy wants.”

Keppler said he doesn’t have a specific song that he enjoys mixing, but finds each of the songs enjoyable to work with during the tour. “And you’re talking to a guy who came from David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails,” he said. “I never saw myself mixing a pop artist, but here I am, four years later. Go figure.”