TOUR PROFILEHip hop's dominance of the airwaves and charts has completely revolutionized the sound of popular music. But the genre, especially in its infancy, has trailed traditional rock music in one crucial area, live performance - a DJ rig and a handful of vocalists can look a little out of place in arena-sized venues where you either "go to 11" or go home.
But live hip hop has moved with the times. And much of its evolution can be attributed to the "godfather of gangster rap," Dr. Dre, who in the late '80s and early '90s brought to hip hop a level of production and professionalism that was lacking. This year's Up In Smoke tour, with Dr. Dre as the headliner, furthered the idea that large hip hop tours can be viable and boasted a level of production and sound quality that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any arena rock juggernaut.
In addition to Dr. Dre, the lineup featured Dre's long-time partner-in-crime Snoop Dogg and Dre-protege Eminem. The three headliners collaborated with one another throughout the show, as well as performing with a host of other support acts on a stage set that blended influences from both Broadway productions and Kiss concerts, complete with a storefront backdrop reminiscent of L.A.'s seedier sections, a descending chrome skull and pyrotechnics galore. Mix caught the tour when it pulled into the San Jose Arena last August.
BIG BOTTOMAccurately reproducing material that is heavy with loops, samples and sound effects is always a challenge for live sound engineers, and hip hop, with its dependence on an often heavy and distorted bottom end, presents a unique set of problems. Many "out-of-box" P.A./monitor packages are not engineered to produce the kind of low-end fidelity that hip hop requires. This point was not lost on FOH engineer Tim Colvard, who was involved in almost every aspect of the tour, beginning with pre-production back in the fall of '99. Colvard, a veteran of tours with Whitney Houston and Earth, Wind & Fire, handpicked the components that he felt were best suited to hip hop's unique sonic qualities, including a V-DOSC system. "We had come across the V-DOSC system several times, and I knew it would cover me as far as the fidelity from probably 150 to 20k," recalls Colvard. "The question was getting the subwoofers that I needed to do this. So basically we had to get three different vendors lined up to do this tour, which can be tricky."
The main P.A., including a total of 52 flown V-DOSC cabinets, was provided by ProMix, with 24 additional subwoofer cabinets provided by Maryland Sound. Eighth Day Sound provided two Midas XL-4s for FOH and monitors, as well as the complete monitor array.
Colvard is running between 14 and 16 inputs on his XL-4, not including effects returns. Eight to nine of the channels are dedicated to vocal mics, depending on the particular set list and guest performers. The remaining channels are reserved for the onstage turntable setup, the Instant Replay system and a MiniDisc player, which contains the bulk of the backing tracks and sound effects. "There is no instrumentation onstage, so you're doing just a little coloring of the tracks and adding some room feel with the reverb and gates." Colvard's rack includes an Eventide Orville Harmonizer, TC 2290 multi-effects, Roland SPDE-3000 delay and a Yamaha SPX990 multi-effects.
"Basically, we're utilizing all of the automation on the console to do level changes from song to song," says Colvard, who relies on the board mutes to switch among the eight or nine different live performers. "Because there isn't a live band, the dynamic curve has to happen by way of the automation so that it gives the same feel that a band would give. You can bring your levels up and down to help the ear not get fatigued by just blaring music; it moves around a little bit. I think from that standpoint, using the XL-4 gives us a great option as far as dynamics and effects changes.
"[Dre] allows me the freedom of doing what I think should happen," Colvard continues. "He comes out every day and he usually listens to see what's going on and hears what it sounds like - he's amazed at how venues sound different each night and make his songs sound different. At the same time, he's given this trust to me to make it happen. It's a great working relationship for both of us. He's backed me as far as what I needed from the creative end to make the hip hop sound re-created live, the way it should be. So from that standpoint, it's a pleasure to work with him.
"The main thing was making sure that we had the proper amount of subs in ratio to full-range cabinets. A lot of shows really don't cater to the sub end of the spectrum; this one has to. We have 24 DB-8 subwoofers that are from Maryland Sound. We also have 12 SB 1000s, which are the EAW sub. All of those subs are on the floor, and they give a great feel throughout the audience. And if you stand in front of the venue and listen to the cars going by, they have that same feel to them. The object is to re-create that live."
LOUD STAGEHandling monitors and mixing on a Midas XL-4 was Sean Sturge. Sturge, who has managed monitors for a number of hip hop artists, runs a stage monitor setup, including 22 single 12-inch EAW 850 wedges and sidefills, with 12 SB 1000 subs.
"The new Sennheiser [SKM-5000 Platinum] mics and the new dbx 160 SLs make a pretty good combination," Sturge notes. "I'm still stuck on my XL-4. With rap, I don't think there's any other console you can use, because you can go through scenes; artists switch microphones and go back and forth, so it's very helpful. Dre, being a producer, his stuff has to sound like it's in the studio. Everything has to sound correct, which is the same for any artist. But with an artist who doesn't produce their own music, it's more your judgment than anything else. With him, he can definitely let you know, `Hey, that's not cool; I can hear it, because it's my music.' But that hasn't been a problem. It's been a cool, smooth tour.
"We're basically running tracks off the MiniDisc, and all I'm using are some 160 SLs with a straight, flat EQ. I've got a lot of sidefills, six 850s, 12 SB 1000s, onstage. It's a loud, loud stage. There's 10 wedges across the front, all 1-by-12s. Very loud."
"The biggest challenge [with this tour] was probably taking the three different sound companies and putting them together," concludes crew chief Mark Bernich. "In general, we've been very lucky considering the amount of gear. A lot of times you take two different companies, and you run into a mess of problems. We were actually lucky; it worked perfectly. We didn't have to change anything."
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