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Toronto’s Favorite Son

Drake Gets a Champion’s Welcome at OVO Fest 2019

Photo: James Oliver

The announcement came from Drake himself, delivered to an estimated crowd of over 2 million people at the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship parade in June: the rapper’s perennial fan-favorite OVO Fest would return for 2019.

Held over two consecutive nights at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage, a lakeside outdoor amphitheater with a capacity of 16,000 in the heart of the city, OVO Fest boasted a much-hyped lineup featuring acts like B2K, Chingy, Ying Yang Twins and others on August 4, while Drake himself held down the evening of August 5 with a little help from some surprise high-profile pals, including Meek Mill, Cardi B, Offset, Chris Brown, Megan Thee Stallion, Tyga and more.

The event is Drake’s annual celebration of and thank you to his home city, and it’s especially fitting that the initial show announcement came during the Raps’ massive parade, as OVO Fest felt a lot like its second act—thanks in no small part to the massive replica of the NBA Championship trophy that was unveiled during the artist’s second-day set.

Mix had a chance to catch up with Drake’s crew in the days following the homecoming bash, and FOH engineer Demetrius Moore says the long list of special guests and other surprises required a lot of improvisation on the crew’s part.

Photo: James Oliver

“I can’t even remember how many guest artists we had,” says Moore. “The set list is one thing, and we kind of switch it up on-the-fly. We have our talk-backs to communicate with each other, and if a guest artist wasn’t ready, we’d discuss whether to go to the next guest artist or the next song. We never soundcheck the guest artists; they come out, and we have to make sure they hear the music and vocals on the spot.”

Moore has been working in live sound since 2003, when he was on tour with Jay-Z and 50 Cent as a technician with Cleveland, OH’s Eighth Day Sound. In 2010, he got his first mixing gig when Drake’s then-FOH engineer was out on another tour.

For OVO Fest and Drake’s preceding tour dates throughout 2018 and 2019, Moore has been mixing on a DiGiCo SD7 Quantum and leans heavily on an Avalon VT-737sp preamp for the rapper’s vocal, as well as a BAE 1073 pre and a suite of UAD plug-ins via Ableton Live. Drake uses a Sennheiser 9000 mic with the 5235 capsule.

“My Ableton is all automated, and it’s all per song, per snapshot,” Moore continues, offering an overview of his setup. “I have reverbs like the Lexicon 224 and the AMS RMX 16 plug-in. For delays, I’m using the TC Electronic 2290 plug-in. I use a couple of Eventide special effects for a couple of songs, the UltraChannel, the Blackhole and the H3000. Every song has at least one snapshot. It’s all timecoded to the Ableton playback on stage. My console then sends MIDI out to my Ableton at FOH to change my effects.”

He notes that they took virtually the same show and setup down to the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, which Drake headlined on September 27 in front of another massive crowd.

The PA for OVO Fest was adapted from that used for his Aubrey & The Three Migos North American tour in 2018 and Assassination Vacation Tour of Europe in early 2019, both of which were presented in-the-round with a substantial audio system from Adamson Systems Engineering.

“It was the first hip-hop show with all subs flown—no ground subs whatsoever,” Moore explains. “We had 64 in total for OVO. The first row and the last row, low-end wise, were exactly the same pressure. That was great, because, with a lot of hip-hop shows, you go sit in the front row and you’re getting pounded by bass; we wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case, but that you still got enough kick all the way at the back, so it was about great coverage and good SPLs all over.”

In addition to the four hangs of 16 Adamson E119 subs—two on each side of the stage in end-fire configurations—the system design for OVO Fest boasted main arrays of 24 Adamson E15 three-way, true line source enclosures per side; outfills with eight S10 over eight S10s (narrow-dispersion) two-way, full-range sub-compact cabinets per side; four S7p point-source boxes for front fills; and small arrays of four S10s as stage fills for the performers on each side, all powered by Lab.gruppen PLM20K44s with Lake LM44 processing and supplied by Eighth Day Sound.

Additionally, there are five delay hangs of six S10s permanently installed at the venue, which went a long way in ensuring consistent voicing throughout.

As was the case on the preceding tour dates, Moore relied on Eighth Day systems tech Chris Fischer to get a peak performance from his PA. Fisher uses Smaart V7 and Adamson’s Blueprint AV design and simulation software to adjust time alignment, levels and totality while also relying on his years of touring experience.

“The biggest tool I’ll use is my ears, just to make sure that the tracks that I’ve played through are sounding consistent and making sure nothing got out of whack,” he says.

FOH engineer Demetrius Moore
FOH engineer Demetrius Moore

Mixing monitors at OVO Fest was tour veteran and first-time Drake collaborator Paul Klimson, who has previously worked with The Roots on The Tonight Show and toured with Kelly Clarkson and Justin Timberlake. Klimson, who mixed on a DiGoCo SD5, discussed the importance of Moore’s PA and mix to the stage sound.

“The sound is quite full upfront. Demetrius really gets the low end right, which is huge on stage—especially for hip hop, as that’s the foundation,” says Klimson. “We also had the small S10 arrays on each side just to fill the stage with a little more direct punch instead of relying on the back of the boxes from the main PA. It was definitely in conjunction with the low end that Demetrius was providing.”

Drake and the backing musicians were on Sennheiser in-ear systems, with JH Audio Roxanne IEMs.

“With Timberlake, it was all instruments, mono, vocal bus and then the band stereo bus; with Drake, it’s just his vocal,” Klimson says, contrasting a pair of high-profile clients. “I route the band bus out to a Neve Portico II processor, and I use a little bit of the widening in the Q section of the band and the red ‘Silk’ to make a little more of a gap in the middle of the ear mix for the vocal. I run the vocal through a Neve Shelford Channel, with a little compression on that, a little bit of the blue ‘Silk’ channel to make it more prominent, then that went back into the console. Then on the desk, usually on my vocal bus, I’ll be a little more surgical, but the flavor definitely comes from the Neve Shelford Channel.”

“A lot of the time when Drake goes out, people say, ‘Wow, you have a lot of PA!’ And yes, we do,” Moore says. “We strive for quality, and have a lot of PA to make sure we are covering every section and every seat to give the maximum SPL and the best possible experience”—which was especially the case for the hometown crowd at OVO Fest 2019.