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Monday, 24 March 2014 20:22

Solotech Takes on Justin Timberlake’s World Tour Audio

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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Like so many of today’s touring acts, Justin Timberlake’s show is more Las Vegas extravaganza than simple concert. Wireless microphones are a must for the show, which recently completed the first of two North American legs of its eleven month long world tour and is slated to kick off a two month European leg in London on March 30. 

Because of the complexity of the staging and the different venues around the world, one of the big challenges the production faces is making sure that antennas are strategically placed in a way that gives full coverage while keeping audience line of sight completely unimpeded. 

The production design of the tour has the show beginning on a completely bare stage with a huge video projection screen behind; the performers make their entrances from beneath the stage by elevator platforms. A secondary “B” stage located beyond the front of hall mix position offered another wireless reception challenge.

SOLOTECH 4CTimberlake’s team turned to Solotech, a Montreal-based production company specializing in large scale live events, beginning with the 1976 Montreal Olympics.  According to Solotech RF Technician Éric Marchand, the tech wizard touring with the band, “A major tour uses so many frequencies these days, and production designs have become so demanding, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. We designed the system to cover everything from antennas discreetly hiding in plain sight on stage. The actual wireless racks, along with me and my scanners, all live under the stage” 

Marchand and Solotech chose Shure as a key wireless supplier for the Timberlake show. The tour uses ten channels of Shure Axient wireless for backing vocals and the horn section, plus four dual-channel Shure UHF-R bodypack systems on all guitars and bass. Shure gear was specified for the entire band, dancers, and much of the backline crew, who were covered by 26 channels of Shure PSM 1000 personal monitors. 24 of those monitors ran through a single pair of antennas using a series of four Shure PA821A wideband antenna combiners.

To ensure that everyone hears what they need to hear during the show, 20 monitor mixes are required covering Timberlake, ten musicians and four backing vocals. In addition, the six dancers share a mix, while the drummer uses a Shure P6HW hardwired system. PSM 1000 systems are also in the ears of the key backline techs: the monitor engineer; instrument techs for guitar, keyboard, percussion, and drums, and two more audio assistants.

Since large cities often present major RF signal conflicts that have to be worked around, coordinating 60 channels of wireless audio from city to city can be tricky. Marchand says that even though he routinely uses two scanners to monitor the RF landscape, Axient’s interference detection and avoidance system and frequency diversity feature have proven helpfu,. “My main attention is on Justin’s mic, so I have the channels set up in Prompt mode instead of automatic. That way, it alerts me whenever there’s a channel with issues,” he says.  So far, the technical execution is reported to be flawless. 

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