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Red-TX broadcasts MJ tribute across Europe

A string of international artists descended on Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium this month to perform at Michael Forever: a tribute concert celebrating the life and music of Michael Jackson, which was broadcast live to cinemas across Europe courtesy of Red-TX. Paul Watson reports...

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two-and-a-half years since the king of pop’s untimely death; and the timing of this concert could also be seen as unfortunate, to say the least: bang in the middle of Jackson’s doctor’s controversial trial. However, that didn’t seem to matter on the night, as more than 50,000 fans turned up to watch some of the biggest names in music from both sides of the Atlantic perform some great, some awful, renditions of Jackson’s best-loved material in the Welsh national stadium on October 9th. The set itself was immense, and was crafted in the shape of Jacko’s trademark hat and white glove – the hat comprising the PA and the lighting fixtures, and the glove the stage area. Red-TX was responsible for capturing the audio for broadcast in stereo and 5.1, which was then fed to the respective 2D and 3D TV units and streamed live to a string of 2D and 3D cinemas in the UK, Ireland, and Spain. Although vastly experienced in broadcasting large-scale events to mass audiences, Red-TX co-director Tim Summerhayes says there is always a new problem to solve, and that positioning the audience mics on Michael Forever proved quite a challenge. “The mic rigging is definitely the hardest part of what we’re doing here; we actually spent most of Wednesday afternoon rigging the mics,” Summerhayes explains, as we stroll towards FOH position before rehearsals begin. “If you go too far back, you’ll get too much delay to use for the program, but if the audience is reacting between the acts, then of course you need to bring in the stuff coming from the rear of the venue. We tend to judge this during rehearsals.” A colossal 300-metres of cable ran down from the roof, and a selection of DPA 4017s and Sennheiser 416s and 816s were placed around the arena: at the front of the stage, the rear of the arena, and hung frighteningly high at the sides of the venue, to achieve the best possible coverage. “We needed to capture the audience at the sides so we dropped the mics from the top of the arena 38 metres down,” says Summerhayes (pictured at soundcheck working in Red-TX’s new OB truck, left), as I begin to develop vertigo. “And we needed to use mics with a tight pattern to get down amongst the people.” A massive 140 channels were coming from stage via three 48-way stage boxes to the spanking new Red-TX truck: Red II, freshly equipped with a Studer Vista 8 console and a state-of-the-art 5.1 PMC monitoring system. Rehearsals were extensive, and bloody chaotic, to be honest, though through no fault of the Pinewood-based team, I should add. Red-TX is a very well oiled ship, and the guys were ahead of the game at all times, which is more than can be said for several other departments, some of which were running hours late. I shared Summerhayes’ frustration on several occasions as we watched what seemed like 100 ‘stage managers’ run around like tiny headless chickens via his main stage monitor feed. The PA system comprised six hangs of 18 Clair i-5 and i-5b boxes, and was provided by Concert Sound/Clair Bros. Paul Boothroyd (Paul McCartney’s FOH engineer, pictured left) looked after FOH position, acting as liaison between the sound production engineer and the sound production manager for the Michael Jackson band, which, incidentally included one of the world’s best drummers, Michael White. “What we’re doing different on the main hangs is we have the i-5 full range cabinet 18-deep, and normally you would run i-5bs next to that on a one-to-one basis, but we have doubled up on the i-5bs to try and give it some more warmth in here to round it out,” Boothroyd reveals. “You’ve then got a side hang left and right that covers the immediate sides where the fronts fall off, configured just the same, and then a rear hang each side to take it just beyond the 270-cell.” A further four delay towers of i-5 were positioned close to FOH, and more than a dozen Clair BT-218 subs were positioned underneath the front of stage, along with some frontfills. The main console at FOH was a Midas XL8, which was running 80 channels; and an Avid VENUE Profile console handled 24 channels for US rock band Alien Ant Farm’s set. A second Profile was deployed for the production desk, handling VT playback, ‘voice of God’ announcements, and the presenters, with some of the feeds coming from Red-TX and some from the side of the stage; and at monitor position, a Yamaha PM7D was the main console, but there was also a Midas Venice, an Avid Profile D-Show, and a Yamaha PM5D available. 75 channels of RF was utilised in total, with a range of radio mics on offer, the majority of which were Shure BETA 58As, though a selection of Sennheiser mics were also used, most notably the particularly ‘blinged’ one that Leona Lewis used during her excellent versions of I’ll be There and Stranger in Moscow. Other highlights included Christina Aguilera’s spine-tingling rendition of Jackson’s favourite song, Nat King Cole’s Smile, and the breathtaking Yolanda Adams, who stole the show with an immaculate version of Earth Song. The live broadcast required 52 snapshots and the 140 tracks were ‘crow barred’ down to 128, then recorded onto a Pyramix system, Summerhayes’ preferred platform. “We had a shambolic dress run on the Saturday which threw up all sorts of logistical problems at the staging end, but we had no real time to address them, so a lot was made up on the fly come show time,” reflects Summerhayes, post-event. “But in the end it actually went very well, especially considering how under-rehearsed the show itself seemed to be.”