For the past four years, Rick Wright Jr has occupied the FOH position for international pop sensation Jason Derulo with a Meyer Sound PA system in tow. Daniel Gumble caught up with him on a particularly eventful night on the European leg of the star’s recent tour to find out why the firm’s LEO family is now his “go to” system.
A piercing collective shriek emanates from outside of Prague’s Tipsport Arena shortly after 9pm on October 25 as Jason Derulo emerges from behind a glass window and onto the venue’s balcony with microphone in hand to deliver an impromptu acapella set for the 1,000-strong throng of die hard fans congregated below. It’s not quite the spectacle they were expecting, but for many it will live long in the memory, not least because many with tickets had opted to head home prior to the star’s unexpected emergence upon hearing that the show had been cancelled due to unspecified safety concerns regarding the stage area.
Rewind a few hours to 6pm and the mood was rather different. Bracing the city’s chilly conditions, an army of mostly teenage Derulo devotees, many with parents in tow, are gathered outside the venue in anticipation of doors opening. But there is a delay, as PSNEurope discovers upon entering the arena through the back door as we prepare to meet with Derulo’s FOH engineer of the past four years, Rick Wright Jr.
Inside, the venue, home to the Sparta Prague ice hockey team, feels colder than it does outside. The stage is currently a mass of rigging and stage crew hard at work seeking a solution for those aforementioned safety concerns, and Wright is on-hand to assist where required and to ensure the show is ready to proceed with as little disruption as possible.
However, after much deliberation and a valiant effort from all involved to get things back on track, the decision is taken almost three hours later to pull the gig, much to the consternation of those still hoping to catch a glimpse of the man they paid to see. Though some decided to leave, those who stuck around didn’t have to wait too long for their patience to be at least partly rewarded, with Derulo taking to the balcony with a member of Meyer Sound’s LEO family to perform a stripped back show.
While all this was taking place, PSNEurope found time to sit down with Wright, still in high spirits and extremely generous with his time given the extenuating circumstances, for a chat about how the Meyer Sound PA system - supplied by Wigwam Acoustics - currently out on the road with Derulo, has added new sonic dimensions to what is an ambitious and highly dynamic live show. He tells us that the packet system specified for the tour is only out with Derulo for about 15 per cent of the year.
“Jason has big productions, and we only use a packet system around 15 per cent of the time,” he explains. “This is a seven week tour, so there are 45 other weeks in the year where we’re hopping across all four corner of the globe. As far as audio is concerned and being his FOH guy, it’s always tough to work from what’s being created from his studio in California to going around the world representing that. So that 15 per cent of the time that we’re out on the road with a packet system we’re really able to dive in and make a lot of things better. Because we’re constantly off and on planes we don’t get a lot of rehearsal time, so to work for him you’ve got to be ready for the things you don’t know you need to be ready for!
“I’ve always tried to go in and maximise everything I can at each show, but with this system - the LEO family, which I also used on the 2016 tour - I already knew it was one of my cornerstones. This thing is so transparent and responsive to what I do on the control side. I didn’t want to change anything from that 2016 tour. I’m able to do a lot of things differently audio-wise from ‘16, but I know this system is still the same. The first show on this tour that the booking agents and Jason’s manager heard, they both came off the rise with a face of awe and shock.”
The packet system in question is comprised of 22 x LEO, 24 x LYON, 8 x LYON WIDE, 16 x LEOPARD, 14 x 900LFC and 12 x 1100LFC, with numbers changing slightly from venue to venue. Typically, though, main hangs are comprised of LEO with LYONs underneath, while side hangs are LYONs/LYON WIDE. There is also a hang of 900s between the main and side hangs, with 1100s on the floor and LEOPARDs used as infills where necessary. Stage side fills are LEOPARDs and 900s.
“Over the course of the tour, one of the main things I’ve liked about this system is how flexible it’s been,” Wright continues. “Because it’s LEO family we have LEOs, LYONs and LEOPARDs. The LEOPARDs are flown side fills, but there have been some smaller shows where we’ve hung all LYONs, and there have been some shows where we’ve hung four LEOs, so it’s been really versatile in that we have three products from the family and we can do different things to fit in with rigging capacities day-to-day and not really affect the soundfield or the sonic output. That’s what’s amazing about it.
“Also, one of the best things about this PA is the headroom. There are moments of the show where I can push it and - we’re now at show 24 on the tour - my system tech has never had to tap me on the shoulder and say, Hey, can you lighten up on it? It’s done everything I wanted it to do. It’s been so transparent and so telling, it’s like a litmus test. For instance, I’m able to do different digital configurations of Waves and UA and digital transmission over Midas preamps.”
Another key area in which the LEO family has impressed Wright is in its relation to the show’s visuals. “I was, at the time, part of the aesthetic design for the tour and I knew I didn’t want my PA to affect any of the visual lines,” he explains. “This PA could easily be another two or three metres forward, but right now our downstage motorpoint is on the downstage edge and it’s been that way all tour, and we have a 32ft runway. Jason’s mic sits there at about nine metres out for about 30 per cent of the show. Aesthetically, I don’t need that PA forward where 25 per cent of the crowd gets a blocked visual. Having that control and high coherence is nice.”
As with any show of this scale, there are, of course, challenges. Yet, says Wright, these have been easily overcome due to both his extensive knowledge of Derulo’s performance style and the flexibility of the LEO system.
“Some of the challenges are when he’s all the way out on the runway and he’s doing a combination of Michael Jackson mic stand tricks, to the whole R&B singer thing, doing his own vibrato by physically moving the mic. Some of those are a tough challenge,” he states. “We do have one ballad that’s a duet with one of our backing singers and that is a moment where, because of her proximity to the PA, it’s a bit of a challenge. But with the stereo imaging I can move a little bit. It’s FOH guy tricks.
“There is a good 30-40 per cent of the show where I am a spectator as well, just because the sonic palette is there and the dynamics of the band is controlled within their playing ability and some of my dynamic stuff.” Increasing calls for Wright’s services elsewhere in the venue signal the end of our time together, as he concludes: “This PA and the audio design allow me to enjoy the show and not have those palm sweating moments. It’s like the train is running itself down the track and you’re just making sure you move tracks at the right time. It’s a beautiful thing.”