Rihanna's much anticipated "Diamonds" World Tour kicked off in early March for 27 dates peppered across the U.S. and Canada through May—with more dates on the global horizon stretching into the fall. With Eighth Day Sound at the production helm, the audio kit included a pair of DiGiCo SD7s and a d&b audiotechnik PA provided by Eighth Day Sound, with Kyle Hamilton at FOH and Ed Ehrbar on monitors.
Last October, the group undertook an intense promotional tour ("7-7-7") hitting seven countries in seven days for seven shows. Eighth Day supplied four complete control systems—two in Europe; one in the U.S. and another in Mexico City—so the engineers were able to simply walk in and mix. Although Ehrbar was working on an SD7 for the whirlwind week, Hamilton had to make do with another digital desk and was happy to be back on the SD7.
"Getting back on the SD7 for the Diamonds tour was like a homecoming… 'Yes, I'm back on my desk!,'" Hamilton laughs. "When I was first introduced to DiGiCo, I was using D5 on Mary J Blige and Lionel Richie. Then the SD7 came out, I used it with Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson, Prince and now Rihanna. I've had many years on the desk. The SD7 just feels right. It's the digital desk that feels analog to me; it sounds warm. I don't have to do a whole lot to make what I want to accomplish happen. Some desks color your sound and I like the fact that the SD7 is transparent. What you put in is what you get out of it. Also, this console has tons of headroom."
Each SD7 is in an Optocore fiber loop with 2 DiGiCo SD192kHz racks along with one mini SD rack to wrangle the mass of over 96 inputs for the 4-piece band and backup singers. The majority of the inputs were taken up by three drum kits and two keyboard rigs, with 24 channels of Pro Tools. The set list, comprised of 35 songs, is broken into acts, each representing a different facet of the singer's repertoire—from Reggae to rock and more.
"There's a lot going on," Hamilton adds, "and I'm taking complete advantage of all the effects I have onboard. Every 'act' within the show has a different kind of sound, so I couldn't mix this show in a static form and create all the different variances of sound. I have to rely heavily on snapshots from song to song. Typically, as a rule, I don't like to mix using snapshots because it can get tricky and confusing. Unfortunately, in this show, there's so much going on between mutes and key settings, I couldn't possibly do it without using snapshots. We're running a lot of Pro Tools tracks, so in this situation, where we had 10 weeks of rehearsal time, I was able to make that transition easily and clearly think it out.
"Also, I do have a little outboard rack with some Avalon mic pre's that I like to use on her voice, but other than that, everything I need is within the desk."
Hamilton multitracks the show every night using an RME MADIFace interface to Pro Tools. "We record 96 channels to Pro Tools—a two–track mix to a hard disc recorder— strictly for archival purposes. Although, you never know if she'll want to do a live record from this… I have ambient mics set up and everything so she definitely could make a live performance out of it. Rihanna's music director, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, listens to everything every day. They are very hands-on with what goes on with the sound… Happily, the comments have been all positive!"
Monitor engineer Ehrbar, who has toured with the artist since 2010, has worked with DiGiCo consoles over the years, including SD10s and SD8 during his tenure with Tom Jones. "These consoles sound amazing and are very easy to use. I was able to set the basic parameters on the SD7 during the 5-6 weeks of rehearsals for this tour and now can fine tune from there every night to give some dynamics to the set. The beauty of the console is you can put everything where you want. I like to keep my banks organized, so I'll have banks of keys, guitars, vocal, talkbacks and can label them so they're very easy to get to. The new software is very cool… There's so much it can do and I'm excited to start getting into it."
For Rhianna, who uses a single in-ear monitor and d&b side-fills and downstage wedges, Ehrbar's making use of the internal effects including several onboard reverb and delays. "I'm using a plate reverb for her to thicken up the vocals. She likes a full, punchy mix… she likes to be able to feel it. So I give her a full mix in her ears, with a lot of vocal, and the same for the side fills.
"I'm also loving the SD7's matrix system. With everyone—band and crew—on ears within the shout system (talkback), I can have it on a PFL and still move around and be reachable in case anyone needs anything. But so far, it's been pretty smooth. I'm loving working with these musicians, too, who are all spectacular and real professionals. They're so good and make it way easy to recreate the sound of the albums because she's such a musical chameleon and they're all very different. Another beauty of the console is that you can save the mix, making it easy to recreate the integrity of the song. And the feedback we're getting has all been great."
The "Diamonds" World Tour continues through May in the U.S. and heads to Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the fall.
Diamonds Audio Crew: James Corbin, Monitor Tech/Crew Chief; Trevor Waite, FOH Tech/Systems Engineer; Lauren Crowley, RF Coordinator; James Lamarca, Show Coms/PA Tech; Eoin Collins, PA Tech; Edward Ehrbar, Monitor Engineer.