Photo: Marc Delcore, Britney: Piece of Me's musical director and keyboard player, seated at the DiGiCo SD10 house console with FOH engineer Robert "Cubby" Colby (left) and 3G Productions' Julio Valdez just outside the mixing bunker
Britney Spears is currently taking a break from touring, settling into a two-year residency on the Las Vegas Strip at Planet Hollywood's AXIS theater, which was revamped for the purpose at a reported cost of $20 million with new staging, lighting, projection, and sound equipment, including a pair of DiGiCo digital audio mixing consoles. Britney: Piece of Me, which has already grossed nearly $18 million, brings a dance club atmosphere to the 4,600-seat theater, where the singer, backed by 14 dancers and a four-piece band, performs hits from her 15-year career.
Marc Delcore, the show's musical director and keyboard player, appreciates the finesse with which veteran front-of-house engineer Robert "Cubby" Colby, using the DiGiCo SD10 console, is able to deliver every nuance of the band's performance to the audience. "I spend as much time as I can during soundcheck with Cubby," reports Delcore, who joined Spears in early 2000 as a keyboard sound designer and programmer before first appearing onstage with her on the 2009 Circus tour. "If I ask him to bump a track that might not be sitting where I need it, the flexibility to make that change but also keep what we just did is really important for me."
According to Colby, the DiGiCo console's snapshot functionality enables him to translate the tracks coming off stage, which have been carefully crafted by the musicians, to the audience. "With the help of virtual soundcheck and snapshots I'm able to recall sequenced tracks that are a very big part of a show like this, especially a dance show," he says. "Britney sings every song live, but there are additional tracks when they're doing the heavy dance numbers. Snapshots give Marc the security of knowing that these levels that they work on so hard translate to the live environment."
"Britney pretty much has to stick to her script, but I have a lot of freedom to play different chords or different sounds," continues Delcore. "Anything that the band throws at him, Cubby hears right away and he makes the adjustment. He catches everything and is able to make those adjustments with the console. It's important for him to be able to make those changes on the fly. He's such a great engineer."
Monitor engineer Johnny Balistrere, generating 42 sends to side fills and wedges for Spears and the dancers, with in-ear feeds for the band, had not previously used a DiGiCo console. Once he learned that he would be using an SD5, Balistrere spent some time on the phone with Matt Larson, national sales manager at Group One, DiGiCo's U.S. distributor, who also directed him to an online video tutorial. "It's a great training video," says Balistrere. "I was able to retain most of what I watched and apply it to this console. It's the most impressive, well-thought-out console I have ever used in my career. You can operate it with ease."
Balistrere continues, "It's a very musical console. Certain things I want to be digital, certain things I want to be analog. The fact that I can customize digital and analog sounds in my mixes, separating inputs into a digital head amp or putting a DigiTube [tube emulation] on and making it a little more gritty, is one of the greatest features."
By chaining effects, Balistrere is also able to deliver significant sound pressure levels to Spears' wedges without having to worry about feedback, he says. "With condenser mics and headsets, I'll take a vocal and send it to five or six effects, turn the sends down, and use them as vocal boosts with minimal effect. I'm able to get 112 or 113 dB, A-weighted, three feet from the wedges with her Crown CM-311A headset mic without even a hint of feedback. I'd never experienced that in my life until I used a DiGiCo console."
Balistrere prefers to fix problem inputs at the source rather than use subtractive EQ. "But with the DiGiCo console I find I'm running even flatter EQs than I was previously in other consoles. So I can experiment more with my mic technique and placement, and not have to go right to the EQ section and cut it. It's a very easy, precise, smooth console. I've got to say, it's hard to go back to anything else!"
Julio Valdez, systems engineer and designer for 3G Productions - the rental house that supplied the show's DiGiCo desks and d&b loudspeaker system - notes that the SD10 and SD5 were the natural choices for this massive production that is nightly drawing capacity crowds. "The sheer number of channels, pristine 96K sound, and ease of use were all huge factors in making these consoles the right gear for the job," he says. "They say you're only as good as your tools, but I really must compliment Cubby on the consistently exceptional mix he's providing. He really makes the SD10 shine and I know he's very happy with DiGiCo, as we all are."
Cubby agrees: "My relationship with DiGiCo goes back to the company's inception and I can honestly say that out of all of the digital consoles available to musical productions and mixers around the world, DiGiCo holds the key to undisputed audio quality and function. And with spill sets and other new features, the company continues to set the bar even higher. I love the SD10."
"I also have to give a lot of credit to Marc Delcore," he adds. "To be able to work on pursuing the best possible musical experience and audio quality with a musical director and keyboard player of his caliber really benefits this whole production. The same can be said of production manager Jason Danter, who has worked with Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and many others. Music is the number one focus of this production, and it has been a pleasure to be part of a show with such great audio facilities and a band that really cares about how it sounds."
Britney: Piece of Me began its most recent leg on April 25. Following a summer break the show is scheduled to run through August into early September, tentatively wrapping up in February 2016.