Photo: Eighth Day Sound's Stephen Curtin manning the FOH mix for Beyoncé's Formation world tour on one of the production's three DiGiCo SD7 consoles, the other two being located in monitor world
When Grammy-winning artist Beyoncé’s Formation Tour pulled into Miami on April 27 for its first show, onlookers would have been forgiven if they thought it looked more like an invasion. Formation requires 56 semi-trucks to transport a production that has been was described as a “game-changer” for stadium concerts and that includes elements such as a 60-foot-tall rotating LED “Monolith,” a treadmill runway and a secondary stage that stores and pours 2,000 gallons of water.
Following the same linear chapters of Lemonade, the new album the tour is supporting, each rotation of the Monolith represents a new chapter of the show. When the show recently moved onto its European leg, it required five Boeing 747 aircraft to transport it, including a massive d&b PA system, whose main arrays use 96 speaker enclosures, provided by Eighth Day Sound.
Taking up far less space but playing an outsized role in this massive production are three DiGiCo SD7 audio consoles, also provided by Eighth Day Sound. One is used at front of house by FOH mixer Stephen Curtin, senior staff engineer at Eighth Day Sound, who has worked with Beyoncé since her landmark appearance at the Super Bowl Halftime event in 2013.
Two others are used for monitors, one for Bey herself and the other for the band, mixed by James Berry and James Corbin, respectively, working from a kind of studio-type enclosure in the rear of one of the semi trailers that is backed up in each stadium’s broadcast-connection bay in order to keep the 360-degree stage as clear as possible.
What would have been a cabling nightmare of gargantuan proportions has been made manageable with all three consoles connected on two fiber loops that also connect them to four DiGiCo SD-Racks, with a fifth rack dedicated solely to the FOH console.
“Not having to use a splitter makes this so much simpler,” says Curtin. “We’re able to take everything directly from the stage cage, both AES digital and analog inputs. It’s a seamless connection between the consoles, and that gives us redundancy between the consoles, too.”
If a problem should arise, he says, it can be observed by all three mixers, making it much easier to track down. “Unlike with a split system, where you’d have three outputs coming off the splitter, and you wouldn’t know if the problem was on the stage or on one of the splits,” he says. “This makes troubleshooting much easier.”
The elimination of all copper cabling for the audio has also streamlined the audio transport and in the process made the sound vastly cleaner. Curtin is using a combination of DiGiCo onboard effects and integrated Waves plug-in processing, as well as a few select outboard processors, such as a TC Electronic TC6000.
With the spotlight always on Beyoncé’s voice, her vocals are being processed by a unique “vocal effects computer” created by programmer Carl Golembeski, working with the singer’s studio engineers and using components such as an apogee Symphony I/O and Apple Mac to recreate the vocal sound effects she gets on recordings. The vocal signal comes to Curtin’s SD7, which then routes it as an AES signal to the computer, which in turn sends a processed stereo mix of the effects and a mono signal of the dry vocal back to the console.
Remarkably, there is virtually no latency, thanks in large part to the SD7’s Stealth Digital Processing. “It’s an amazing console and the only one that could do what we need for a show like this,” says Curtin.
Jason Kirschnick, Chief Operations Officer, International Operations for Eighth Day Sound, says the DiGiCo SD7 has positive implications for the company beyond the Formation Tour. “It brings an entire new level of efficiency to live sound,” says Kirschnick, who notes that Eighth Day Sound is one of the largest users of DiGiCo consoles in the world, with several dozen in its inventory. (“All of which are out on the road at the moment,” he adds happily.)
He cites features such as the video displays embedded into the meter bridges of the SD7s used for monitors, which let mixers James Berry and James Corbin see what’s happening on stage as clearly as if they were next to it. “We can take the output of the video and drop it into the fiber loop that the consoles are on,” he explains. “There’s not another console that can do that. Combined with the routing possibilities it offers and the I/O counts and onboard effects, the SD7s are the perfect fit for a production like this.”