22/07/2011 High Wycombe
Take That’s record-breaking Progress Live stadium tour is being witnessed by well two million fervent fans across Europe, who are enjoying music from right across the band’s career, as well as some of Robbie Williams’ solo hits. Sennheiser microphones and monitoring systems are an essential part of the production, ensuring that the boys hit the right note.
All five members of Take That are using Sennheiser SKM 5200 II handheld wireless microphones with dynamic MD 5235 heads and EM 3732 II dual receivers, as well as 2000 series wireless monitors. Further monitoring systems are used by the backing band, dancers and technical crew, while wired backing vocal mics are e 935s.
One of the biggest challenges of the show is its sheer size, with a B stage projecting well into each stadium. This has meant the addition of Sennheiser’s A 5000-CP circularly polarised antennas alongside a dual set of transmitters and receivers.
“Sennheiser UK’s Andy Lillywhite and Mark Saunders helped us to set the system up. We ended up doing some fairly involved stuff to get microphones working 70 metres away inside the B stage,” says Simon Hodge, monitor engineer for the backing musicians. “We’ve got some very long runs of aerial cables, but they devised a system with both head and local amplifiers to try and get the gain from the mics up and it works really well.”
“With the show featuring a B stage many metres from the main stage and the boys all on wireless personal monitoring, distance was a definite concern. The 2000 series IEM systems with AC 3200 active combiners and A 5000-CP antennas have proved equal to the task,” adds Andy. Another challenge was that the stages and the ramp linking them feature a high proportion of metal screens, which are a key part of the production’s aesthetic, as well as providing places for the band members to hide at various points during the set.
“These shows are a testing environment for microphones – much of it takes place out in front of the PA, we’ve had humid and wet days, but they sound fantastic,” says front-of-house engineer Gary Bradshaw. “The rejection is remarkable, the sound level in front of the PA is very high and there’s been no problem whatsoever with feedback. All I have to do is bring the mics down when they’re not singing, but that’s nothing to do with the equipment, it’s just the law of physics.”
Quite apart from the British climate, with a song called The Flood it was inevitable that water would be involved in the set design and the Sennheiser microphones have been called on to really prove their water-resistance. “With none of the UK venues having a roof, one of the main concerns was moisture. Even if it doesn’t rain the show has its own water feature, so the risk of the boys’ radio mics getting wet at some point was something like 100%,” says Andy. “We expanded on the moisture proofing work that we had done on the SKM 5200 microphones for the previous tour, which seemed to do the trick of keeping water and delicate electronics apart. So far, despite rain right from the start of the run in Sunderland, none of the mics have succumbed to the regular showers that they have received.”
The water-resistance was given a thorough test – albeit unintentionally – before the tour even started, which the microphones passed with flying colours. “The mics have ridden all kind of wet situations,” says the tour’s monitor supervisor Pete McGlynn. “Even during one rehearsal when the waterfalls for The Flood were activated prematurely and around 40,000 gallons of water came down at the wrong time and drenched the boys, their vocals were still heard perfectly. That’s a testament in itself to the equipment.”
As well as the fans being able to hear their heroes’ every word, it is vitally important for the artist to be happy and for the overall production to run smoothly, so as well as working with the audio crew, the Sennheiser team liaised closely with Keely Myers from The Production Office. And they certainly appear to have achieved their aim, according to Take That monitor engineer Steve Lutley. “Mr Barlow has mentioned how the capsules are working out for him on the B stage. He’s noticed that, which is a really good thing,” he says. “And Robbie is also happy with the SKM 5200 microphone.”
“Sennheiser’s support has been fantastic,” adds Pete. “They’ve provided everything we’ve asked for and provided solutions to problems that have arisen from the environment. The high power of the new 2000 series in-ears means they are working very well, even in this environment, while the performance of the microphones and instrument systems has been unsurpassed.”
“The Progress tour is one of the biggest single tours that Sennheiser UK has worked with,” concludes Mark Saunders. “The scale of the show has meant that even the newer products have been pushed to their limits, but this sort of shows is what the 2000 series monitors and EM 3732 receivers were designed for. Simon, Gary, Pete and Steve have set very high standards in a very testing set-up to ensure that the guys in the band have seamless audio and RF performance.”