May 2012 Issue 153
Thanks to his charismatic personality and dulcet tones, the popularity of Michael Bublé’s live performances show no sign of fading. It’s been over two years since it was first taken out on the road and Bublé’s fourth concert production - Crazy Love - is still working like a well-oiled machine. as the crew completed the recent European leg of the Canadian crooner’s tour, TPi’s Zoe Mutter and Kelly Murray found out the secrets of the show’s success.
Not many artists have the ability to sell out show after show, but the master of swing, Michael Bublé, seems to have nailed it. Last year, his Crazy Love tour raked in nearly £50 million, earning it eleventh place in Billboard’s annual Top 25 Tours. So what exactly makes a show remain successful after more than two years travelling the globe? Chris Fussell, Production Manager on the award-winning Canadian singer’s tour, explained: “Every production is built around the artist and in this case it’s a very classy show. The audience that comes to a Michael Bublé show is aged one to 101, which is why his shows have been so popular.”
Fussell’s career in the music industry started when he was a Backline Tech, touring with Jetboy, Juliana Hatfield, Helmet and Primus and later Beck in 1995. Fussell still works with Beck from time to time as well as production managing for the likes of Sheryl Crow, Foo Fighters and Beastie Boys.
The experienced and hardworking PM joined the Canadian star’s production the day after finishing touring with Katy Perry in March 2010 and has built up a reliable team ever since: “Every Production Manager has their circle of crew they like to work with. You get to continually add to that circle with some of the new guys coming up and also when you get the chance to work with new vendors,” he continued. “The staples are my Stage Manager, Dave Heard, and Production Coordinator, Sian Balogh. The three of us have worked together for many years.”
Initial production discussions for the high flying tour that has received praise from critics and fans alike revolved around designs developed by Mark Fisher and Kurt Wagner, the creative artists that “painted” the show based on input from Bublé. Explained Fussell: “From then on, it was my job to work with all of our vendors to make sure all elements were packaged to be as efficient as possible for the road.”
After carrying out two weeks of production rehearsals in Jacksonville, Florida, at Veterans Memorial Arena, the crew moved straight on to Orlando for the first show of the tour. “With all the amazing vendors and crew, packaging the production wasn’t too bad. Everything that was discussed and planned far ahead of loading in rehearsals came together nicely and we were all in a groove after the third show,” commented Fussell.
VALUABLE VENDOR SUPPORT
Most of the vendors for Crazy Love were in place when Fussell joined. He elaborated: “Dean Roney, from the tour’s audio, video control and camera vendor, Montreal-based Solotech, was Michael’s previous Production Manager, so working with him is always great, not to mention the amazing equipment, packaging and quality techs they provide.”
Working closely with Solotech on the tour was Nocturne, which provided the V9 wall as well as Kevin Carswell the Video Director. “Christie Lites have also been key. They have offices all around North America so the support they provide is truly amazing,” continued Fussell. “Our Crew Chief, Ryan Kell, and his team have kept the lighting rig in the same condition from show one to show 150,” the PM added.
Lite Alternatives was brought in by Fussell for extra support when Bublé opened the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin in September 2010. They worked side-by-side with the Christie team to make it a seamless transition and, according to the PM, the shows looked “larger than life”.
Tait Towers built the stage for the production - a traditional raked structure that was selected to fit in with the show’s sophisticated aesthetics. The largest obstacle the team was presented with was adding a B-stage at Bublé’s request. Added Fussell: “As the first two tour legs were already sold out, the question was where to put this without killing seats. One of Michael’s managers, Randy Berswick, and myself came up with the idea of a rolling B-stage. We hid it behind the mix and then rolled it out to the cross aisle in front of the mix. It worked really well and gave a real impromptu feel to the audience.”
On top of that, Tait provided automation with the main curtain, video walls and columns. The custom columns they built held 840 Barco Versa Tubes provided by Solotech, which track and spin up and downstage. “It’s very safe to say this tour would not have the look or efficiency without Winky, Adam Davis and Matt Hales from Tait. I honestly feel like a smarter person for having worked with them! EST also provided some great equipment and all the kit fitted nicely into 15 of their trucks as we moved around Europe. Likewise, the new fleet of buses from Phoenix is top notch. In fact, it’s the one place I sleep the best in the world,” said Fussell.
A PLEASURE TO MIX ON
Audio engineering for live productions and in the studio environment has been a lifelong passion for FOH Engineer, Craig Doubet, a graduate of Indiana University’s Audio Technology programme. From his first job at Universal Recording in Chicago, Doubet worked on numerous recordings at a variety of studios in Los Angeles before touring as FOH Engineer for Luis Miguel from 1995 to 1998 and then with KD Lang in 2003 for four years.
“I received a call from Michael Bublé’s management in March 2007 as they were readying the Call Me Irresponsible tour and we started in June of that year for that production, which ran until December 2008. We then started the Crazy Love promotional appearances in October 2009 and we are still out on that tour today,” the freelance engineer said.
Doubet chose to work with an Avid Venue Profile on tour, which he had used since it first appeared in 2007. The audio engineer made use of the majority of the console’s features; from the snapshots and plug-ins to the Virtual Soundcheck and Venue link. With the console configured for 80 inputs, 16 auxes and eight groups; Doubet took 70 from the stage, which comprised a 13-piece band.
“The console has been a workhorse and a pleasure to mix on. It suits me perfectly and operates quickly and efficiently. Plus, the plug-in’s are great, I only use four external pieces of equipment with it. The Virtual Soundcheck has been fantastic too - I have a pair of Meyer Sound HD1’s at the console that I can mix on during the day,” he added.
When mixing at FOH for Bublé’s shows, Doubet works with a selection of saved scenes that mostly contain mute, panning and VCA assign changes. However, the majority of the mixing is carried out on-the-fly - something that has been perfected over the course of almost two and a half years on the road. Although Bublé’s classic and polished vocals did not require any special effects, plug-ins acted as a valuable addition to Doubet’s audio set-up. For the sophisticated show, the engineer handpicked Drawmer TourBuss series, McDSP Channel G Compact, McDSP DE555 De-esser, McDSP CompressorBank, GML Parametric EQ, Focusrite Forte series, TC Electronic DVR2 and Sonnox Oxford Transient Modulator, amongst various other stock compressors and reverbs. Once the sound left the desk, it was sent via an AES output from Avid Venue Stage Rack to the system drive, with three Meyer Sound Galileo used for processing. Protools was then used to record the show direct from the mixing desk.
The extensive selection of musicians supporting Bublé meant that a combination of microphones were necessary. The Neumann KSM104 was picked for Bublé’s vocal mic alongside two Shure Beta 58’s for supporting vocals. Bublé’s RF vocal system was the Sennheiser SM5200 stick mic and receiver. A mixture of Shure Beta 52, Sennheiser e 901, Audix i5, Neumann KM184 and Sennheiser e 904 were selected for the drums, while the Radial J48, AKG C419 and Shure KSM32 performed well as guitar microphones. A total of eight DPA 4099 microphones were split between the trumpets, trombones and saxophones, along with a pair of DPA 4021 and six Sennheiser SM2000 mics for the section. A DPA 3521 Stereo Kit microphone were was also present to pick up the piano, in addition to a set of Schertler GP-DYN passive pickups. and four Radial Engineering passive mics. All DI’s were Radial Engineering J48’s and ProD8.
Commented Doubet: “I’m a big fan of DPA and Neumann microphones, but they have all performed really well for this tour. This show has quite large dynamic changes, acoustic instruments, and several different styles of music so I find it so much fun to mix.”
The last decade of Craig Brittain’s career has been spent freelancing as an audio technician and mixer, working for a few select audio companies in Vancouver, Canada, and travelling internationally with artists such as Tegan and Sara, Theory Of A Deadman and The Magic Numbers. Brittain was hired by Bublé’s touring team six years ago following a recommendation from a friend and has been mixing his monitors ever since.
For the majority of his time on the road with Bublé, Brittain has opted to use DiGiCo consoles. “For the Crazy Love tour I asked Solotech for a new DiGiCo SD7 and they in turn went and purchased one. They’ve since bought four more and the reasons are obvious. The console sounds amazing, is both flexible and easy to configure, and allows mixers such as myself virtually limitless options on both inputs and outputs,” he said.
In monitor world, Brittain ran around 48 actual mixes, including stems for Avioms. A total of six Meyer Sound MJF-212’s were spread out across the downstage edge, positioned as such to allow for even coverage in supplementing the in-ear mix. Brittain then flew six Meyer Sound M’elodies per side to help fill out the on-stage sound. As the production featured a mixture of wedges and IEMs, Sennheiser G2 transmitters and receivers, Shure’s PSM600HW and Aviom A-16II personal mixers for the eight-piece brass section also appeared on the engineer’s audio kit list.
Supporting the audio team was Monitor and RF Technician, Marc Depratto, who has been a Solotech employee since 2005. As well as touring with the likes of Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue for Solotech, mixing monitors for the Montreal Jazz Festival has given him the opportunity to work with Stevie Wonder, among many other music legends.
“We’re using a fully Meyer Sound PA system, and the monitoring is also done with Meyer components. Solotech is one of the big rental houses for Meyer Sound in the US I would say, and we have a very strong expertise of those components,” said Depratto.
“I think it’s an all round very easy and efficient system and it takes us around two and a half hours to fly the PA. Being that Craig Brittain and I have more to deal with on the stage side of things, the MJF212’s really were a nice discovery on my part. They can deliver amazing tone with all the SPL we could ask for.
“This tour is probably one of the most rewarding I have done, the spirit is great, everyone looks out for everybody and we all pitch in with other departments as well. The audio crew here has become family and one of the comments I’ve received from local guys when we’re on the road is that they rarely see a crew as smooth as this.”
Depratto’s responsibilities also included coordinating, controlling and managing the air traffic and dealing with the wireless microphones and belt-pack traffic. “I deal with the patch on stage too so manage cabling to both consoles and with licencing in the UK and other parts of Europe,” he explained.
“Firstly, we are all Sennheiser equipped. I have 16 microphone channels - 10 handheld transmitters and six beltpack channels. For the in-ears, we have 16 mixes on 20 beltpacks, depending on the demand. Some mixes are shared by more than one person such as backline and tech mixes.”
When the tour started, David Brazeau, Senior Project Manager, had spec’d the gear and Depratto then modified it along the way to fit the show because demands evolved over the duration of the tour. Added the RF Engineer: “We now have six channels of 3732 in N band [614-798], 10 channels of EM 2050 [558-626], eight channels of IEM 350 G2 [518-554] and eight channels of IEM 350 G2 [626-662].” Michael’s vocal was an SKM 5200 and all other handhelds were SKM 2000. The team also used four SK 5212 beltpacks for trumpets and acoustic guitars.”
Depratto admitted every day is a new adventure and the amount of air traffic in some of the large cities the tour visited on its US leg made getting safely through the spectrum more of a test. The increasing amount of DTVs and air traffic is the real challenge for users and Depratto normally had to fit around 35 to 40 frequencies. However, as the regulations in the EU are much stricter than some other parts of the world and the DTV sell-off has not yet eaten up the whole bandwidth, managing frequencies in the territory has not been too problematic.
Depratto has become a fan of the IMD Coordination Software from Professional Wireless that he uses on the tour alongside Invisible Waves Scanner from Kaltman Creations to read the air when the crew first arrive at a venue. He explained: “The IMD Coordination Software is a powerfull tool - it gives you great flexibility with your system. The EM3732 with the wide bands is another highlight of my wireless set-up. They are very versatile, have switchable companders so you can use the receiver for a lot of different transmitters, are fully remotable via ethernet and sound great! The quality of the RF filters is astonishing compared to other models I have encountered.”
PLUG AND PLAY
Depratto and Audio Crew Chief, Louis-Philippe Maziade [Britney Spears, Cesar Milan, The Pretenders, Simple Plan], had worked on multiple tours together before joining forces once again for Crazy Love. Maziade’s experience during his 12-year career, which spanned a range of genres; from classical through to punk rock, saw him become part of Bublé’s team in January 2008 for the Call Me Irresponsible tour in Canada.
“We chose to use Meyer Sound Milos for the main hangs, with three Galileo 616’s and a SIM 3 for calibrating and system optimisation. It was Craig Doubet’s first choice and I really like the fact that all the speakers we use are self-powered, it’s plug and play and really user-friendly,” explained Maziade.
A total of 28 Meyer Sound Milo and four Milo 120’s made up the main hang, with 14 Milos and two Milo 120’s per side. For the sub flow, 12 700HPs were positioned six per side along with 24 Micas for side hangs and a pair of UPQs for the centre cluster. Subs on the floor comprised four M3Ds, eight M’elodies for frontfill and four CQ-2 for side upstage frontfill. When playing larger venues, 12 Micas were added to the set-up for delay behind the FOH.
Aside from a successful combination of kit, Maziade believed that collaborating as a closely bonded team has been essential: “I would say that is the key to our success; it’s all about teamwork. Everybody needs to see the big picture of the gig as a whole and not only their department.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF LED
“I’ve now been with Michael for the last eight years, started as the Lighting Designer / Director and have now taken on the role of Visual Director as well,” said Kurt N Wagner of KNW Design.
“The main focus of the lighting design was to visually enhance the stage and set as well as creating a solid base for video. I always try to get as much depth and size as possible from the rig. It also needs to give me as much flexibility as possible to make sure I can provide constant changing visual looks,” he added.
“My main priority is to create a visual base that frames Michael throughout the show. I want to always to make sure that MB has a visual that supports him, but also builds and evolves throughout the show. As there is not a lot of movement on stage other then MB, it’s my job to make sure that there is a new visual for every song and to make sure those looks build as the show dynamic builds. I always make sure the visual supports the tempo and structure of the song.
“The main base of the visual is to present a very classy looking show, kind of a new age Vegas. I always try to make sure it is a high-end looking show, but you have to make sure it can evolve into more of a pop show at the end of the set,” he added.
Wagner saved an incredible 1,042 cues including spot and set cues, [not including VD and camera cues].
The base of the rig comprised Martin Professional fixtures. Wagner said: “These are my preference because of output and reliability. Christie Lites was the supplier for the tour worldwide and Lite Alternative is doing this shorter European leg. Wash units are 44 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash XBs, which are the base key light front and back for the band as well as doing a portion of the set lighting. They are spread out over four lighting truss’s. Profiles are 40 Martin Atomic 3000’s and their main purpose is set and stage lighting.”
The audience lighting was provided by 24 iPix BB 4 washlights, which were spread out over the four lighting truss’s as well as on the two I-MAG trusses. Also utilised were 78 Martin Aura LED wash units, of which 24 were placed around the stage outline and 52 were hung on upstage behind the Pix2o Roll drops. From FOH, there were four follow spots, Robert Juliat 4K’s. Truss spots were two Lycian M2 Short throws and eight ETC Source Four Lekos for the band’s key front light.
Wagner commented: “I redesigned the show for the last couple of legs so we could maintain the base visual, but scale the show back to help production out with freight costs. The new technology that helped me out with that is the Pix2o Roll Drops, a great new product that doesn’t take up much space.”
Three MA Lighting grandMA’s were deployed for lighting control. At FOH, the main console triggered all the lighting, one was utilised for back up and another for all the video content. Wagner said: “It’s a console I’m very comfortable and have been very happy with their support network over the years. I like having the 20 main sub faders as it allows me to have all my video key lighting handles as well as my main cue list and a few extra back up cues for Michael if he requires house lights, or a particular section of the audience highlighted.”
“LED has also become a very important element of the show as Michael’s popularity has grown. His show is very much based on his interaction with his audience and it’s important that I can make sure the audience can see him up close. Michael is very much an entertainer and the new LED technology has allowed us to bring him closer to his fans,” concluded Wagner, who also had a hand in the artist direction of the show.
A VIDEO PROGRESSION
Michael Bublé’s Video Director, Kevin Carswell, has been working in the live production industry for 20 years, covering all genre’s of music from artists as varied as Metallica to Shania Twain and Jay-Z to Kiss, but it’s Michael Bublé who has struck a chord with the video pro.
Said Carswell, “I have been with Michael since 2007’s Call Me Irresponsible tour. He is one of those special artists you want to stay with.”
Video is one of the several integral parts of a Michael Bublé gig, and the evolving tour has seen a constant reaction from the audience. Carswell continued: “Kurt Wagner [LD] and I work very hand in hand to marry video and lighting together in a way that adds to the overall experience. The fans love seeing Michael on screen.”
As this tour is now a progression of what had already been established from the 2010 Crazy Love debut, the success of this live show is kept fresh with a subtly altering set. The video walls for the last two runs of the tour have been changed due to weight limitations for transporting the equipment from South America, Scandanavia and finally to South Africa.
Carswell stated: “We carried five PRG Nocturne Vidicon V9 walls for the entire tour, with a Tait Towers built automation rig. Then in between VersaTube columns - designed to accent content and lights - Solotech, the tour’s vender found the Pix 2.0, 11.5 mil, which enabled to put it on a roll drop configuration to simulate our automation truss that had been withdrawn.”
Stealth screen walls [two by six metres] were added later in between the walls to simulate the versa tube columns. “It has worked very well and everyone is happy with outcome,” added Carswell.
To run the content, a FOR-A Digital Switcher was used in conjunction with two Christie 18K Roadster HD projectors for the outboard I-MAG screens.
The video content was triggered by Lighting Designer, Kurt Wagner, through his In Frame Vixen Media Server with a Vista Spyder Video Routing control system, one of the most creative video processors for switching between I-MAG and video content. Oliver Goulet at Gogeodezik in Montreal created the tour’s video graphics.
ACCENTING THE SHOW
Before Pyrotek Special Effects was contacted by PM Fussell, master pyrotechnician, Keith Hellebrand was already aware that it would be a fantastic crew to work with from recommendations from friends and colleagues. “I came in about halfway through Crazy Love in the summer of 2011, when they had already done close to 100 shows,” said Hellebrand, who started in the pyro industry in the late ‘80s before joining Pyrotek in 1999. In the lead up to his role on Bublé’s production, Hellebrand became an expert in his field by producing some explosive effects on the tours of Britney Spears, Metallica, Bon Jovi and Justin Timberlake.
The design was already in place when Pyrotek started on the tour, with all of the pyro located in the lighting truss above the stage being used to create a clean look. “The first song of the show, Cry Me A River, has a great punch right at the end where we use pyro. It’s a quick hit, but it really accents the end of the song,” he added.
As the song finished, a total of 33 one second 19ft silver gerbs and 10 10ft silver airbursts were fired together for a quick one second shower of sparks and flash shooting downwards. The gerbs were mounted in 11 sets of three in a fan formation, aiming down from the truss, and the 10 airbursts were mounted in the same truss - five per side.
The pyro maestro’s skill and precision throughout the tour did not go unnoticed by Fussell, who enthused: “Pyrotek really go out of their way to make sure everything is well planned and in place for all of the shows. Keith Hellebrand is a machine - he nails his cues on time, every time!”
THE STAGE AND SET BUILD
The Cray Love tour’s Head Carpenter, Todd Green, started out as an LD, but after moving to Nashville, Tennesse in 1996, became a touring carpenter. In the 12 years that followed, Green has worked for an impressive line of artists including Eminem, Madonna, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Barry Manilow, Sarah Brightman and the Jonas Brothers to name but a few.
Green said: “A few of us had just finished with a Beyonce tour and came over to this one. I started getting the set prepped early in 2010 and did the entire 2010 tour. In 2011, we did some shows in Australia and were going to take a break for Michael’s wedding. I had left for a while to take the job as Head Carpenter for Britney Spears then I got the great opportunity to come back to work with Michael as his Head Carpenter for the 2012 dates.”
In his role, Green is in charge of making sure his crew has everything they need to get the show ready, from the stage to the back drops and whatever else is needed. On almost every tour, the carpenters work directly for the artist instead of being sent by a tour supplier, in turn staying open to the tour’s general needs; from making a step unit to fixing wardrobe cases. However, Green does have a close working relationship with Tait Towers and Fisher Technologies.
He told TPi: “Pre-production for me mostly involved going to Tait Towers, our set builder, and making sure everything is getting built to our liking. We have to be able to build and dismantle the stage in a short time, so making sure things are labeled correctly and built for strength and speed.
“I will report to the Production Manager daily with progress in the shop. This leg of the tour was unique because some of the set was getting shipped to Mexico in trucks and another part was in a sea container to Denmark! Making sure the right pieces were going to the right place was crucial.” added Green.
For this Scandinavian section of the tour, the stage is also smaller, requiring three trucks for all of the production gear. In total for Green’s team, there are five carpenters, two crew members take care of curtains and the single computer operated curtain track, another builds the FOH risers and Green and ‘Big Matt’ both build the main stage, which is raked up from five to 10ft tall.
He continued, “The set was actually designed by Mark Fisher, who also designed the set I just toured with on Britney Spears. The stage gets built pretty quickly - usually less than two hours - but after the stage rolls into place, there is a lot of little details to take care of. Tait gear is the best you can get; their magnetic decks are so far ahead of anything their competitors have. We can get support from the shop for anything we need, if it is technical support or shipping us replacement parts.”
THE TAIT EFFECT
Tait Towers have been working with Michael Bublé since 2005. The current tour out on the road is a scaled down version of the original production, which was designed by Mark Fisher, of Stufish, in 2010.
The current set is intended to convey an intimate feeling of a lounge act, the relaxed atmosphere often heard on the singer’s records. Tait’s Aaron Siebert, Project Development Manager, said: “The lines and finish are very clean and simple and the band layout gives Michael space to move around between them. He has a lot of energy and stage presence so giving him somewhere to go is important.”
The 2012 version on the tour is a re-prep, comprising existing designs and rental gear. It took around three weeks to put the set design together while Tait also worked on various other touring projects.
Siebert continued: “We used Tait double decker mag system with high gloss black decking, triple track truss for soft good backdrops and a Curved Automated rack track truss for the main curtain. The downstage main curtain was made of china silk and on a track, which was automated to open and reveal Michael and the band. All other curtains upstage were on walk along track trusses, to create various backdrops.”
The trusses go up in one hour with soft goods rigged. The set construction takes 1.5 hours. They have some waiting time for lighting to get off the ground as well. There are four touring carps and 16 locals. The load out takes two hours start to finish for all the departments.
The system is a simple design to set up; Tait’s patented magnetic decks are designed for ease of use, which contribute to substantial economic benefits in terms of both the set up time and the labour time.
Siebert explained: “Before leaving our shop, our stages are fully integrated with each component and dolly uniquely labeled to ensure that the load-in is efficient and systematic. Our products are designed in AutoCAD, allowing elements to be visualised on trucks and sea containers to maximise use of space.” Tait’s understanding of worldwide shipping logistics also means that products are easily transported internationally. The relationship between Bublé and Tait is an ongoing, fun collaboration. So much so, that the star has a custom-made ping pong table that Tait built for on the road entertainment!
THE DREAM TEAM
When TPi spoke to Bublé’s crew, they were completing show number 169 of the Crazy Love tour and had refined each and every aspect of the well-rehearsed production. Despite having been on the road for such a marathon run of gigs, PM Fussell believes every show packed into the tour still presents the opportunity to learn: “You’re constantly seeing things that can improve the day, whether it’s with this production or the one I’m coming through with next time. When the day comes that I’m not learning anything new, it’s time to retire.”
But for Fussell, aside from the valubale lessons learnt on the road, it is the people that you surround yourself with that can make or break a tour: “This is one of the best teams I’ve had the luxury of working with. They all want to be out here and are true professionals at their job. But the true highlight is working with Michael. He’s one of the best entertainers on the planet and he sets the tone for the entire team, on and off the stage.”
Photography: Darren Knorr and Craig Doubet