Live Sound Returns to the BRITs with Britannia Row

Momentous return for BRIT Awards live sound with Britannia Row.

BRIT Awards 2021 made history on 11 May as 4,000 audience members gathered at London’s O2 Arena for the UK’s first indoor live music concert in 14 months. In celebration of the best in British and international pop music, The BRIT Awards audience – made up by primarily of NHS key workers – brought hope back to live music crews.

The test show marked a momentous return to multi-artist, large scale productions, and although the limited numbers presented challenges, the Britannia Row team was happy to take up the mantle.

“Safety was paramount”, Crew Chief Steve Donovan explained: “The BRITs were very different this year in terms of crew logistics and, in particular, the COVID-19 testing of every individual onsite. Crew were tested every 72 hours minimum throughout the course of the build and show. It was critical to ensure we didn’t have positive tests prior to show day.”

Social distancing, masks and a strict hygiene system was implemented. “The BRITs team handled testing with such efficiency that results were coming back in just 15 minutes!” said Britannia Row’s Josh Lloyd.

Lloyd was charged with PA design and FOH artist mixes, while Chris Coxhead handled presenter audio. Lloyd opted for DiGiCo Quantum 7 consoles while Coxhead used a pair of mirrored SD12s with multiple layers of redundancy. A DiGiCo SD11 was utilised for the comms talk back system.

A different approach was mapped out for 2021. With no second stage required due to the limited capacity, Lloyd formulated an in the round system to suit the horseshoe stage design. “We wanted to reduce the amount of spill and deliver a more direct sound for the people watching in the room,” Lloyd explained. “The fact that the floor space was relatively freed up meant that the performers were always placed behind the PA, and this made mixing somewhat easier.”

The L-Acoustics rig, which was tuned by System Engineer, Sergiy Zhytnikov, comprised seven main arrays of K2 with KS28s behind the curve, augmented by three arrays of KARA and KS21s. Flown LA Amp racks were incorporated into the design and the floor deployment saw boxes of K2, KARA and X8 speakers in situ.

Lloyd continued: “Because we were positioned at the back of the venue, we mixed off the L-Acoustics X8 speakers rather than the main PA.” The point-source coaxial speakers impressed: “Size really doesn’t matter when it comes to L-Acoustics products, as the quality and tonality has the same sonic signature, regardless of the size of the box.”

Performing live and mixed by Lloyd were Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Griff, Headie One, Arlo Parks, The Weeknd and Sir Elton John with Years & Years, while Rag’n’Bone Man’s duet with P!nk was mixed by Rob Sadler.

Sadler summed up his experience: “There was an excitement in the room that you just don’t get from an empty venue or a studio. Hearing a live band through a PA system for the first time in months was such a great feeling. With most of the audience being situated high up in the seats, a lot of effort had been put into making sure that the audio coverage was maximised. Brit Row and the entire audio team definitely delivered.”

Coin Pink assumed his recurring role as Live Sound Supervisor.

In monitor world, a flipflop A-B system was agreed upon. “The O2 is never an easy room, even less so with just 4,000 people in it,” said Monitor Engineer, Nico Antonietti, who was riding faders on one of two DiGiCo Quantum 7 consoles alongside Dan Ungaretti.

Antonietti explained how user friendly the desks are: “Dan had built a show file for past editions of the event, so we adapted it, made changes according to the requests of each guest artist and saved the pre-sets. Each artist had a snapshot in order to avoid loading different show files in during changeovers.”

This protocol helped to minimise any potential contamination.

Each of the monitor consoles was connected to two SD Racks, one for band inputs and one for RF mics and playback. In addition, two Waves systems (one per engine) were required. Each console generated 14 mixes for Sennheiser SR2050 in-ear monitors and 10 mixes for 28 d&b audiotechnik M4 wedges, used primarily by the dancers.

As well as its deployment of bespoke capsules, Sennheiser provided technical support, despite the company having no on-site presence. “Manufacturer reps were only a phone call away and provided that layer of support from over the phone,” explained Lloyd, “as they weren’t classed as key workers for the test event.”

Sapna Patel led the slick RF operation, aided by Britannia Row’s Head of RF, Technician Sam Spice. “Every artist had a dedicated handheld microphone that wasn’t used by anyone else,” said Patel. “We attempt that most years for technical and logistical reasons, and in the past it wouldn’t have been an issue if mics were re-used but this year, it was vital they weren’t. I was the only technician outside of the artist bubbles to have contact with the microphones, so I kept it minimal.”

Headsets were fitted by the artist directly.

Despite the unnerving effect COVID-19 has had on concerts, Britannia Row was keen to instil faith in the industry and incorporate live production students into the event’s audio team. Through its partnership with the BRIT School, two places were allocated by Brit Row Director, Lez Dwight.

BRIT School student Caitlyn Balderstone stated: “The experience gave an opportunity to meet and work with industry professionals in their element. Brit Row has shown me how important teamwork is to get a project done quickly and efficiently.”

Fellow student Edward Winnifrith added: ‘I’ve gained so much – it’s not only helped build my knowledge of equipment and processes but has built my confidence too. It’s allowed me to gain an insight into the live sound positions I aspire to hold in the future.”

Reflecting on a monumental re-emergence, Crew Chief Steve Donovan concluded: “It was emotional seeing how engaged and loud the BRITs audience was, even in relatively small numbers. Audiences are critical to this industry. Whilst the adoption of live streaming throughout the pandemic has thrown a lifeline to bands, crew and fans alike, nothing will ever compare to the live, human experience.”

Lloyd believes the BRITs 2021 marked a significant step forward: “It’s clear that artists thrive off live interaction, and the entire BRITs production team has shown that it is achievable to run a safe event while the pandemic is sadly ongoing.”