PRODUCTION PROFILE: Drake
DRAKE CANADIAN ARTIST DRAKE HAS BECOME THE CURRENT GOLDEN BOY OF COMMERCIAL RAP. THREE ALBUMS INTO HIS CAREER, HIS BLEND OF POLITICAL, HARD HITTING YET ACCESSIBLE APPROACH TO SONGWRITING HAS WON HIM RESPECT ACROSS THE BOARD - AND A GRAMMY. HE ALSO WRITES AND PRODUCES FOR THE LIKES OF ALICIA KEYS AND JAMIE FOXX. IN OCTOBER 2013 HIS WOULD YOU LIKE A TOUR? PRODUCTION HIT THE ROAD IN SUPPORT OF HIS NEW ALBUM, NOTHING WAS THE SAME. IT BEGAN IN NORTH AMERICA, TAKING IN 37 ARENA AND STADIUM GIGS BEFORE ARRIVING IN EUROPE IN FEBRUARY FOR A FURTHER 23 SHOWS. SIMON DUFF REPORTS FROM THE CAPITAL FM ARENA IN NOTTINGHAM, UK. Drake’s set design by Willo Perron - of Willo Perron and Associates - is an architectural bold creation, built by Tait Towers. It features two giant donut shaped ‘O’s, one set on the stage floor housing the band line of up of DJ, Keyboards and drums, and another identical ‘O’ donut hung above from one of the central trusses. It reflects the rapper’s own record label OVO. The other main element is a large 78ft wide curved video screen on the back wall. It’s a deceptively simple, clever minimal design that reflects the nature of the tour and Drake’s current artistic thinking. No expense has been spared for the show. It is a big ambitious production both sonically and visually. Guy Pavelo is Drake’s Lighting Director and Designer and has been with him since 2011. For the European leg of the tour, Pavelo is also 28
very much at the creative helm of all visual aspects. In July last year, at the start of the design and build process he worked closely with Perron, Tait Towers and Chris Reynolds, the tour’s Production Manager to help realise the build. A hugely talented Creative Designer and technical guru, he explained the initial thinking and concept behind the set design: “The artistic brief was to look for a minimalist yet powerful directive. There was a desire to explore the difference between one or all and the power that can be created within that. “The power of nothing at all is just as good as the power of everything you have,” he said. “That was at the heart of our thinking. With Drake we discussed many things before the start of the design process and we wanted to explore his personal mind.” Reynolds concurs and is keen to express his compliments about Tait Towers. “From the very start of the set design process I knew that
the only people who could build this to our requirements would be Tait Towers.” Pavelo’s own rise to success began with a technical theatre course at Western Connecticut State University. On completion he worked for a Disney on Ice show, initially as a follow spot operator and rising to the ranks of crew chief within just four months. Since then he has gone on to light and design for global acts such as Kanye West, Rihanna, Bon Jovi, Van Halen and The XX to name but a few. VISUALS Lighting, power, motors, rigging and servers for the tour are all supplied by PRG and Pavelo offered his high opinion: “PRG has worked with me for a couple of years now. I work with Curry Grant, US Vice President of Touring and he has basically been there every step that we have needed for any project. We have a great
PRODUCTION PROFILE: Drake
Opposite: The bold architectural doughnut shaped creation was designed by Willo Perron and built by Tait Towers. Below:(top) A 78ft curved video screen saw a variety of projections throughout the show.
relationship. When we have needed an extra bit of help they have always been there for us. PRG crew chief for the tour is Clifford Sharpling. He is the best in my opinion. I am fortunate to have been able to have him on my side for the better part of a year so far, and am hoping he will continue to support my needs for the next few at least!” The main truss layout includes a central section hung above the upper doughnut ring set piece. The diamond shape houses a selection of Philips Vari-Lite VL5’s and VL3500’s, 16 Clay Paky Sharpy Beams and SyncroLite 7.5K’s. The donut itself includes some 50 Martin by Harman Stagebar 54’s. Outside of that in the upstage truss 44 PRG Best Boy 4000 spots are in use, as well as the support for the giant curved video wall, itself comprised of WinVision 9mm LED tiles, provided via VER and supplied through Upstream multi media. The same WinVision tile is used on the donut walls and a custom treatment to those by VER allows for a two-way mirror / LED facility. So when video is not being shown the surface works as a mirror. Outside of the donut rings are zigzag trusses, mid wing and up stage trusses. On those are more Sharpys,
VL3500’s PRG Bad Boy spots, SGM P-P5 LED washlights and 44 Martin by Harman Atomic 3000 strobes. Pavelo believes that the Sharpys have brought a definitive look to the show. “Part of the design is that we were looking to create a very masculine and aggressive look to the overall design, and the Sharpy’s tight beam, prismatic effects, fast movement and unrivalled output made it the obvious choice. But the fixtures can also showcase Drake’s softer side. The beam’s aerial image quality and consistently repeatable positioning produce some very intimate moments. Over the course of the tour, the Sharpys have performed flawlessly. You have to have them.” The majority of the rigging is one tonne, while all the major set pieces require twotonnes. A total of eight two-tonne hold up the aerial donut with bridges to actually help support the weight. Everything else is basically a one-tonne point. The motors are all Chainmaster chain hoists with a customised Tait winch twotonne for the catwalk assembly. Chief Rigger is Bob Powers who works with three on-tour riggers, and around eighteen 29
PRODUCTION PROFILE: Drake
Below: d&b audiotecknik’s J Series were employed for the PA; Strictly FX supplied the lasers and pyro action.
local riggers picked up at each venue. Pavelo commented on how the rig was approached for Nottingham. “We started rigging here at 2am this morning and wrapped up at 8am. A couple of the guys will then head to Dublin ahead of us for the next show for a pre rig. So we leap frog when it is needed. This is a big show and we need to buy time where we can. Even having the floor marked out ahead of time is a huge bonus. We have 130 or so points to rig from, and only a couple of portions of the truss are straight. So to sort those points ahead of us is great,” he noted. Pavelo cuts his lighting and video mix on an MA Lighting grandMA2 full size console plus three NPU Processors, working some 1500 cues for the show. All mixed manually with Pavelo utilising a click feed from stage, with no Timecode used. The lighting desk was utilised to run four PRG M-Box media servers. Commenting on the console he said: “It is reliable. I depend on it all the time. It has not let me down. I can cater it for what I need as opposed to me having to cater to it for what it can do. I hired it from VOLT Lite in LA, the owner Matt Shimmamoto is a good friend of mine. They built a custom FOH workstation for me that has proven to save an enormous amount of time over the course of this tour. I have the console itself, multiple switchers, video switcher, NPUs, back up power, monitors, 30
loudspeakers and subs. All in one unit.” Completing the video line up, IMAG is used via seven cameras supplied by VER, positioned in the pit, FOH and around the arena. SPECIAL EFFECTS Strictly FX provided lasers, pyrotechnics, cryo and smoke effects with David Kennedy laser programming and design. Reid Nofsinger was lead Pyrotechnic Operator, Mike Hartle Lead Laser Operator and Programmer and Special Effects Techs Matt Luciano and Anthony Amato. “As an effects provider and design partner, Strictly FX certainly delivers,” Pavelo added. There are seven full colour high-powered lasers in the production, three located in the air and on the ground, as well as four full colour low wattage lasers on the floor. In addition, scanning is another laser technique used to bring the audience into the immersive environment of the show. Kennedy comments. “The audience scanning adds a lot of dimension to the show. Even though they’re lower powered lasers, they cut all the way across the arena, and it’s a beautiful look- they make it 50ft to 75ft past the Sharpy beams, which creates a pretty effect that’s coming out to the people in the distant seats.” The effect is exactly what the design team envisioned. “Its’ a great addition to the production and we’ll start to exaggerate it more
as the show goes on,” Pavelo added. Kennedy programmed the show on a Pangolin Beyond console. He commented: “We don’t use the standard console files, we do all the cueing and programming from scratch. That’s our philosophy, and it’s not common in our industry.” In a departure from the norm, the lasers used on Drake’s production are fairly static, which fits in stylistically with the minimal design feel of parts of the show. Said Kennedy: “They wanted a consistent solid look within a song that suited the vision of Drake and his creative team.” Pyrotechnics, in the form of mines, airbursts, starbursts, gerbs and comets are also part of production. “The quality of the pyrotechnic products from Strictly FX is superior, there’s better colour, better duration, and less smoke in the products that are supposed to have less smoke,” noted Pavelo. Those words are especially meaningful coming from Pavelo, who comes from a background in pyrotechnics. “Guy knows what he wants concerning pyro and has a keen understanding of the various products available. He’s an incredibly creative design partner and we always enjoy working with him,” explained Ted Maccabee, Partner and Visuals Director at Strictly FX. Personally, Drake is a fan of both cryo and low smoke. Pavelo explained: “There are 14 CO2 jets that are featured during two songs. As for
PRODUCTION PROFILE: Drake
Below: Chris Reynolds, Tour Production Manager; Guy Pavelo, Drake’s Lighting Designer and Director; FOH Engineer Demetrius Moore; Audio Engineer Sean Sturge.
the low smoke, provided by two LSG units, the first time Drake saw them, he was ecstatic and loved it!” STUDIO QUALITY LIVE SOUND FOH Engineer, Demetrius Moore has been with Drake since 2010. He began his career working as a tech for Eighth Day Sound, touring with 50 Cent and Jay Z. He then moved to stage patch for Prince’s Musicology tour, sound tech for Madonna, system engineer for Lil Wayne and Drake before becoming Drake’s FOH Engineer. “My challenge is to make the mix sound like the record or better,” he said. “Drake’s Record Producer, Noah ‘40’ Shebib is on tour with us, as well as his engineer who recorded the vocals on the new album and we are all working together to make the sound as best we can. We work as a team. There is a lot of pressure and it takes a lot of time but we have got it. The guys let me alter things so we get a studio mix but with a live feel. The key and the goal is to make the live sound as clear and as best as possible and the best tone without making Drake’s vocal sound unnatural.” To that end, Moore uses 64 inputs on a DiGiCo SD7 console provided by Eighth Day Sound, along with the PA. “It’s the best sounding console in the world,” he said. “I love it and get around it so fast. With what it lets me do, I can’t see myself requesting another console. There’s nothing out there with that sound and flexibility.” A d&b audiotechnik J Series PA is Moore’s 32
first choice for Drake. At Nottingham 24 deep J8 line array loudspeakers per side were used on the main hang, with eight flown JSubs per side. The side hang consisted of 16 J8’s per side and for the outer hang 12 J8’s per side. On the floor 12 B2 subwoofers and for front fills Q10’s were used. All powered by the new d&b D80 amps. Said Moore: “The main system is amazing, I have the power that I need and the musical sounds of Sade’s Smooth Operator. Another plus comes from keeping the system mostly in the digital domain. The entire system is driven digitally at 96k Hz with a full analogue backup. The signal flow hits the A-to-D converter off the stage to 96k into the DiGiCo system and then never gets converted back to the analogue domain until the output stage of the amplifier. The entire signal flow stays digital at 96k Hz through Dolby processors to the amplifier. It’s a fantastic system and I owe a lot to my system tech, Jim Allen.” On Drake’s vocal Moore uses a Sennhesier SKM 5200 microphone with a 5005e capsule. Another key feature of Drake’s live vocal chain is Avalon’s VT737 analogue channel. Said Moore: “That unit and I have developed a relationship this tour which puts Drake’s vocal right there in the mix. In every seat in the house he is right in front of you. But on this tour, transparency is combined with power. It’s a loud show but I promise you that you won’t leave with your ears ringing! It’s a very dynamic show, as Drake has those heavy-hitting 808 songs as well as the ballad R&B songs mixed with one pop record.”
Engineer Sean Sturge who has done FOH and monitor mixing for a number of acts, including Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and 50 Cent, handled monitor world. He mixed on a DiGiCo SD10 linked with a Waveserver. An unusual aspect of the tour is a low-SPL on stage. Sturge commented: “There are absolutely no speakers at all on stage, not even a guitar cabinet. I do five different mixes, plus two guest performer mixes, all to in-ears, keys, drums, DJ, Avif Pro Tools Operator and Drake. The drummer and keyboard player are using their own Ultimate Ears IEMs. Drake and everyone else are on JH Audio earpieces. I monitor on JH-16’s and occasionally switch to UE Reference Monitors.” The show started off with Drake emerging in front of the giant screen, awash with celestial blues and reds, a nod to Californian light artist James Turrell and the painting of Mark Rothko. There followed a selection of offerings from the new album. Big performances all, full of self aware, open hearted rap and modern dance soundscapes. Other highlights of the set included the track The Language which used green lasers very effectively. The video content is night vision war footage from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the green lasers tied in very well. Later in the evening, as he began to wind down his 90-minute set, a massive metallic oval walkway descended over the crowd. Drake told the audience this was his favorite moment, when he got to talk directly with his fans. The rapper concluded the set with the single Started
PRODUCTION PROFILE: Drake
From The Bottom complete with video footage of a much younger Drake. Both sonically and visually Drake is at the top of his game. KEY SUPPLIERS Beat the Street supplied eight tour buses in total to Drake’s tour. The fleet included a Star Bus with double bed in a separate Star Room, one Entourage Bus, one Band Bus and five Crew Buses. Said BTS’s Joerg Philip: “This tour is almost like a family reunion for us; the Tour Director, Steve Kidd, Production Manager, Chris Reynolds, Stage Manager Richard Barr and Accountant Bob Davies are all long-time clients of ours, whom we’re really proud of working with.” Transam Trucking provided equipment ligistics. Drake’s tour catering needs were well taken care of via Eat to the Beat. Said Operations Manager, Susanne Howell: “W’ve been working with Drake since 2011, so it was great to be working with the tour again for the third time. His tour has grown considerably over the last three years, moving from academy-size venues to arenas, with the crew size doubling. “Looking after the touring crew and artist’s entourage certainly makes for a
busy day, and a wide spectrum of dietary needs are met daily. It was really nice to meet up with old friends and also make some new ones,“ she concluded. Looking to the rest of 2014 after the current tour finishes Drake heads to the summer festival season then a new tour being scheduled for the autumn. Pavelo concluded: “As we look towards the rest of the year and our summer festival season our upcoming designs are about finding the way to make minimalist look bigger than the high quantity and high quality of fixtures you can provide. So we wanted to take that big show and get the same impact with it but use as little as possible. So when we do turn it all on it is that much bigger.” TPi Photo Simon Duff www.drakeofficial.com www.beatthestreet.net www.eattothebeat.com www.8thdaysound.com www.prg.com www.strictlyfx.com www.taittowers.com www.verrents.com www.amoveocompany.com/willo-perron WWW.GP-Design.Net
Below: Lighting Designer Guy Pavello’s lighting concept was minimal to complement the minimalist stage design.