NILES, Ill., Sept. 20, 2012—In his first global tour since the tragic loss of sax man Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen went big. With 18 musicians on stage, the Wrecking Ball tour has traveled from America to Europe and back, delivering Bruce’s trademark musical and emotional intensity to packed houses, mixed by engineer John Cooper on a sound system supplied by the Las Vegas office of Solotech.
One thing that has changed is the choice of wireless systems. With a total of 68 channels of wireless microphones and in-ear monitoring systems in use and nearly 100 inputs, monitor engineers Monty Carlo and Troy Milner knew they had challenges ahead. Milner upgraded to eight channels of Shure PSM 1000 personal monitors when the tour began, and it wasn’t long before wireless mics became an issue. “Early in the tour, in San Jose, I had to work hard to find space for all my RF, and we had an interference issue on Bruce’s vocal channel,” recalls Monty Carlo, a veteran of every Springsteen tour since 1992. “I knew we’d be hitting several venues where it would be even more difficult to get clean RF, so I spoke with our tour director that night, and proposed we make a change to Shure Axient.”
Within a few days, Solotech had a purchase order in place for 20 channels of Axient, making arrangements for the equipment to meet the tour in Barcelona, Spain. “Fortunately, we had two shows there, which gave me enough time to familiarize myself with the system and make the transition,” says Carlo. “I spent the first morning firing up Axient, getting it all labeled and ready to go. I walked the stadium floor with Bruce’s mic a few times and looked over the RF scans to see how it held up. Then I went back and matched gains and such, so the transition would be smooth.”
Uniquely, Shure Axient wireless uses advanced frequency diversity technology to ensure that critical RF channels are essentially immune from interference. When deployed with its ShowLink access points, the system gives the engineer full remote control of all transmitter functions. The system is designed to handle frequency scanning and coordination, and can detect and avoid interference by changing to a spare channel on the fly. Taking full advantage of Axient’s technology package, Solotech ordered two ShowLink® access points, three Ethernet switches, and three antenna combiners along with the 20 core Axient channels on the Wrecking Ball tour. A separate rack houses the battery recharging station.
All eight vocals are sung through Axient handheld SM58® transmitters, with bodypack systems in use for eight Beta 98H/C horn mics, three internally miked accordions, and a fiddle. “For Bruce’s vocal, I’m using the Frequency Diversity option, which allows me to broadcast on two different frequencies for seamless switching in case of RF interference on one of the channels,” details Carlo. “I’m also taking advantage of the system’s ability to have two packs linked with a receiver, which is great for the horn players who switch instruments mid-show. With the ShowLink system, if I need to make a change mid-show, the second bodypack will automatically switch to the new frequency when it’s turned on. That’s pretty cool.”
For the first night in Barcelona, Carlo opted to stay with his existing racks of Shure UHF-R® systems, planning to fine-tune the tour’s new Axient systems the next day. “Of course, the first show was fantastic, and Bruce decided there was no reason to do a sound check the next day,” he says. “So I swapped out the wireless racks, let Bruce know that I’d changed his vocal wireless to the latest hot-lick system, and that was that. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the show, but everything went smoothly.”
While Springsteen chooses to rely on proprietary Solotech floor wedges, in-ear monitors are still a significant presence on stage. “I’m using the PSM 1000 system for Max Weinberg, Garry Talent, several additional band members, plus guest artists and various tech crew members,” says monitor engineer Troy Milner. “It really has made my job much easier, and the band is very happy.”
Shure’s new PSM 1000 uses diversity reception to combat dropouts, along with several other key features. “CueMode lets me walk the floor and check all my frequencies from a single bodypack, which is a huge time saver for me,” Milner reports. “The rechargeable battery system has also been great. Bruce’s shows typically run over three and a half hours, but I’m getting about 8-10 hours per charge, so I don’t have to worry about battery life anymore.”
Milner is also impressed with the sound quality of the PSM 1000. “This is my first run with this system and I have to say, I’m blown away,” he says. “They sound great, and noise floor is so low, I almost don’t know I’m wearing a pack. This is the only in-ear unit I will be using from here on out on my other tours.”
On show days, Monty Carlo scans the local RF environment with the Axient Spectrum Manager and Shure’s Wireless Workbench® 6 software. “The Spectrum Manager is a fantastic tool that I have come to find indispensable,” he says. “Not only does it find and deploy frequencies for the Axient system, but it shows me the local landscape, so I can tell the backline guys what areas to stay away from. I use WWB6 to find my primary and backup frequencies in the morning, then during the show to keep an eye on battery life and change RF transmitter power as needed,” he says. “Bruce likes to leave the stage a lot, and I change from 10 to 50 milliwatts when he does. And obviously, he’s known for doing long shows and there’s never a costume change, so the accuracy of the remote battery meters can also be really important.”
Another advantage of switching to Axient was its wide tuning range, enabling the tour to use the same systems in Europe and North America. “When I switched to Axient, the RF world kind of opened up for me,” says Carlo. “We use the entire UHF range, 470 to 698 MHz, but I used to keep all my mics in the old J5 range, 578 to 638 MHz, with the rest for guitars, in-ears, etc. Because the receivers can operate over the entire 470-698 MHz range, it gives me much better options for situations where the RF environment is really crowded.”
Having now used the Axient system throughout a summer in Europe and continuing on the tour’s return to North America, Monty Carlo has had plenty of time to evaluate its behavior under fire. “Bruce is as active as ever on stage. He runs around a lot, pours water all over himself to cool off, sometimes drops the mic, and occasionally get rained upon while running across the stadium floor,” Carlo reports. “Axient has dealt with it without a hiccup. Axient is at the top of my list of gear that makes the job easier. It’s been great.”
Out at FOH, engineer John Cooper experiences the sound from a fan’s perspective. “Being a Front of House guy, my criteria for an RF mic is that it remains faithful to its original wired counterpart,” he notes. “The Shure Axient system is exactly that. It’s a great sense of relief to hear that true, natural sound of their voice being captured – like you are sitting beside the artist, listening to them sing. Axient is a great example of how Shure continues to develop better products that make a real difference in the quality I strive for in my live mixes. It’s just a fantastic system.”