Solotech selects Shure Axient and PSM 1000 Systems for Timberlake Tour

Justin Timberlake has again selected Montreal’s Solotech as the audio  provider for his “20/20 Experience” world tour. To ensure the tour’s  success, the sound company has in turn designated Shure as its primary  wireless supplier. The 2014 tour, which began in January, is currently  in its second leg with dates across North America. 

Solotech RF Technician Éric  Marchand is currently on the road with the band. “I’ve been working as a  touring wireless specialist for the last six years,” he says. “A major  tour uses so many frequencies these days, and production designs have  become so demanding, you don’t want to leave anything to chance.”

The tour employs ten channels of Shure Axient® wireless for backing  vocals and the horn section, plus four dual-channel Shure UHF-R®  bodypack systems on all guitars and bass. With the exception of Justin's  vocal microphone, Shure gear was specified for the entire band,  dancers, and much of the backline crew, who were covered by 26 channels  of Shure PSM®1000 personal monitors, with 24 of them running through a  single pair of antennas using a series of four Shure PA821A wideband  antenna combiners. 

The production design of the tour is a demanding one. The concept was  a completely bare stage with a huge video projection screen behind; the  performers make their entrances from beneath the stage by elevator  platforms. It was mandated that nothing interfere with the audience line  of sight, severely limiting the options for antenna placement. A  secondary “B” stage located beyond the FOH mix position offered another  wireless reception challenge.

“The arenas we play are always sold out, so there was no way I could  bring cables and antennas out closer. It was crucial to get good line of  sight to the B stage, for both the receive antennas and the transmit  antennas for the IEMs. So we designed the system to cover everything  from antennas discreetly hiding in plain sight on stage. The actual  wireless racks, along with me and my scanners, all live under the  stage.”

This tour is Marchand’s first time using Shure Axient. “A friend of  mine was out with Bruce Springsteen for Solotech last year. That was all  Axient, and he told me it was great,” says Éric. “Plus, I’ve been  trained on Axient, so I was excited to use it.”

The system’s usefulness was immediately apparent. “We did rehearsals  in Memphis, which is where we got everything properly tuned and working  together,” continued Marchand. “The ShowLink access point made it easy  to make quick adjustments on audio and RF levels. Very accurate and  efficient. It also saves me a lot of time when I do my RF coordination  in the morning. I don’t have to sync a single Axient pack. I just turn  them on and, boom, they’re done.”

Axient’s full remote control of all transmitter functions through  ShowLink comes into play when Timberlake moves to the second stage,  which is more than 100 feet from the antennas. To compensate, Marchand  boosts the output power of the Axient transmitters. “That allows me to  optimize my system for Justin’s mic on the B stage. I keep an extra  transmitter on an alternate frequency for him, just in case. I know if I  can get that happening, everything is going to be fine, because the  Shure systems, both Axient and UHF-R, plus the PSM 1000s, are all going  to be solid.”

Marchand is also clearly a fan of the PSM 1000, which offers the  security of diversity receive antennas on the bodypack and precision  front-end filtering for maximum range and signal reception. “The RF  stability is outstanding, and I really like the CueMode feature. That  allows me to walk both the stages with just one pack and listen to every  frequency,” he explains. “It shows that Shure really designed the  system for major tours.”

To ensure that everyone hears what they need to hear during the show,  20 monitor mixes are required. That includes Timberlake, two guitars,  bass, two keyboardists, percussion, four backing vocals, and the  four-piece horn section. In addition, the six dancers share a mix, while  the drummer uses a Shure P6HW hardwired system. PSM 1000 systems are  also in the ears of the key backline techs: the monitor engineer;  instrument techs for guitar, keyboard, percussion, and drums, and two  more audio assistants.

Axient’s interference detection and avoidance system and frequency  diversity feature have proven helpful, even though Marchand routinely  uses two scanners to monitor the RF landscape. “My main attention is on  Justin’s mic, so I have the Axient channels set up in Prompt mode  instead of automatic. That way, it alerts me whenever there’s a channel  with issues,” he says. “I also use the Spectrum Manager, which has a  listen option, which is really helpful. That way I can check it  personally and decide whether to change channels. I like to have my hand  on the wheel.”

Another of Marchand’s responsibilities as the tour’s RF specialist is  power management. And that means batteries. Axient and PSM 1000 make  that job easier with their optional lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.  “I did tests, and the Shure rechargeables actually last longer than they  claim,” says Marchand. “I love being able to see exactly how much time  is left as well, although that’s never been an issue. I keep two sets,  and change them out every day after sound check and before the show. On a  long tour, it really saves a lot of money.”

Carrying about 60 channels of wireless from city to city is a  significant challenge, because large cities are almost certain to offer  significant RF challenges. “On tour, there is a huge trust issue between  the gear you are using, the company you are working for, and the people  you are working with. If the equipment fails, everyone is affected,”  says Marchand. “When you have a tour like Justin Timberlake, you want to  make sure the tools you’re working with are top of the class. The fact  that Solotech chose Shure Axient and PSM 1000 for this tour tells me  they’ve earned that trust.”

Gear List

Model Number Quantity Description
AXT610 Axient ShowLink Access Point enables real-time control of transmitters and the ability to make remote adjustments to all transmitter settings.
PA821A Discontinued
Axient Wireless management network offers a spectrum management suite to integrate spectrum analysis, channel allocation, and device management.
PSM 1000 An unprecedented combination of audio and RF performance for the most demanding professional monitoring applications.