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Janet Jackson ‘State of the World’ Tour

by George Petersen • in
  • October 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: October 11, 2018
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The all-VUE Audiotechnik P.A. hang at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. Photos by Mark Brown/B51 hotography

Certainly one of the most prolific and hard working artists in the business, Janet Jackson is one of the most influential entertainers of the modern era. After her critically acclaimed and enormously successful “State of the World” tour, which wrapped up December 17, 2017, she extended the outing with a second North American leg that kicked off on July 8th in New Orleans and was slated to wrap in August at the Outside Lands Festival, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. But it’s never say never, as a few additional shows were later added, in New York’s Central Park, the Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, CT) and a finale at the Etess Arena in Atlantic City on October 2. Clearly, the public wants — and can’t get enough of — this global superstar.

Crew members Joe Calabrese (crew chief); Demetrius Henry (playback); Kyle Hamilton (FOH); Brendan Hines (system tech);
Jim Roach (monitors); Jarrod Geruntino (monitor tech); and Alex Reeder (stage tech/patch).

‡‡         Behind the Man at FOH

Returning at the helm of this tour is noted front of house engineer Kyle Hamilton, who has been mixing Jackson since 2010. Besides Janet Jackson, Hamilton has a long roster of top acts he has worked with, including Prince, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jagged Edge, 112, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Toni Braxton, David Hollister, K-Ci & JoJo, SZA, Mary J. Blige, The Isley Brothers and many more.

Unlike many engineers, Hamilton did not come from a musician background. “I don’t play an instrument. My instrument is the console,” says Hamilton, whose interest in music began when he was young, watching his mother do hair for entertainers. “When I was at the studio with her, I was captivated by all the knobs and lights on the gear. When I was a lunchtime DJ in high school, my mom’s husband at the time said my mixes were pretty good and that I should consider going to sound engineering school. I was introduced to one of my mother’s clients — audio engineer Anthony Jeffries — and he told me about a school he went to. So I took classes at the L.A. Recording Workshop.”

After he graduated in 1994, Hamilton was involved in doing sound for plays, and worked the theater circuit for a few years. The company that did sound for the plays also did music tours and asked him to go out during the summer as an FOH systems engineer, setting up P.A.s and mixing opening acts.

FOH engineer Kyle Hamilton at the DiGiCo SD7. Mark Brown/B51 Photography

Soon after, he was “mixing nearly every opening act on the road,” which led to one of his first big breaks. “One time, one of the headliner’s engineers missed a sound check, so I did it and they fired him on the spot,” Hamilton recalls. “I thought that was really frosty, but it wasn’t my fault he wasn’t there, and they asked me to mix the remaining shows of the run. Next, I worked with the Isley Brothers as their systems engineer and, after a couple years with them, their tour manager asked me to mix them, which was my first headlining FOH gig. That was around 2001, and it’s been an amazing rollercoaster ride ever since.”

One thing that Hamilton feels helped him along the path to success was a solid knowledge of all things audio. “My first chops were in studio engineering,” he notes. “I came into that at what I call the tail-end of the ‘art of true engineering,’ where I had to cut 2-inch tape, align analog machines and that stuff. Now you just walk a studio and push PLAY. You don’t have to punch in and out just to replace a word, ‘the,’ in a vocal phrase. To record 48 channels, you needed two 24-track analog machines — minus two tracks for SMPTE to lock them together. It was a real process back in those days, where you’d have to get to the studio two hours before the producer to get everything set up right. Today, it’s just walk in, turn on the machines and go. But as an engineer, learning the art of troubleshooting — how do you fix it and how can you get around it — is where a lot of the creativity comes in. My path was a true learning experience.”

The second North American leg of the tour wrapped up on Oct. 2, at the Etess Arena in Atlantic City and was driven by an all-VUE Audiotechnik rig.

‡‡         Finally, the Phone Rings

In 2010 Hamilton was finishing up a run with Mary J. Blige and got a call asking if he wanted to mix Janet Jackson — and he was excited about the opportunity. “She’s been my client ever since that day,” he notes. “She’s one of the hardest working artists I’ve ever worked with. Her choreography is intense, and she is at every rehearsal, going 200 percent every time. She doesn’t sound check every day, but does sound check the majority of the time. One hundred feet out in the audience, I am an extension of the band, and if something is not right we work it out. Because, at the end of the day, if we can’t give the audience the listening experience and the emotions they got when they first heard that record umpteen years ago, then we are not doing our due diligence. So night in and night out, we give them a stellar performance.”

The single rackspace Universal Audio UAD-2 Live Rack connected via MADI to the console and provided all the plug-ins for the FOH mix. To the left of the monitor is one of the VUE h-8 nearfield speakers Hamilton uses at the FOH position.

‡‡         The FOH Approach

Hamilton’s console of choice is the DiGiCo SD7 with 104 inputs including 32 inputs of Pro Tools over MADI. Kyle notes, “the Pro Tools feed is sounds that can’t be reproduced live — there’s no ‘musical karaoke’ here — and if there’s a part that can physically be played, it’s not in the box. You have to stay true to the body of the music and it all comes together like a musical symphony.”

And like a symphony conductor, Hamilton likes to keep the sound under control. “I don’t like a loud show, but I do like a big, punchy show. We average at 98 dB and peak around 102 dB,” he says. “If you mix everything in a nice balance without having the vocal in the stratosphere, you can bring everything up and still have a nice fat sound without wearing the audience out. But I can never beat the audience, who can peak at 110 dB and are always louder than we are. I keep it comfortable, full and exciting, but you still have to practice safe sound and I don’t want to damage anyone’s ears.”

One new trick in Hamilton’s FOH arsenal is the new Universal Audio UAD-2 Live Rack, which he first used on the Kendrick “Championship” tour, where Lamar performed a series of shows in May and June 2018 along with SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Sir and Lance Skiiiwalker. The UAD-2 is a 16-channel MADI effects processor that lets users apply real-time UAD Processing with MADI-enabled digital consoles. This single-rackspace hardware box and software system integrates the entire library of UAD Powered Plug-Ins into a live sound environment — all at near-zero latency. “I’ve never really been much of a fan of running plug-ins inside the console,” he says. “The UAD rack operates as part of the MADI stream, so I can use it like a true piece of outboard gear. It’s been flawless to date. It’s the new item on my riders and I’ve gotten rid of all the Avalons and everything else, which are no longer in my package.”

FOH engineer Kyle Hamilton checks a few final details before the house opens. Mark Brown/B51 Photography

‡‡         The System

Jeremy Peters, the account rep for audio company Sound Image, worked closely with Kyle Hamilton to put the entire package together — the crew, logistical details and the all-VUE Audiotechnik P.A. system. Peters himself is also an in-demand system engineer and monitor/FOH mixer, having worked for Rascal Flatts, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams, among others.

“A lot of people in the R&B/hip hop world don’t really know the level of excellence that Sound Image has; I had a lot of built-up relationships within that community and became an account rep for Sound Image and help bring them into that world,” says Peters, and this of course, included Hamilton. “I had been telling him about VUE for a long time and introduced him to VUE a couple years ago.” After a successful run with VUE’s flagship al-12 large-format line arrays on last year’s Kendrick Lamar tour, both Hamilton and Peters were confident it could handle the grueling demands of Jackson’s “State of the World” tour.

“I love the VUE Audiotechnik al-12 rig hands-down, and it’s gotten great reviews,” Hamilton explains. “I got it on the TDE Championship Tour with Kendrick Lamar and then later with Pharrell and now with Janet. Most of the cabinets out there are really solid, but the VUE seems to gives a cleaner palette to paint your picture, with a boldness and depth I haven’t heard in other P.A.’s. I’ve had a good run with VUE over the past few years, even with their smaller P.A.’s.”

Ironically, Hamilton’s intro to VUE came from a much smaller package. “I was first introduced to VUE Audiotechnik by using their h-8 near-fields, and when I heard they were building a large-frame cabinet [the al-12], I felt I had to have it,” he says, “Now, I’ve had the al-12s on my third run in major markets — including China, where it was used on the first Chinese Grammy Festival with Pharrell in Bejing,” he says, of the event staged April 30, 2018 at Beijing’s ChangYang Music Theme Music Park. (Williams performed there along with other Grammy winners and nominees including Macy Gray, Phoenix, Daya, James Bay, Carly Rae Jepsen and OneRepublic.)

The mains consisted of VUE al-12s on the tops and al-8 front fills across the front, sitting atop the subs. The system design approach was relatively straightforward, but with a twist, Peters explains. “It combines left/right hangs with what we at Sound Image call our ‘aux,’ which are the hangs on the side of the mains. We didn’t use any flown subs, because we wanted it really clean on the top-end, where it was articulate and you could hear everything. We also wanted to make sure everyone in the audience could hear everything, especially with all the vocals, guitars and keyboards — the mix has a lot going on.”

Of course, LF is always a big part of any R&B show, and in this case, the choice was VUE’s hs-21 21-inch subs, adds Hamilton. “We’re using 24 hs-21’s — 12 per side — and they are not to be played with! They’re a very musical sub, the impact is instant and they go way down into standing waves. In a lot of today’s music — particularly hip-hop and rap — there’s a lot of keys bass and a lot of low, low rumble. There are musical intonations within that, and the hs-21’s recreate that sound almost to a ‘T’.”

Monitor engineer Jim Roach

‡‡         Monitor World

Mixing monitors was engineer Jim Roach, who like Hamilton, was also working on a DiGiCo SD7. Jackson had custom Jerry Harvey Audio JH-16 IEMs and everyone else in the band was also on in-ears. However, “there were a few wedges on stage for guests and some VUE al-12’s with al-12SB subs for an overall fill of the stage and for the dancers,” notes Peters.

‡‡         Mics, Mics, Mics

Hamilton made all the microphone selections. Kick mics are Audix D6s and Shure 91s on internal Kelly Shu mounts. Shure Beta 57As are on snare tops, with KSM-137 condensers on the underside. Toms are Sennheiser 604s. Shure KSM-137s are employed on rides, splashes and hi-hats, with KSM-132s on overheads.

The guitar amp is close-miked by a combination of a Royer 121 and a Sennheiser 609. Background singers use Heil RC-35 capsules on Shure sticks.

Jackson uses a Sennheiser wireless rig with a Sennheiser 5235 dynamic mic capsule with a “floating directivity” design that’s a tight supercardioid at very high frequencies and cardioid to wide-cardioid at low frequencies. This offers ample HF feedback rejection while retaining a full low-end sound. When she switches to a headset mic, the choice is a cardioid Sennheiser HSP 4 model.

A total of 24 VUE hs-21 21-inch subs along the front of the stage (shown here with al-8s used as front fills) supplied plenty of LF punch. Mark Brown/B51 Photography

‡‡         Parting Words

Asked about the experience on this tour, Hamilton said, “Sound Image is incredible and has been my vendor of choice for the past four or five years,” adding “I look at the whole VUE rig as like watching something in 4K, where everything else is in 1080p high-def — but that 4K has that something extra that separates it from the
competition.”

Janet Jackson’s 2018 State of the World Tour

 

Audio Crew

Sound Company: Sound Image

Crew Chief: Joe Calabrese

Playback Engineer: Demetrius Henry

FOH Engineer: Kyle Hamilton

System Tech: Brendan Hines

Monitor Engineer: Jim Roach

Monitor Tech: Jarrod Geruntino

Stage Tech/Patch: Alex Reeder

Sound Image Account Rep: Jeremy Peters

 

 

P.A. System

Mains: VUE Audiotechnik al-12 line arrays

Front Fills: VUE Audiotechnik al-8

Subwoofers: VUE Audiotechnik hs-21

 

FOH Gear

FOH Console: DiGiCo SD7

Outboard: Universal Audio UAD-2 Live Rack

Near Fields: VUE Audiotechnik H-8

 

Monitor Gear

Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD7

IEM Hardware: Sennheiser

IEM: Jerry Harvey Audio JH-16 (Janet Jackson)

Side Fills: VUE al-12s with al-12SB subs

Mics: Sennheiser 5235 and HSP 4 (Jackson vocals); Heil RC-35 capsules on Shure sticks (background vocals); Audix D6 & Shure 91 (kick); Shure Beta 57 and KSM-137 (snare top/bottom); KSM-137s (cymbals); KSM-132s (overheads); Royer R-121 and Sennheiser 609 (guitar amp)

 

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