Chance the Rapper's 'Be Encouraged' Tour

by Kevin the Writer
in Production Profile
Solotech provided an L-Acoustics K1/K2 rig
Solotech provided an L-Acoustics K1/K2 rig

Genre-bending juggernaut Chance the Rapper is proving worthy of the arena-sized tour he’s now on, selling out his great-sounding pyro-filled show wherever he goes. On May 14, he made it a special Mother’s Day edition at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Chance brought his mother down from Chicago for the show and surprised her by bringing out one of her favorites, neo soul artist Maxwell. He announced that 18,300 people showed up to see him that evening, which seemed to surprise even him.

Early on, he joked to the audience: “There’s way too many people here. I’m not used to this… does anybody know where the Pageant is?” [The Pageant is the smaller theater he last played here.] But Chance made it an intimate experience, helped by a Solotech-supplied L-Acoustics system and an FOH engineer (Kyle Bulmann) that smoothly made the transition from theaters to arenas.

This 36-date spring tour of North America kicked off at the Valley View Casino Center (San Diego, CA) on April 24 and wraps up at the Dover International Speedway (Dover, DE) on June 17.

 Chance the Rapper's 'Be Encouraged' Tour

‡‡         Ready for the Arenas

Bulmann, like Chance, hails from Chicago. He started as drummer and percussionist in high school, and at 17, he got to record in a pro recording studio, and was hooked. “It was a great experience, and I just felt instantly at home in that environment,” he says. He was quickly drawn to live sound, and did his undergraduate work at Columbia College in Chicago in live sound reinforcement. After that he worked the regional sound company circuit, doing theaters, corporate, festivals and even Lollapaloozas.

In 2012, he was asked to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to be a guest lecturer and advisor in the School of Theater. Shortly after, Bulmann ended up pursuing a Masters’ in the school’s graduate sound design program. He then started touring with Trey Songz, Kid Cudi and G-Eazy. In 2014, he ran into a former classmate who was doing monitors for Chance, and next he was put on the board for the rapper’s fall tour that year.

Bulmann has been riding the Chance wave ever since. “It’s a different experience going from the theater circuit to the arenas for everyone on the crew, but the biggest difference for [the audio team] is that there is more consistency at this level,” he says. “We’re carrying our own P.A. on this tour, which is always a plus. The other thing is, we have more flexibility as far as tools go … when you’re doing sold-out arenas, the sound company doesn’t stress about adding a couple pieces of outboard gear.” The P.A. boxes consist of L-Acoustics K1, K2, and KS28s. “Solotech is the vendor, and they have been great.”

FOH engineer Kyle Bulmann

‡‡         The FOH Rig

For the tour before this one, Bulmann upgraded from a pair of SSL L300 consoles to the SSL L500 Plus. “It runs the same software, but offers a larger surface and more processing power,” he says. “For outboard, I have a Crane Song STC-8 Compressor Limiter, Bricasti M7, and Lexicon 960L. I’m also using Waves Primary Source Enhancer, Abbey Road Plates, H-Comp, and Vitamin Sonic Enhancer.” He has Chance on a Shure KSM8 Dynamic capsule. For the drums, he’s using a variety of Shures (Beta 91A, Beta 57, B181-C, Beta 98AMP); plus a few Audix D6 (on the gong drum and 18-inch floor tom); and SE Electronic 4400A’s for overheads. “That’s about as close to the original brass-capsule C414-EB as you can get from a new microphone. The 4400A has the vintage condenser vibe to it without the brittle sound that a lot of microphones seem to have these days. It’s been working out really well.”

Another newer toy he’s using is the Rupert Neve Portico II Master Buss Processor. “I have that across the main mix, which is actually just the band,” Bulmann explains. “It’s an awesome piece with all the right kind of character. Chance hits a Crane Song STC-8 Compressor/Limiter and then gets split to a couple different stems. There are different EQ needs on the vocal stem that feeds the main P.A., front fills, and the record feed, so a Lake LM 44 is inserted on the stems being sent out to the P.A. and the record feed stays dry. It all meets back up with the band mix in the matrix mixer and gets sent to the appropriate place. The Neve piece adds that unmistakable ‘analog’ sound. It is the kind of compression you’ve been hearing on records your whole life — the transformers add a bit of warmth and saturation that really helps bring it all together.”

Chance the Rapper's 'Be Encouraged' Tour

‡‡         That Vocal Sound

It’s Chance’s dynamic vocals that keep him busy during the show, as he goes from wispy, soulful vocal stylings to full-out hip-hop hype man and everything in between. “The system has to have really good coverage from the front to the back of the house, because those moments where he’s singing an intimate passage, he needs to be nice and clear 300 feet away in the back of the arena.” Also figuring is the trumpet (miked via a Sennheiser MD-421), which shares some of the vocal range and is also dabbling in a wide variety of dynamics and techniques from subtle, breathy jazz passages to powerhouse lines. That too, was handled well, making for a sonically inventive evening.

“There’s some fader riding, some parallel compression, and the Neve/Crane Song compressors at the end of the chain to make sure the biggest moments don’t blow the audience out of their seats, decibel-wise.” This can be tricky in arenas like St. Louis — the crowd was extremely enthusiastic and, as Bulmann noted, they would peak at 112 dB (A-weighted, slow), causing him to mix a little louder than usual. “It’s one of the louder arenas that’s really reinforcing the energy of the crowd, so you have to find the balance of a great sounding show that isn’t getting stepped on too much by the fans.”

Monitor engineer Rob Ziemba

‡‡         Mixing for Legit Musicians

Monitor engineer Rob Ziemba got his start mixing in Detroit-area clubs, theater and smaller sound companies before moving to L.A. in 2005, where he did some work at Mates Rehearsal. He did some studio work before hooking up with rap rock band the Hollywood Undead in 2008. From there, he hooked up with Brit rockers Bush, handling monitoring duties for them, and has done the same for Chance since last year.

In some ways, Chance’s stage is simple, with keyboardist/music director Peter Wilkins (who also runs track), and three musicians including a drummer with a large gong drum and four background singers. All are on IEMs, but different ones: Chance is on Sensaphonics 2Max, the musicians and three background singers are on Ultimate Ears, and one background singer is on a Shure. “It’s scattered, and while it might be easier to have them all on one system, it didn’t justify spending the money to do that,” he says. “It doesn’t affect me too much, and these guys are pretty easy to mix for.” The drummer is hard-wired, and there’s a subwoofer on the floor for the keyboardist. In addition to all that, there are L-Acoustic ARCS for side fills sitting horizontal on the stage. “At first, we had them flown, but the benefit was negligible, with the wedges carrying a lot of the workload. Our creative director [Michael Apostolos] wanted a clean stage, so we tried to get the wedges out of the way and give him more space.” The wedges sit in the pit on top of the ground-stacked subwoofers. All of these are important, because Chance likes to take his IEM’s out from time to time.

Ziemba previously mixed on the SSL 300, but stepped up to the SSL 500 Plus for this arena tour. “It’s basically the same with more faders, and it’s worked out well for this tour,” he says. “It’s cool you can move things around and build effects without audio interruptions — other boards might go silent for a moment, which I’d rather not have happen … like today, I was moving faders and mixes around while Maxwell was doing a sound check.” He adds that he appreciates working with “real musicians.” “The band is great — legit musicians who don’t just rely on the tracks,” he says. To prove the point, he mentions that, in Chicago, it was common for the band to go to a club after a big show and just jam — something they are experimenting with on the road now, doing it for the first time in St. Louis (the club was The Old Rock House). “They are all involved in the album and writing, so this is a legitimate collective.”

Additional mixes go back to the video world, backline tech, and even to security. “They have a bunch of talkback mics on stage so he can change the set list at any time,” Ziemba says. “He wants the band to be ready to react, as he’s really good at reading the vibe of the room, and if he’s not feeling it, he’ll change it — he keeps us on our toes.”

Solotech provided L-Acoustics speakers

Chance the Rapper’s “Be Encouraged” Tour

CREW

  • Sound Company: Solotech
  • FOH Engineer: Kyle Bulmann
  • Monitor Engineer: Robert Ziemba
  • System Tech: Guillame Richard
  • RF Coordinator/P.A. Tech: Eric Marchand
  • Stage/P.A. Techs: James Michael Lavielle, Francois Desjardins

P.A. SYSTEM

  • Mains: (28) L-Acoustics K1, (44) L-Acoustics K2 — configuration varies by venue requirements and size
  • Subwoofers: (48) L-Acoustics KS28

FOH GEAR

  • FOH Console: Solid State Logic L500 Plus
  • Outboard: Crane Song STC-8 Compressor/Limiter; Bricasti M7 reverb; Lexicon 960L multieffects; Waves Primary Source Enhancer, Abbey Road Plates, H-Comp, and Vitamin Sonic Enhancer; Rupert Neve Portico II Master Buss Processor; Lake LM 44.

MON GEAR

  • Monitor Console: Solid State Logic L500 Plus
  • IEM Earpieces: Sensaphonics; Ultimate Ears; Shure
  • Sidefills: L-Acoustic ARCS
  • Wireless Hardware: Shure Axient, Shure UHF-R
  • Vocal Mics: Shure KSM8 capsule (Chance), Beta 58 (background vox); Sennheiser e845
  • Trumpet Mic: Sennheiser MD-421
  • Drum Mics: Shure Beta 91A (kick), Shure Beta 57 (snare top), Shure B181-C’s (snare bottom, hi-hat), Shure Beta 98AMP’s (snares 2 & 3, high toms), Audix D6 (tom 5 & gong); Sennheiser MD-441 (under-ride mic), Se Electronics 4400a’s (overheads)
  • Direct Boxes: Rupert Neve Designs RNDI; Radial Engineering JDI’s