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Jennifer Hudson Live at the Apollo

George Petersen • October 2021Production Profile • October 11, 2021

Jennifer Hudson Live at the Apollo – photos by Todd Kaplan

Aretha Franklin may have passed away three years ago, but the spirit of the undisputed queen of soul certainly lived on at New York’s Apollo Theater, as Jennifer Hudson, four background vocalists and a nine-piece band took the stage on Aug. 19. This special concert (just six days after the opening of Respect, the biopic with Hudson portraying Franklin) also marked the reopening of The Apollo, which returned to life after being in Covid lockdown since March of 2020. Sponsored by MasterCard, the live show — which featured a musical mix of Hudson’s past hits and a variety of Aretha’s classics — was also captured for a streaming broadcast to millions of viewers a week later. It had to be perfect.

Solotech was brought in to handle the show’s lighting and video, while Clair Global supplied the audio control package (consoles, etc.) to tie into the Apollo’s existing d&b audiotechnik house rig. Installed in 2013 (and still going strong), the latter consists of left/right hangs — each with eight d&b V8 line array enclosures above two V12s on each side; two d&b J-SUBs and a J-INFRA Sub under the stage to add LF punch. Four d&b E8s provide front fills and 11 d&b M4 floor monitors are available, although with all of the bandmembers on IEMs, just a few downstage wedges were employed. Among other gear, Clair brought an Avid S6L-24 FOH console, a DiGiCo SD7 for monitors and a full-on Shure Axient Digital wireless rig.

The A-Team

With a high-profile event like this, the producers went with two A-list audio engineers who had been working with Hudson since 2014 — Wayne Trevisani at FOH (and mixing the program for the later streaming feed) and Nelson Robinson on monitors. Besides Hudson, Robinson is also frequently on the road doing FOH for Brian McKnight and gospel artist Kirk Franklin and monitors for Common and Mariah Carey. Over the years, Trevisani has worked live and in the studio with artists ranging from Kanye West, Dolly Parton, Iggy Pop and Blondie, to the Zappa Kids, the Tom Tom Club, Chris & Tina from The Talking Heads and Mick Jones from the Clash/Big Audio Dynamite. He also won a 2016 Grammy for engineering Maxwell’s “Lake By The Ocean.”

After months of being limited to live streamings and video recordings during the pandemic, both the crew and band were anxious to get back to “real” shows. “This started off as a promotional tour, with us doing Good Morning America and [The Late Show with] Stephen Colbert and then, after three days of rehearsals, we moved into the Apollo for a day of production rehearsals,” Robinson explained.

During a break, FOH engineer Wayne Trevisani checks out some test recordings from the streaming broadcast.

The FOH View

“Ironically, for this Jennifer Hudson gig at the Apollo, the most important thing was the recording — there was a lot of money and a huge audience riding on the streaming, and at the same time, we did an amazing sounding show at the Apollo,” says Trevisani. “This show was more about the million or so people who watched the streaming performance for (sponsor) MasterCard than the 3,000 people in the Apollo, but both were great. Afterwards, I took it back to my studio and mixed everything. Everybody was super happy about it.”

In terms of his FOH desk, Trevisani is firmly in the Avid camp. “I’ve been working with Avid live boards since they first came out with the [Venue] D-Show. At the time, only myself and Robert [Scovill] had one out on the road. I loved its integration with Pro Tools and its plug-ins, which I’ve always been a fan of. When you mix a record and can bring those same plug-ins on the road, it’s great! Avid’s S6L just took the platform to another level. It’s lovely, fun and transparent.”

For the Apollo project, Trevisani had an Avid S6L for the live mix of the 56 tracks from stage (drums, bass, piano, guitar, four horns, keys, four background vocalists and Hudson). “We were recording to Pro Tools and I had Nelson as a backup, with MADI to his DiGiCo onstage and recording that as well.”

The show marked the return of live music to The Apollo after being off limits to audiences for 18 months. Photo by Todd Kaplan

The Voice

“Jennifer has such a powerful voice that it’s a matter of reining it in,” says Trevisani. “I never have to worry about her feeding back — even in front of the P.A. I had just switched her over to a DPA 2028, because she had been distorting her previous mic. But the DPA was lovely. Once you get the right capsule, the rest is easy, and it was all in the box. I used the stock Avid preamps, followed by a Q10, straight into a C6, a CLA 76 and then a CLA 2A, and I do some soft compression on each of those.”

Despite the importance of the streaming mix, Trevisani didn’t overlook the live concert. “The Apollo is a great room, and I really like the d&b rig. I had to do some minor EQ’ing, but I’m a fan of those boxes — they’re the ultimate theater box. It really killed in that house. It was great, and the Apollo support staff were fantastic.”

Monitor engineer Nelson Robinson with Hudson’s blinged-out wireless mics

Monitorworld

According to Robinson, “I brought in a DiGiCo SD7 console for monitors with a couple pieces of outboard gear: an Avalon 737 for Jennifer’s vocal preamp and then a Rupert Neve Designs 5045 (Primary Sound Enhancer) to handle some of the background stage noise I might pick up on her mic. I’m not sure what’s in that box, but it’s magic! All my EQs, comps and dynamic EQs were done in the console. It sounds sweet.”

Mix-wise, there was a lot going on, especially with 14 people onstage. “I was doing 22 sets of in-ear mixes and one set of downstage wedges. With everyone on in-ears (mostly on 64 Audio A12ts), it was a mostly quiet stage with just a lot of RF going on. There were no subs or side fills, so the stage levels were just the drums and the two downstage wedges that are a backup for Jennifer,” says Robinson.

Both engineers collaborated on mic selection. “We used a lot of DPA mics on the horns; Wayne and I switched Jennifer to the DPA 2028 on a Shure Axient Digital transmitter and it’s been solid ever since. The background singers use Axient Digital with Beta 58 heads. In terms of instrument mics, it was Shure Beta 52A and Beta 91A on kick; SM57s on snare top/bottom; Sennheiser e904s on toms; AKG C-414s for overheads; the piano was a MIDI feed to a Nord that was offstage; and the guitar, bass and horns were on
Axient wireless beltpacks.”

The Result?

From all reports (audiences and critics alike), the evening at the Apollo was a smashing success. And it helps when everyone works in sync. “We’ve all been together for a long time,” says Robinson. “Most of the musicians grew up in the Chicago church scene, and we all pretty much knew each other. Working with Jennifer is really a family kind of thing.”

But perhaps best of all, “Jennifer loved the show,” says Trevisani. “There were a lot of smiles backstage when it finished up, and Jennifer was really excited about it, saying ‘I want to do this again’.” Given that reaction, we wouldn’t be surprised if a reprise is already in the works.

 

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