Jay-Z and Eminem played four nights between New York’s Yankee Stadium and Detroit’s
Comerica Park, aided by a massive d&b audiotechnik PA from Eighth Day Sound.
By Clive Young.
New York’s new Yankee Stadium and Detroit’s Comerica Park are homes to revered baseball teams, but in late summer, they became the chosen venues of the Home and Home tour. Fielding Jay-Z and Eminem in a doubleheader of verbal pyrotechnics, the four shows were the largest hip-hop concerts ever, as each night found the rappers playing to more than 42,000 fans as they brought out special guests like Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Drake, Beyonce, 50 Cent and Dr. Dre among others.
Working to ensure that every syllable was heard was Highland Heights, OH-based Eighth Day Sound, which has tackled tours by both artists in the past. Manning the house desks for the tour were the rappers’ longtime FOH men, Kenyatta ‘Kelo’ Saunders, mixing Jay-Z, and Tim Colvard, handling Eminem.
“The shows with Eminem were probably as big a production as we’ve done so far, as far as video and lights go—but our sound is always massive like that,” laughed Saunders. “We rehearsed, but what was crazy was that Jay changed the show during line check! It pretty much goes like that if he feels something could be better, and then he had a couple of special guests, so the band never heard the music–we just winged it! Jay’s the best, so if that’s what he wants, that’s what he gets.”
Saunders mixed the shows on a Midas XL8, which he chose citing its “analog sound and warmth, and the practicality of digital.” The unending stream of special guests underlined, however, why he doesn’t use snapshots for mixing shows: “The whole show just builds momentum as you go, so I like to have it as open as possible. I use the POP groups on that particular console, but I don’t do a lot of snapshots. I find myself needing room to maneuver just in case Jay changes a song, which he does a lot–and you don’t want to be locked into having something turned off in a snapshot that needs to be on. A couple of times, I got in trouble like that, so that will never happen again.”
The desk might be current-day, but some of Jay-Z’s audio gear was old-school, including the most important part—his vocal mic, a Shure wireless SM58. “That works best for his vocal,” said Saunders firmly. “I know a lot of people go for other stuff, but he has this 2.5 thing that will drive you up a wall, and if you use a Beta, it’s only gonna accentuate that spot, so I try to keep him as warm as possible. I like the music to hug him vocally.” Otherwise, most of the stage was covered with “the basic Shure package,” although the drums sported an Audix D6 outside the kick and a Shure SM91 on the inside, and AKG 414s to capture overheads and percussion.
Since hip-hop began in the Bronx more than 30 years ago, it was only fitting that it was the genre of the first concert to be held in the new Yankee Stadium, which opened last year. Of course, sports venues aren’t always the best place for music, but Saunders found himself pleasantly surprised by the new facility.
“Yankee Stadium’s acoustics are 1,000 percent better than what I expected,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a horrible experience, but with Eighth Day’s system, it was great. I have to give them the credit, because the way they hung the d&b rig–my favorite–they created such a nice coverage around the whole place.” The PA on hand was comprised of d&b Audiotechnik J8s, J12s, J subs and B2 subs.
“It’s a pretty high stadium,” Saunders observed. “The wall is huge and I didn’t know it was going to be that tall. I think Comerica Park in Detroit sounded a little better because it had sort of vents where sound could escape and not bounce around so much. You get a fuller sound, plus it’s also smaller so it was a little tighter. Yankee Stadium was pretty tight for the size of the stadium, and it really fooled me—in a good way. It worked out.”
When credited for a good-sounding show, however, Saunders was quick to point to the audio crew and highlight musical director Omar Edwards (“He comes up with the melody and I just amplify it”) and monitor engineer Kenny Nash, remarking, “He’s the best ever—man, without him, I don’t know how we would do half the stuff that we pull off.”
Ryan Cecil, Eminem’s monitor engineer, surveys the scene
at New York’s Yankee Stadium, just hours after mixing
the artist at MTV’s Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.With a genre whose bedrock is lingual acrobatics, clear, accurate monitors are especially crucial. For Eminem and his team, those mixes were handled by Ryan Cecil, who had just stepped off a year-plus on the road with Black Eyed Peas. Complicating the two shows in New York was the fact that Eminem appeared the night before on MTV’s Video Music Awards—in Los Angeles.
“We took a red eye back into the first day at Yankee Stadium,” said Cecil. “Tim, our front of house engineer, stayed in New York and got everything set up there, doing the calculations of the PA and everything, while I went out and did the VMAs. We landed, went to the hotel for an hour and showered, went over and started checking wireless. Chris Messina, our front of house tech, and Edgardo Vertanessian, my tech on stage, did a great job; everything was set up exactly right. I wasn’t even worried about it coming in, because Eighth Day put a really good crew together to take of it all for us.”
This year has found Eminem performing for the first time with a full band based around drums, percussion, two keyboard players, a DJ and a female backing vocalist. The result is that a total of 66 inputs are sent to Cecil’s Avid Venue Profile console at stageside. For the Home and Home shows, their mixes were heard through a combination of 10 d&b audiotechnik M2s downstage, hidden from view under grates, and J-series sidefills supplemented by B2 subs. Cecil also created eight personal monitor mixes for both hardwired and Sennheiser G2 wireless systems.
Before the Detroit shows, however, he had to create the monitors themselves for one artist who hadn’t been on stage in years: “I had to call Ultimate Ears for Dr. Dre at 6 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, to find somebody to come out on Friday, so his ears would be delivered on Tuesday. They pulled it off and made us some sets of ears pretty much overnight when you factor in the weekend, so it was impressive.”
Once again, miking on stage was largely Shure products, while vocals were captured with Sennheisers, using EM 1046 receivers and custom-chromed SKM 5000 handhelds with ME 5005 capsules. “All that stuff, the technology’s a few years behind,” Cecil admitted, “but the sound quality is great so there’s been no reason to change it.”
The monitor mixes were relatively unadorned by effects, with only factory-standard Venue reverbs and a slap delay put to use. He recalled, “We rehearsed for a week in a hotel up in Detroit, staying above the ballroom we were rehearsing in–which is a really nice way to do it because you just take the elevator down in the morning. First day, we got everyone up and going, and it didn’t seem to fit to start adding a lot of plug ins; we just kept it really simple.”
With the four concerts now the stuff of memory and musical history, they may well signal the start of a new era for hip-hop. Stadium tours have traditionally been the realm of rock n’ roll, so as rap acts start filling the bowls, Saunders sees their concerts taking a cue from rock and giving it their own spin: “[Our shows are now] kind of rock-influenced; we’re putting a little more of that into it, for the festivals and the bigness and the grandness of where you can take live music. In a place that big, you have to go there, you have to rock out. It’s pretty awesome!”
Eighth Day Sound