Wigwam Acoustics supplied Shure Axient wireless microphone systems and PSM1000 In-ears for Pharrell Williams’ recent six-week Dear G I R L tour, which took place in major venues in Western and Central Europe – including London’s O2 Arena.
Shure’s Axient wireless microphones and PSM1000 in-ear monitoring systems were sold by Shure Distribution UK.
Pharrell’s regular monitor engineer Jeremy Peters approached US-based RF engineer and stage and microphone tech Matthew Bock, of Nashville audio technology vendor Sound Image early in 2014 for advice about which wireless systems to use on the live dates. Matthew promptly recommended Shure’s Axient, on which he had undergone Shure training and certification when the product was released.
Pharrell had played the two-week-long Coachella festival in the US in April 2014 and had endured continual RF interference during the first week, which resulted in the crew resorting to using wired microphones for much of the band. After that, there was a determined effort among the tour crew to improve the wireless systems, as Jeremy explains.
“When I started talking to the FOH guy, it became obvious that Pharrell wanted the best of the best,” he reflects.
“From the beginning, there was no resistance to simply getting the very best gear. I knew what ears I wanted to use, I love the PSM1000s: they sound terrific, the RF on them is great and they have a lot of gain so that was a no-brainer. And for the mics, I wanted to go Axient from the beginning.
“I’ve worked for and with Sound Image many times before – everything from FOH to System Tech, and have worked with Matt on some really big gigs where he was handling the RF side,” he continues.
“So I asked him about Axient because he was the only person I knew that had really toured with it and built a rig from scratch, who knew what we would need. He basically put the whole rig together for me then, before he even came on board properly. Then we took on Sound Image officially, and I was asked, ‘should we get Matt?’ and I said, ‘yes, you bet!’”
Matthew specified six channels of Axient, two for Pharrell’s vocals (one main and one backup, both running in frequency diversity mode), two for main support vocalists, and two guest vocal channels.
Ten channels of PSM1000 in-ear monitoring were also used for the members of Pharrell’s band, with Shure’s UHF-R wireless microphone systems supplying four more channels for supporting instruments.
Following successful one-off dates in the US, Sound Image was asked to provide the systems for Pharrell’s main European tour.
In order to ensure that the wireless systems were correctly specified for use in Europe, Sound Image approached Wigwam Acoustics’ parent company SSE, with whom they had previously worked in the UK, to supply an exact copy of the wireless equipment used on the US dates.
Wigwam supplied the equipment; Shure Distribution UK fulfilled the order and carried out tech support for the tour as it moved around Europe.
“RF interference is such a problem at live venues now,” Matthew explains.
“The situation is only going to get worse around the world as more and more spectrum is given over to mobile communications over the next few years. My experience of using Axient in the past had shown how reliable and resistant to interference it was, so that was my recommendation to Jeremy Peters. It was also because I really rate the Axient spectrum manager, the AXT600 and Shure’s Wireless Workbench management software, which I use with wireless systems from Shure and other manufacturers. Using those has allowed me to plan for the worst-case scenario in each venue – and then if it’s not so bad when you actually get there, you’re as prepared as you can be. That’s really my watchword: plan for the worst, hope for the best.
“Some of the venues were very noisy in RF terms,” he furthers. “In one country, I decided to use the PSM1000s in 100mW high-power mode and I had to get special licences for that. That limited me to certain carefully defined frequencies for those, but I was able to ring-fence those by using the inclusion groups feature in Wireless Workbench, and then tuning all of the other wireless equipment to different frequencies around the in-ears. That was a really cool feature that I haven’t been able to use with other programs I’ve used for wireless coordination. And in Italy, where I’ve had RF noise problems in the past, I was able to put the Axient transmitters in high-power mode and pad the inputs down on the Axient AXT630 antenna distribution system to lower the RF noise floor. Axient was really useful there, in terms of making the most of the available RF spectrum.”
Matthew reports that he received “excellent support from both Shure in the UK and in the USA while on the tour. My Axient training was invaluable, and I really appreciated Shure’s on-line support and documentation for the systems.”
Jeremy was equally pleased with the performance of the Axient and PSM1000 systems. “From a monitor engineer’s standpoint, once we took on Axient I didn’t have any problems with RF during the whole tour – and that’s pretty rare. With this kit, it didn’t happen – not once. That reliability is worth something. As a mix engineer, it’s one less thing to worry about; I can be focused on mixing and how everything sounds, without being distracted by whether the signals are even going to make it to the desk in the first place.”
“There aren’t any better wireless options out there than Axient and PSM1000 for major global tours in terms of wireless stability, RF and audio performance, remote monitoring and control options, smart recharging technology and overall ease of use and reliability,” adds Shure Distribution UK’s RF specialist Tuomo Tolonen. “Pharrell is another world-class artist whose adoption of these systems and positive experiences backs this up.”
Sound Image is now on board for Pharrell’s forthcoming US live dates. “We’ll be continuing to use the same gear that served us well in Europe,” Matthew confirms.
“In fact, I’d like to move more of the backline over to Axient as well.”
“It’s the best wireless gear on the market,” concludes Jeremy. “I wouldn’t want to use anything else. My artist is happy, my FOH guy is happy, I’m happy, the band are happy, so we keep moving!”