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Yamaha’s got the X Factor – and the X Factor’s got Yamaha

May, 2008

Talent contests in a wide variety of styles are currently one of the most globally successful television formats. And one of the highest profile shows – the X Factor – has just begun a UK tour with, for the first time, Yamaha digital consoles at both the front of house and monitor positions.

The format of the show is relatively simple. Accompanied by a four piece live band, ten acts from the television series aired between October and December last year perform sequentially in a fast moving, fast changing show, providing regional audiences with a chance to see and hear them on stage.

The show covers a wide variety of musical styles: the harmonies of girl band Hope and boy band Futureproof, catchy pop by Alisha Bennett and Same Difference, the operatics of Rhydian Roberts, the diva-like tones of Niki Evans and Beverley Trotman, plus the crooning of Andy Williams and series winner Leon Jackson.

The backing band providing the music for each show comprises guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums, plus there are VT feeds and pre-recorded elements from hard disk such as intros, orchestral parts, brass, and backing vocals. The prime requirement for the FOH and monitor consoles in this situation is flexibility. This is achieved by using a Yamaha PM5D-RH console and the new DSP5D expansion system at both the FOH and monitor positions, provided by Wigwam Hire.

Both FOH engineer Nigel Fogg and monitor engineer James Baker are experienced PM5D users. This is Nigel’s third X Factor tour, although he’s mixed the previous ones on an analog board, while James is on an X Factor tour for the first time.

“Because of the number of artists and the rapid changeovers, it could get very complex. So we felt the best approach was not to make life too complicated,” says Nigel.

“The changeovers between the acts are really tight,” adds James. “There’s a VT segment between each one, which is only between 40 seconds and a minute long, so there’s not a lot of time to change the settings. In addition to that, the first four artists only do two songs each. So by the time you’re into the swing of them being onstage, they’re off again. Keeping it as simple as possible was really important.”

Both Nigel and James had to be on their mettle, as the technical rehearsal period was short and there was just a single day of full production rehearsals with the artists. But the PM5D’s straightforward programming ensured that it didn’t impact on the first dates of the tour itself.

“The fact that we can both save songs as scenes for instant recall is really good. It makes things so much quicker,” says Nigel. “The ten channels of radio mics are all on recalls and we’ve got all the various EQ and fader settings saved in each scene. I have every song saved as a scene, while James has every artist saved. At the end of each song, I just step up a scene and James does the same thing between each act. It’s very straightforward and, of course, couldn’t be done with an analog console.

“The scenes also help with the set, because it’s surprisingly varied,” adds James. “You’ll get a loud rocky number followed by a very quiet mellow one, so the fact that Nigel can just step up and change all the EQ and effects settings makes that much more straightforward.”

Up on stage the monitor rig comprises stereo in-ears and a sub for each of the musicians, while the singers are catered for by downstage wedges, flown side fills, and a pair of upstage fills for when each artist is entering through a pair of LED screen ’doors’.

“I’m also running some ambient mics – in all its 24 monitor mixes,” says James. “As Nigel has said, being able to save everything is great. The next day, whether it’s several nights in one place or getting into a new venue, all I have to do is load the settings and re-EQ the wedges for the room again. That part makes both of our jobs a lot quicker. I also store everything to the PCMCIA card.”

Of course the PM5D’s ability to instantly recall channel settings for different artists also means that a show which features 21 different singers can be done with just 10 channels of wireless mics, saving on both the logistics of running many radio channels and the tour budget.

And, speaking of the tour budget, the Yamaha consoles are also helping to maximize its revenue in other ways.

“We’re using just the onboard effects on each console and they’re absolutely fine,” says Nigel. “I did the last tour using an analog console with extender wings and several racks of compressors and EQs, which took up a lot of space. Using the PM5Ds means that we’re a lot more compact and so the venue can sell more seats, which they always like of course.”

“On top of that, it has also reduced the amount of truck space,” adds James. “Despite the fact that it’s a tour of major arenas, the entire sound rig is in just one truck.”

Perhaps the sternest test for the equipment and sound team, not to mention the audience’s tolerance, comes in the section of the show when four of the infamous ‘auditionees’ – those who were especially memorable from the TV show for their inherent tunelessness – perform a song partway through the show.

James smiles wryly. “You have to remember that, at the end of the day, although the band are full-time professionals, the singers are amateurs and if we over-complicate things we end up just digging ourselves a hole,” he says.

“There are a couple of the singers who have some experience and have adapted to the experience well and their microphone technique is fine. But the others aren’t used to it, although they are coming round. It’s a learning curve for them, so it’s best for everyone to keep it straightforward. You have to remind them to stay on the mic because, if they’re singing inches back from it, there’s a lot of fresh air going down the mic. And, of course, if that’s the case I’m not going to turn the wedges up!”

Nigel adds: “As we’ve said, the thing is that the show constantly moves on so quickly. There’s no time to be too finicky about things, you just have to have it sounding really good and be able to move with things at a quick pace.”


Products PM5D-RH , DSP5D
Location UK
Company Wigwam Acoustics

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