This spring, the 23-city Verizon Ladies First Tour showcased three of the biggest voices in contemporary R&B and Hip Hop, Missy Elliott (with special guest Tamia), Beyonce, and Alicia Keys. Multi-Grammy winning, multi-platinum recording artists Alicia Keys and Beyonce chose Sennheiser/Neumann microphones to bring their powerhouse voices to the fans. Alicia found the new Sennheiser Evolution Series 935 cardioid capsule with the Evolution 500 body suited to her style, while Beyonce continues her preference for the Sennheiser/Neumann wireless hybrid mike (SKM 5000 with KK 105-S capsule).
Evolution 935 is Key for Alicia
One of the most remarkable singer-songwriters of her generation, R&B/Hip Hop diva Alicia Keys has no problem defining her individuality and talent. For this tour, Alicia brought the audience into an emotional soulful world with a set including hits from her recent "The Diary of Alicia Keys" release and her multi-Grammy winning debut CD. Keys stayed with the same Sennheiser Evolution 935/500 wireless mike, while moving effortlessly from a high-powered dance number to subtle ballads at the piano.
Veteran engineer Dave Skaff, who has worked with Shania Twain, Barbara Streisand, and U2 since 1985 among others, was behind the board for Alicia this tour and last. "A few months back, I worked with Alicia on some award shows and special guest appearances and decided to give the Evolution 935 a try," says Skaff. "As soon as we put it up, I knew this was the right mike for her."
Last year, Skaff was one of several seasoned touring engineers involved in beta testing of the Sennheiser E93, and the mike has become his favorite. "It's very tight on axis, but still good off axis, never losing the body and feel. Unlike other microphones, it keeps the natural decay in its tone on the bottom end," explains Skaff. "Alicia can belt into this microphone and I've yet to hear it collapse like other mikes and transmitters she's used. She's a dynamic singer and parts of the show are just her and piano where I have to catch every little breath, which is so important, yet it can't sound forced or annoying as it's very much a part of what she is doing in those quiet moments."
Keys' dynamic set included three background singers (all using the same Evolution 935 capsule with the 500 series body), a ten piece band, and additional instrumental tracks taking up 81 inputs on the Digico D5Live console. According to Skaff, SPL's generally hover around 98 to 103dB with up-tempo numbers peaking around 107dB.
Keys' vocal chain, after the Sennheiser Evolution 935, routed through the console then out to an insert to a Manley Vox Box. "The console's front-end amps and converters are warm sounding, and the Vox Box is currently one of my favorite vocal processing units that I rely on a lot," says Skaff. Alicia is using Future Sonics Ear Monitors® with the new Sennheiser Evolution G2 packs for wireless monitoring. The rest of the band is using Evolution 300 Series wireless monitors.
Both the artist and engineer rave about the feel and balance of the Sennheiser E935. Skaff believes it is the attention to details, going far beyond sonic integrity, that makes this mike a winner. "The way Sennheiser engineers have worked the baskets and capsules is impressive, and their signature quality in RF is an industry benchmark as far as I am concerned," says Skaff.
It’s Destiny for Beyonce and Sennheiser
Riding a continuous wave of success, Beyonce’s music and dancing extravaganza for the Verizon Ladies First Tour made her stellar Grammy performance seem like a warm up act. Backed by a full band, a bevy of dancers and extensive video, Beyonce works the crowd with her impressive 70-minute set. Once again, she called on the talents of Horace Ward for her FOH duties, who worked with her last winter during her European tour.
With everything from up-tempo productions to quiet and sultry ballads, Ward needed a microphone that could deliver all of the power and nuances of one of the best voices on the planet. Beyonce’s Sennheiser SKM 5000 wireless mike with a Neumann KK 105-S capsule helped her powerful performance. "My favorite microphone without a doubt is the Sennheiser SKM 5000 with the Neumann KK 105-S capsule," explains Horace. "I've used it with Mary J. Blige, and other dynamic vocalists who need a high degree of clarity, and I moved Beyonce over to it and she sounds really good." Beyonce’s three background singers are using the Sennheiser Evolution 500 wireless systems, again, with the new Evolution 935 capsule.
Beyonce’s performance is also backed by a full band that consists of three keyboard players, a guitarist, bass player, drummer, deejay, three background singers and plenty of percussive and instrumentation loops. "This is a very dynamic show," says Ward, "so to get everything melding with the sequencers is a challenge, but I grew up doing that starting with Teddy Riley in the first eras of looping and sequencing during the heyday of the New Jack Swing era," said Ward, who’s worked with artists like Prince, Usher, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige, Keith Sweat, L.L. Cool J, among many others.
Ward normally uses an outboard preamp on Beyonce, but found the Digico D5 Live microphone pre's to work well. Vocals route to an inserted Apogee six-band parametric and an Avalon AB2044 compressor. Vocal effects are primarily generated from the Digico for background vocals while primary delay and reverb effects for Beyonce are generated through an outboard TC Electronics 2290 and Eventide HD3500 harmonizer respectively. Beyonce uses Future Sonics Ear Monitors® with Sennheiser 3000 Series packs.
Photo by Debbie VanStory