For the first time, the 2004 VH1 Divas concert featured "in the round" performances during its live show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The new spherical perspective of Divas 2004 generated heightened excitement for the event's audience as well as for those watching via television around the world on April 18th.
The broadcast showcased the stellar talents of divas from all musical genres. Standout performers included Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, Jessica Simpson, Ashanti, Eve, teenage newcomer Joss Stone, and honorary "man-diva" Tom Jones. Special appearances by Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Gloria Estefan, and many others rounded out the star-studded line-up.
Alongside the concert's reoccurring theme of powerful female singers, a powerful microphone made itself present during numerous performances: the Neumann KK 105-S/Sennheiser 5000 wireless microphone system. For the seventh consecutive year, Kevin Sanford, owner and founder of Wireless First, supplied and coordinated the Neumann/Sennheiser hybrids–used by LaBelle, Simpson, Stone, Eve, and all presenters. Sanford's firm focuses on the wireless systems needs of top television productions throughout the United States.
"This is the third year for Divas at the MGM Grand," explains Sanford, "To change it up a bit, they did it in-the-round, and configured everything in the middle of the arena. For me, of course, that makes things a little more difficult."
Instead of only covering one side of the arena, Sanford had the hefty task of insuring coverage of the entire venue."I had to cover it high and wide," chuckles Sanford. "On stage, a center, doughnut-shaped area gave the performers a place to walk, and they generally would walk around the entire perimeter during each performance."
Sanford placed antennas at 15’ above the top of the arena seats, for a total height of 50’ in the air. He also placed antennas on far stage left and right, using two SAS 232 antennas, some helical antennas along with a set of log periodic antennas, and several Sennheiser 2003s. With his equipment placed accordingly, "everything worked great," Sanford says. "As with any wireless system: height, a good switching system, and line-of-sight for the antennas are key."
Sanford used a large amount of Neumann/Sennheiser combo systems, because he trusts the hybrid's smooth-sounding 105-S capsule and powerful SKM 5000 transmitter. "These microphones are my personal choice," he says. "As an RF guy, I always want to go with what I know performs the best in an RF environment. In shows like this, I don't have a lot of control over what people use. Artists will come in with their requests for what they choose to use. However, my choice for this kind of event in this setup is always Neumann/Sennheiser wireless microphone systems."
Along with Wireless First, Mikael Stewart of ATK Audiotek Corp. provided sound reinforcement for the audience, while Biff Dawson of Westwood One was the broadcast music mixer. In live broadcast situations such as Divas, when artist upon artist and mike system upon mike system are waiting in the wings, tremendous responsibility lies on the shoulders of the event's wireless specialist.
"Mikael and Biff would count on me to make sure that things are the same every time," reflects Sanford. "From their perspective, they are pulling up snapshots of scenes, and it's more about me checking in with them as things change just to make sure that everyone's on top of what's going on. With the way that these shows go, we don't have a lot of information before we get there. There are so many artists and they can't possibly get it all perfectly pulled together beforehand. The artists come in and we make it happen. Sometimes they change things at the last minute and you just have to be prepared for that."
While reflecting on highlights of the Divas 2004 event, Sanford remembers that the whole show ran uncommonly smooth. "I'll have to say that this year was really smooth," he says. "It was not any less large, or any less grand, but during the show, we were looking at each other and saying, 'wow, this is going really smooth!' Typically with the Divas shows, for some odd reason, we'll get an artist that just screeches it to a halt, or there's some sort of strange calamity. This time, from the top on down, it was completely smooth; it's a nice change!"
VH1's Divas specials, raise funds for the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music programs in America's public schools, and to raising awareness of the positive impact that music participation has on students. Since VH1 Save The Music was created in 1997, more than $25 million worth of musical instruments has been donated to 1,000 public schools in 75 cities, improving the lives of more than 500,000 children.