What is it about The Beatles? The Fab Four broke up in 1970, yet the band’s music remains an international phenomenon 41 years later.
Anyone looking for proof should see Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles, now playing at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Rain, a Beatles tribute band, was launched after The Beatles disbanded, touring with various members since the 1970s—much longer than The Beatles themselves were out on tour—and playing to more than 1.5 million fans, screaming and singing along as if they were back in New York’s old Shea Stadium circa 1965. The Broadway iteration has sound designed by Broadway veteran Abe Jacob (with sets by Scott Christensen and Todd Skinner, video by Darren McCaulley and Mathieu St-Arnaud, and lighting by Stephan Gotschel).
“The songs are incredible pop standards that still work today,” says Jacob. “That’s what’s bringing in the audiences, as well as spot-on performances. These are great songs performed as they were meant to be. Most people have never heard these songs live.” Jacob also designed the original Beatles tribute band, Beatlemania, so he is somewhat of a Beatles manic himself.
Of course, The Beatles’ original concert sound in the 1960s could only be considered largely inadequate by today’s standards. “At the concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, The Beatles used less power than some bands use solely for stage monitors today,” notes Jacob. “With Rain, we are trying to recreate what people remember, which is mostly The Beatles’ recorded sound, with the impact of contemporary audio design.”
Jacob describes the show as a concert whose sound is an arc. “It gets bigger as we move through the songs; the volume and effects get grander as The Beatles progress,” he says. “This arc is illustrated in the microphone techniques and processing. “In the early days, The Beatles had three mics on the drum kit, so that is where we start, and we end up with seven mics.”
Most of the processing in the show is internal to the DiGiCo SD8 console that Jacob selected for Rain. “External processing includes a reverb from the TC Electronic 6000 MKII reverb and signal processor unit for surround and quad sound. This is used for the crowds and screaming at a live performance as well as for panning effects in ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and a helicopter landing at Shea Stadium,” explains Jacob, adding that the audio also ties into the video via an embedded audio feed from the video servers. There are also two Meyer Sound Galileo 616 loudspeaker management systems and six XTA DS-800 mic preamp/splitters.
“The SD8 is the desk I’m most familiar with,” Jacob notes. “It allows us to do most of the processing in the console, and the quality is superb. It has always served me well, and Zach Duax from DiGiCo and Lou Mead of Autograph A2D were very helpful. The desk is a major part of the sound system design.” In addition to the DiGiCo console, a Yamaha PM5D-RH is used for mixing the Sennheiser in-ear monitors. Jim van Bergen is the FOH mixer, with Craig van Tassel as monitor mixer. Michael Creeson from Meyer Sound assisted in the design, while Joshua Reid, Jacob’s assistant, did all the drawings. Sound Associates provided the audio gear, and Jacob notes that everyone there—Peter Fitzgerald and the entire staff—was fantastic throughout.
With the DiGiCo console, Jacob could take the programming from thetour right into the Broadway theatre, by taking a USB key from the touring show and making changes as needed for Broadway. “I was able to go out with the show when they did a preview in Toronto several months before New York,” he explains. “I spent a week with them and learned the show, which was crucial, because we literally only had a three-day rehearsal period for the Broadway opening.
The loudspeakers, primarily from Meyer Sound, include the Meyer JM-1P, a newer version of the JM-3 that John Meyer originally created for Beatlemania in 1977. “The JM-1P is the modern equivalent to the old speaker in an homage to that certain sound quality,” notes Jacob.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on the sound of Rain, as well as continuing coverage of the lighting, set, and projection design. Rain will be seen by attendees of the Broadway Sound Master Classes in May.