"Touching the Sky" With Kanye West and Meyer Sound
What a difference three years makes. Back at the beginning of 2003, only the most hardcore of hip-hop fans knew who Kanye West was. West had been working for years on ideas and songs for what would eventually become 2004's Multi-Platinum breakout album, The College Dropout, but had encountered difficulty getting the project fully realized. He had already cemented a solid reputation as a producer with a Midas touch for making hits, which he first established at Roc-A-Fella records in 2001 with the hit singles Izzo (Hova) and Takeover off of Jay-Z's smash album The Blueprint, and he has since produced major hits from Ludacris, Talib Kweli, Dilated Peoples, Alicia Keys, and far too many others to list. But his own music was not known.
However, by the time the 2005 Grammy awards rolled around, West had broken through and was on top of the pile with 10 nominations and three awards, including best rap album for Dropout and best rap song for Jesus Walks. West followed that debut with the multi-platinum Late Registration, which once again snagged him abundant Grammy awards, and has cemented his place as arguably the biggest name in hip-hop today.
West's recent Touch the Sky tour was originally supposed to be a double bill with rock supergroup U2, but midway through U2 cancelled the rest of their dates, and West has been headlining since. It was a monster of a show, playing arenas through Europe and then Australia, New Zealand, and Japan with sellout crowds of 3,000 to 10,000. But West's enthusiastic fans clearly hear every word of his rap and feel every thump of the beat thanks to a sound system specified and supplied by London's Canegreen Ltd. and built around Meyer Sound's MILO family of self-powered loudspeakers.
The scope of the production was considerable, says FOH mixer John C. Clark III. "We have a very large lighting crew; an orchestra that features four cellos, eight violins, and a harp; a DJ; and vocalists; plus the volume requirements — in terms of sheer volume and sound pressure, we're producing 105-115db at the front-of-house position every night,"
Clark meets the demands by utilizing two main configurations for the tour. In smaller arenas, he flies 12 MICA compact high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers and groundstacks six 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers on each of side the stage, supplemented by four MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers groundstacked for frontfill. Additional frontfill is provided by UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeakers, MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeakers, and legacy, conventionally-powered MSL-2 reinforcement loudspeakers.
In larger venues Clark pull out all the stops, using four M3D line array loudspeakers, eight MILO cabinets, four MICA units, and nine 700-HP subwoofers per side. Canegreen worked out the system designs in Meyer Sound's MAPP Online Pro acoustical prediction program, and the system is time-aligned nightly. After that, the show is relatively painless. "By the time everything's up and the system tech says 'we're ready,' it takes maybe 10 minutes for us to adjust everything. That's real important to us, because if Kanye wants to rehearse, we need to be ready to go quickly."
As with many hip-hop shows, the biggest sonic hurdle is reproducing loud and distortion-free bass. "That's the challenge: not just pumping out low end but pumping out clear low end," says Clark. "It's so easy to get distorted [bass] because you're trying for sheer volume. You've always got to turn the main [loudspeaker] stack down so that the subs can keep up, but that wasn't the case with this system. It brought out just the right amount of stuff, it was so easy to get whatever I needed, gain-wise as well as the type of tones that I wanted."
Clark was first exposed to Meyer Sound loudspeakers some years back while doing sound for a comedy show at a 3,000-seat venue in Tucson, Ariz. Despite using arrays of only four MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers per side, Clark was still highly impressed with the system. "It worked great, the sound went all the way to the balcony clearly, so I knew the quality would be there [for the West tour]. I remember thinking that I'd just need a few more cabinets if I was to do something really big." When tour production manager Bryon "Hotdog" Tate informed Clark that he had settled on a Meyer Sound system, Clark was eager to put it to the test.
Clark has been so impressed with the system that he is planning on replacing some of the gear that he used in the North American leg of the tour with the Meyer Sound cabinets. In fact, the system has received favorable reviews from everyone involved in the tour so far. "Management was happy with it, the artist liked it, I liked it—overall, it was an excellent choice and a great product."
Kanye West is scheduled for U.S. performances during the summer, including at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival.