Sound engineer Ken Newman switches to Martin Audio’s premier system
Veteran American sound engineer Ken Newman carried on where he left off in the States when Barry Manilow’s One Last Time tour arrived in the UK on its trip around the globe — with Martin Audio’s premier MLA providing the arena sound.
Making his MLA debut with Delicate Productions’ system on the North American leg, the sound engineer was adamant that he wanted the same production rider in the UK — and his first port of call was Martin Audio rental partner, Capital Sound.
Capital Sound supplied the rig, but unlike the previous dates, the ten UK shows had the advantage of being run digitally. With MLA tech Russ Cunningham and PA/stage tech Nick Cook in support, the main PA comprised 11 x MLA and an MLD Downfill each side, while the sidefill component started with hangs of 12 x MLA Compact per side but increased to 16 for the larger 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London.
Flown in the rig, between the main and side PA, were three MLX subs — mostly set at 45° to the main rig — while a further 14 W8LM Mini Line Arrays acted as frontfills/outfills with four further MLX on the ground. This was pretty much an identical rig to the system Delicate had put out.
After eulogizing the system performance in the States Ken Newman was equally elated with the slightly supercharged production tools made available to him in the UK, including an uprated DiGiCo console which brought the best out of MLA.
Speaking of his adoption of MLA, he said, “I didn’t hesitate to use a new speaker system, even though it’s the end of an era for Barry Manilow. Although Barry did his first ‘final tour’ in 2004, and subsequently landed in Las Vegas where he stayed until 2011, it sounds like it’s for real this time.”
The sound engineer had first been introduced to MLA by colleagues, Mark Frink and Harold Blumberg. “They had been telling me about this amazing new speaker system for a while,” he said. “I attended a seminar on Multicellular Loudspeakers at the 2014 AES Convention and pursued the idea of using MLA for Barry Manilow’s shows without even hearing the system.”
He heard it for the first time when Delicate was setting up a show at the LA Forum, “I was able to experience the system using recorded music and it was better than I had expected, in terms of evenness of coverage. It brings every detail of the performance to every seat in the house, without making it uncomfortably loud for anyone.”
Which was crucial, as the importance of everyone in the venue hearing every single syllable that Barry says or sings had been stressed from the get go. “That being the premise, the MLA system sounded like a must have item!”
Once the North American tour wrapped in Denver, Ken Newman quickly got to work on sourcing the same rider across the Atlantic. “It was vital that we continued with the exact same setup as it had been very successful, both in terms of what the audience experienced and the fact that Barry had become very comfortable singing through it.”
Whenever he is supporting a tour in the US that goes to the UK, Jason Alt of Delicate Productions turns to Capital Sound. “It was therefore a huge relief when we learnt that we could use Capital’s MLA with the upgraded production,” states Newman.
Barry Manilow himself was equally relieved, as the engineer explained. “He always trusts my decisions — but when he was told that we might have to go with a different speaker system because of logistical reasons, he made it very clear that he wanted to stay with MLA because he had heard such great comments about how well it covered all the seats in a venue, even those very far from the stage.
“It was surprising to me that he had heard any comments from audience members and showed he is even more in-tune with his audience than I had previously thought!”
A generic optimization had been evolved with system tech Phil Reynolds on the North American leg — “settings which worked both for audience coverage, maximum gain before feedback and Barry’s comfort level on stage”. With Cap’s ace system tech Toby Donovan only available for the first show Russ Cunningham headed over from the States to run the entire tour. “Russ not only checked with our US MLA tech, Nate Lettus, but was extremely accommodating in terms of system design and implementation, and offered new optimization curves based on what he saw me doing each day on the Lake processors. We implemented those curves and the system sounded even better than it had in the US.”
Another beneficial production ‘tweak’ was the decision to fly the subs, which was instigated by Ken himself. “For the 2015 part of the US tour, we had only ground subs, three per side in cardioid mode. I commented to Phil Reynolds that it would be nice if there were more subwoofer energy up in the side seats, so he suggested that the next time we went out, we should fly a few subs between the MLA and the MLA Compact clusters. So in 2016 the flown subs were added, and they greatly improved the coverage of sub-100Hz energy.”
Summing up, the sound engineer said, “Being able to run the system digitally was advantageous in terms of overall sound quality while the noise floor was simply non-existent. I feel Capital really spoiled me.”
Looking ahead, Ken Newman believes that while this may mark the end of Barry Manilow’s touring schedule one-off shows are a likelihood. “Of course I’ll always prefer MLA systems for those shows — and if I’m fortunate enough to work with other artists, I’ll certainly opt for MLA again, because I think its virtues are appropriate for all shows.”