Avid Profile Helps Give a Voice to The Sound of Change Live Concert

June 1, 2013 was an unforgettable evening for the millions who experienced The Sound of Change Live, a star-packed benefit that drew a capacity crowd to London's 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium while being simulcast worldwide. For the sound engineers responsible for making their artists sound their best at such a high-profile event, it was an evening of familiar ease and trust, thanks to the choice of Avid Profile Systems, featuring VENUE software.

The concert was staged by Chime for Change, an organization founded by Gucci to raise awareness and money for projects that improve access to education, healthcare, and justice for women around the world. Using the Catapult crowd-funding platform, visitors to the Chime for Change website can research specific topics and missions, and then fund them directly.

The historic concert featured an all-star lineup, including Jennifer Lopez, Timbaland, Ellie Goulding, Florence + The Machine, John Legend, Rita Ora, Laura Pausini, and L.A.'s pop-star sister act, HAIM. Between performances, Madonna and Gloria Steinem were among the artists and activists who gave presentations about Chime for Changes' core issues.

Headlining the evening was Beyoncé, cofounder of Chime for Change with actress Salma Hayek and Gucci creative director Frida Giannini. During her powerful set, husband Jay-Z joined Beyoncé onstage for "Crazy in Love." Other surprise guests during the event included Mary J. Blige, who sang the Beatles' “Come Together” with J-Lo, and Simon Le Bon who joined Timbaland for a Duran Duran number.

A cause for Avid Profile

To ensure that the music continued flowing across four stages during the 4-hour concert, UK's premiere live sound company, Britannia Row Productions, chose Avid Profile Systems—11 in all—for its renowned reputation and widespread use among the visiting engineers. Both front-of-house (FOH) and monitor engineers for each artist could simply load their own VENUE show files into the systems and shape each performer’s sound quickly and efficiently so that everything could run smoothly.

"The main stage revolves," explains Lez Dwight, Britannia Row's project manager. "It's a split-in-half A/B system, so it uses two full 96-channel Profile Systems. On the C and D stages, we have another 96-channel [Profile] system. There are no playback acts—it's 11 full bands in four hours, so it is comparable to [global benefit concert] Live 8. From an engineer's point of view, they bring their show file, and we make sure they have all the plug-ins that they need. If it’s not on the system already, we’ll put it on."

Mixing John Legend

David Haines, who started his career doing live sound for the Black Eyed Peas, ran the FOH mix for John Legend during the event. Haines has always appreciated the Profile System’s ergonomic design for critical situations like this. "Independent of the quality of audio I get, the main reason I really love the VENUE is the speed. I've been using the [Profile] system since it came out and I can really get around on it faster than [on] any other console. I just love the layout and where everything is, and the ability to get to the plug-ins that I need, quickly."

“I can get anything and everything that I need from the VENUE,” adds Jon Ostrin, who mixed Legend's monitors. "For me, it's fun. With this desk, I'm always saying 'Let’s think outside of the box.' I'm a plug-in junky. I'll end up with 40–50 plug-ins. I use a multiband compressor on John's voice, rather than hacking away at the EQ. I don't want those in-ear monitors to distort when he hits those hot spots with his voice."

Snapshots and sound-checking Ellie Goulding

For many of the sound engineers that day, Avid live sound systems were already part of their touring rig. "At the stage we’re at now, the show can’t happen without VENUE," says Oz Bagnall, FOH engineer for Britain's latest pop sensation, Ellie Goulding. "It’s so intertwined with the programming that we’ve done and snapshots that we’ve created, they actually are part of the stuff that goes on onstage. To get the full show, it has to be a Profile at front-of-house."

Since his early tours with Goulding, Bagnall has used the Virtual Soundcheck feature in VENUE to refine his mixes for each new concert hall before the musicians get onstage. By using the recordings from the previous evening, he’s able to tweak the mix on his own, allowing the singer to save her voice for the upcoming show.

"Once we have the rig tuned and ready to go in the afternoon, I use my show notes from the night before to go back over things in detail. I can zoom in on any parts I need to—guitar sounds, balance of keyboards. For dialing in the effects, it's really great."

Setting up a show for J-Lo

J-Lo's FOH engineer, Rick Camp, was so impressed by an Avid D-Show System he used years ago that he bought his own. "The main thing it allowed me to bring from the studio to the live sound environment is the precision of the EQing. The most important thing is to get the room tuned, so I try to get it as tight as it can be."

To do this, he sets up show profiles for the console ahead of time, which he can recall and adjust as needed. "I figure out all the inputs that I need and then go through and put in my usual set of plug-ins. When we hit rehearsals I’ll start fine-tuning it and create snapshots."

Both he and J-Lo's monitor engineer, Vish Wadi, are currently using Profile Systems, and they make sure that they’re always on the same page when it comes to what they’re hearing.

Camp notices a gigantic difference between working on his Profile and an analog board for live sound mixing. "There are things that I can do now that I could never do back then, when I had to live with some generic EQ and generic compression for a set. Now I can fine-tune the compression and gates per song if I need to."

The Profile System also helps him stay prepared for the challenges he'll face throughout a tour, which is exactly what Britannia Row Productions was banking on by outfitting The Sound of Change Live with the Avid systems. By providing the engineers with the highest level of workflow available, the company helps them meet the demands of an event such as this, where changeover times are critical.

"The biggest challenge is making sure that the patch is right," Camp adds. "We came here with the show all dialed up—it’s basically just a continuation of the tour—with all of our snapshots already done. We just fine-tuned it yesterday at sound check to the speaker system we’re using. The mix was already there."