Based in Stockton-on-Tees, John Saunders Productions (JSP) has carved a reputation for supplying cutting-edge audio systems to some of the highest-grossing ‘nostalgia’ live productions. With no less than five DiGiCo SD8 consoles recently added to the company’s inventory, the shows that the company services may be nostalgic in nature, but in reality are very much the real 21st century deal.
Whether it is the Solid Silver 60s Show, Magic of the Musicals, What A Feeling, Glen Campbell, 10cc, Swan Lake on Ice or an array of other shows that have brought the classic music of the 1960s through to the 90s back to three-dimensional life, JSP knows that audiences love to relive their youth – and it is even better if they can relive it with all the advantages of cutting-edge quality.
This is a point highlighted by Variety magazine, which described the West End production of Thriller Live as “…a tribute concert played out with remarkably high production values, including studio-quality live music…”
“In the past, I have made purchasing decisions based on who could offer me the best deal,” admits JSP owner, John Saunders. “But sound designers have very definite ideas about what they want and they tend to stick to that, so it’s hard to compete if you don’t carry the kit they want to work with. It’s all about quality.”
The advent of the DiGiCo SD8 gave John the opportunity to achieve the previously impossible – providing stellar quality and flexibility to shows, but at a price that meant he could invest in no less than five of the groundbreaking consoles, which also means that JSP now has the UK’s largest single SD8 inventory.
Working in tandem with d&b loudspeakers, Sennheiser in-ear monitors and Shure microphones, all shows the company services are guaranteed to sound as good, if not far better, than the originals they are based on.
Running since 2006, Thriller Live provides Michael Jackson’s vast European fan base with an authentic recreation of many of Jackson’s career high points. Its two hours of hit songs and classic dance routines ensure that the demand for tickets is still huge. The show currently is running as two simultaneous productions, one at London’s Lyric Theatre and a European tour.
The latter’s schedule is relentless, with multiple night runs in venues interspersed with one-off shows in others – and a great deal of travelling. Days off are few and far between.
Sound designer Chris Whybrow made the decision to use the SD8 when the previous touring production outgrew it’s original desk.
“We’d got to the point where we couldn’t expand that console any more,” he says. “It was the SD8’s expandability and the fact that it does so much more than the one I was using before that appealed to me. We can still expand the SD8 if we need to as it’s nowhere near full and, because we were going to be doing a variety of different venues – theatres, arenas, concert halls – that was extremely important. It has proved the perfect choice.”
Thriller Live features two SD8s, one at FOH and one at monitors. One has also recently been put in to the West End production of The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas.
“I’m using all the snapshots and all the global scope, so each scene can recall a completely different sound if we need it to. And, the new Overdrive software makes it an even more valuable tool,” says Chris. “The onboard effects are great and I’m using AES direct to the amps, which has really improved the sound. The system sounds a lot cleaner and crisper, when compared to the show’s original design.”
The JSP team is also using the RME Madiface to make multitrack recordings during rehearsals and shows, allowing them to use the playback to immediately make any adjustments, if necessary, without the musicians needing to be present.
“We have an ‘electric’ band who are all on Sennheiser in-ears, so when we use the recordings, it’s as if the band really is there because we don’t get any spill from the stage,” says Chris.
Most importantly, the SD8 is a very straightforward console to learn. Chris was using all the advanced facilities very quickly, a great benefit with typically short technical rehearsal times.
“We don’t have a lot of time with the band, so the ability to do multitrack recording allows us to do a hell of a lot more,” he notes.
The tour’s front of house engineer is Robin Conway, who adds, “The SD8 is a great console. The layout of the control surface is excellent and it’s very intuitive to use.”
“We’re playing venues that range from around 1700 to 4000 capacity and when we change venues I can get the desk broken down and set up again in literally seconds. It’s light, so the crew like it, promoters are happy because it’s so compact and the multitrack recording works with just one button push.”
He adds, “I’ve just done the Overdrive software upgrade, which gives me even more processing power. It’s unparalleled value for the money – I want one for myself!”
With the SD8 proving such a success on Thriller Live – which is also about to embark on a tour of Asia, taking in Japan, China and Australia – and The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas, JSP is also looking forward to the benefits the five newly purchased consoles will bring to other productions that the company is involved with.
“The SD8 is a great desk,” concludes John. “It’s working flawlessly with the productions we’re using it on now, bringing previously unavailable flexibility and quality to those shows. In fact, I will probably be purchasing at least one more console to help cover the US tour later in the year and a further two to replace existing consoles, which will mean we should have eight SD8’s by the end of the summer. We are very much looking forward to bringing their substantial benefits to other productions in the future.”