Held at London’s 02 Arena (the UK’s first indoor live music concert in 14 months) on 11 May 11 and screened to a television audience of 2.9m, the 2021 Brit Awards hosted live performances from acts including Coldplay, Rag’n’Bone Man, Pink and the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir, with awards going to Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, Little Mix and Harry Styles among others. Once again, the complex audio system was designed, provided and operated by Britannia Row Productions.

FOH mixing at the 2021 Brit Awards‘The Brits were very different this year in terms of crew logistics and, in particular, the Covid-19 testing of every individual onsite,’ BritRow’s Crew Chief Steve Donovan explains. ‘Crew were tested every 72 hours minimum throughout the course of the build and show. It was critical to ensure we didn’t have positive tests prior to show day.’

Britannia Row’s Josh Lloyd was charged with PA design and FOH artist mixes, while Chris Coxhead handled presenter audio. Lloyd opted for DiGiCo Quantum 7 consoles while Coxhead used a pair of mirrored SD12s with multiple redundancy. A DiGiCo SD11 was used for talkback.

A different approach was mapped out for 2021. With no second stage required due to the limited capacity, Lloyd devised an in-the-round system to suit the horseshoe stage design. ‘We wanted to reduce the amount of spill and deliver a more direct sound for the people watching in the room,’ he says. ‘The fact that the floor space was relatively freed up meant that the performers were always placed behind the PA, and this made mixing easier.’

The L-Acoustics rig was tuned by System Engineer Sergiy Zhytnikov, and comprised seven main arrays of K2 with KS28s behind the curve, with three arrays of Kara and KS21s. Flown LA Amp racks were incorporated into the design and the floor deployment saw boxes of K2, Kara and X8 speakers in situ.

‘Because we were positioned at the back of the venue, we mixed off the L-Acoustics X8 speakers rather than the main PA,’ Lloyd says. ‘Size really doesn’t matter when it comes to L-Acoustics products, as the quality and tonality has the same sonic signature, regardless of the size of the box.’

‘There was an excitement in the room that you just don’t get from an empty venue or a studio,’ says Rob Sadler, who mixed Rag’n’Bone Man’s duet with P!nk. ‘Hearing a live band through a PA system for the first time in months was such a great feeling. With most of the audience being situated high up in the seats, a lot of effort had been put into making sure that the audio coverage was maximised. Brit Row and the entire audio team definitely delivered.’

As for the 2020 event, an Outline Newton loudspeaker processor was used to deal with a number of mission-critical tasks at the core of the sound system. ‘The Newton was used to handle the matrix mixing from our FOH consoles into the PA and we were able to use its optical Madi, AES and analogue inputs to provide a main and redundant path from both the band console and presenter board,’ elaborates Laurie Fradley, one of two system techs who worked the event.

Newton Dashboard control software in use at the 2021 Brit Awards‘The 18x16 matrix also gave us additional inputs for playback, system tuning and alignment, with the unit simultaneously outputting back-up mixes for broadcast and additional effects used in the room.’

Fradley worked with fellow system tech Adam Smith, with system engineer Sergiy Zhytnikov and system designer/FOH engineer Josh Lloyd making up the BritRow team.

This year, the PA was a distributed ring system covering the audience in Level 1 of the bowl and the boxes, then to cover the nominees on the floor we used a separate LeR system. Due to the location of the presenter stage, perpendicular to the end-on performance stage, an additional speech system was flown above it to provide directionality for the nominees on the floor. The Newton made matrixing to these numerous elements simple.

‘The Newton’s Dante output supplemented our existing Dante drive infrastructure which was transmitted over fibre to our distribution in the roof of the O2,’ Fradley continues. ‘Here, this was converted to an AES input to the amplifiers, the majority of which were flown above the PA elements. Back-up was provided using the Newton’s optical Madi output – again, this was transmitted to the roof over fibre where it was converted to analogue and distributed to the amplifiers.

‘The Newton’s ability to patch to the Madi output stream made it possible to provide each PA element with its own discrete back-up. This eliminated the need to split the analogue signal and also allowed us the function of soft-patching the back-up from FOH should a change be required.’

In monitor world was a flipflop A-B system: ‘The O2 is never an easy room, even less so with just 4,000 people in it,’ says monitor engineer Nico Antonietti, who was riding faders on one of two DiGiCo Quantum 7 consoles alongside Dan Ungaretti. ‘Dan had built a show file for past editions of the event, so we adapted it, made changes according to the requests of each guest artist and saved the pre-sets. Each artist had a snapshot in order to avoid loading different show files in during changeovers.’

FOH mixing at the 2021 Brit AwardsEach of the monitor consoles was connected to two SD Racks, one for band inputs and one for RF mics and playback. In addition, two Waves systems (one per engine) were required. Each console generated 14 mixes for Sennheiser SR2050 in-ear monitors and ten mixes for 28 d&b audiotechnik M4 wedges, used primarily by dancers.

As well as bespoke capsules, Sennheiser provided technical support, despite having no on-site presence. ‘Manufacturer reps provided that layer of support from over the phone as they weren’t classed as key workers for the test event,’ explains Lloyd.

With headsets fitted by the artist directly, Sapna Patel led the RF operation, aided by Britannia Row’s Head of RF, technician Sam Spice. ‘Every artist had a dedicated handheld microphone that wasn’t used by anyone else,’ says Patel. ‘We attempt that most years for technical and logistical reasons, and in the past it wouldn’t have been an issue if mics were re-used but this year, it was vital they weren’t. I was the only technician outside of the artist bubbles to have contact with the microphones, so I kept it minimal.’

Despite the impact Covid-19 has had on concerts, Britannia Row was keen to instil faith in the industry and incorporate live production students into the event’s audio team. Reflecting on the re-emergence of live music, Crew Chief Steve Donovan offers: ‘It was emotional seeing how engaged and loud the Brits audience was, even in relatively small numbers. Audiences are critical to this industry. Whilst the adoption of live streaming throughout the pandemic has thrown a lifeline to bands, crew and fans alike, nothing will ever compare to the live experience.’

Lloyd believes the Brits 2021 marked a significant step forward: ‘It’s clear that artists thrive off live interaction, and the entire Brits production team has shown that it is achievable to run a safe event while the pandemic is ongoing.’

Coin Pink assumed his recurring role as Live Sound Supervisor.

See also:
Britannia Row invests in Outline Newton processors

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