The evening was electric at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards on May 22, fueled by performances by P!NK, Madonna, Blake Shelton, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes and Gwen Stefani – all of whom used Sennheiser microphones and wireless systems. Adele, who is currently on tour with Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 wireless system, captured the evening’s top accolade: Billboard Artist of the Year.
Once again, ATK Audiotek delivered first-rate audio services during the high-profile awards show, which was broadcast live to a national U.S. audience by ABC, reaching 9.6 million viewers and dominating Sunday night’s prime-time viewership. Sennheiser microphones delivered flawless audio for many of the evening’s stage performances – both for television viewers at home, as well as those present at the brand new 20,000-capacity T-Mobile arena.
Flying High at the Billboard Awards
Among the evening’s highlights was P!NK’s superb aerial performance of her new single, “Just Like Fire”, during which she donned a hidden, bespoke wireless microphone system from Sennheiser. “Sennheiser created a customized headmic with an HSP 4 cardioid capsule – this allows her to to fly right in front of the P.A. with no issues,” commented Horst Hartmann, monitor engineer for P!NK. “This system works very well, looks great and is very small – we have had tremendous support from Sennheiser on this solution from the very beginning.”
While there were no less than three days of production rehearsals to prepare for the show, Hartmann was certain that P!NK’s performance would be nothing short of perfect: “P!NK’s aerobatics are not so much of a challenge anymore, because we’ve done this on tour more than 160 times!” Hartmann relies on a Sennheiser SK 5212 bodypack transmitter that is concealed in P!NK’s costume, which sends audio to an EM 3732-II dual-channel receiver. “The reason we use the 3732-II is because it has 184 MHz switching bandwidth,” explains Hartmann. “This means we can go anywhere in the world and never have any issues finding available frequencies.”
A Performance fit for a Prince
Perhaps one of the more poignant highlights of the evening was Madonna’s two-song tribute to Prince, which saw her singing through a Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld transmitter, couple with an MD 5235 capsule. Dressed in a purple Gucci suit, she performed the Prince-penned blockbuster hit “Nothing Compares 2 U” while spinning in a formal chair adorned with luxurious looking purple cushioning. For her second number, she was joined onstage by the legendary Stevie Wonder and the duo proceeded to perform the Prince classic “Purple Rain”, with a host of background vocalists singing through an SKM 5200 transmitter / MD 5235 capsule combination.
For the house wireless, ATK Audiotek set up four Sennheiser EM 3732-II dual-channel receivers, and utilized two additional EM 3732-IIs for the Madonna performance. Jeff Peterson, Sound Engineer at ATK Audiotek, appreciates the EM 3732 not just for its reliability, but also for its companding flexibility: “The ability to adjust the receiver to accommodate either the Sennheiser 2000 or 5200 series wireless transmitter is really helpful,” he says. “Oftentimes, we don’t know in advance which transmitter an artist is going to show up with until the last minute, so this kind of flexibility is really helpful. We can fit them into whatever frequency coordination has been set up.”
Two Voices in a Heartfelt Performance
Country superstar Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani performed “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” following its debut performance on The Voice – where they are both judges – earlier this month. The pair both crooned through Sennheiser SKM 2000 transmitters, coupled with MMD 935 capsules. Shelton’s monitor engineer Brad Baisley likes the way the 935 capsule cuts through the mix: “That 935 capsule is consistent wherever we go, and there is something about the voicing of it that works perfectly with wedges,” he says. “Blake likes some low frequencies, but he especially likes to hear some highs – which most of the industry standard mics just don’t have. I don’t have to do a lot of work with that 935 – I will typically take out some upper mids, but for the most part, I leave it flat.”
For the backline, Baisley and ATK’s Peterson are equally as enthusiastic about Sennheiser’s wired evolution series when it comes to miking up instruments: “There are certain ‘go-to mics’ – and for us, these include an e 602 and e 902 on the kick drum, and e 604s on the toms. We also use the e 609s and e 906s on the guitars, because they sound fat and rich, and also look cool.” Baisley concurs on the Sennheiser e 906: “I always travel with my electric guitar mics,” he says. “Specifically, I prefer the Sennheiser MD 421 and the e 906. The e 906 has the three-position roll-off switch, and I really love that. I prefer the darker setting, which reminds me of a vintage Sennheiser MD 409. For our lead guitarist, I will usually have one of these positioned right on the grill of a Mesa Boogie 4 x 10” cabinet.”
“Events like The Billboard Music Awards present a significant challenge since there are many different performing artists and programming requirements over the course of the show,” says Byron Gaither, Artist Relations for Sennheiser. “We are pleased that so many artists and reputable audio services companies like ATK Audiotek continue to rely on Sennheiser microphones and wireless systems for their reliability and sound quality.”
For Horst Hartmann, and likely most professionals in the business, the true measure of a successful performance often rests with feedback from the artist: “Everything went as it should,” he concludes. “P!NK was happy – and when she is happy, I’m happy as well!”