Heartbeat of Home features an on-stage cast of 39 dancers and musicians, exciting with state-of-the-art projection and video effects in a celebration of global multi-culturalism. Production RF Engineer Amir Carmel is charged with the daunting task of managing the show’s considerable wireless needs, and also handles power distribution for the production.
“My background is being a system engineer, which has always included RF and power distribution,” Carmel says. “In the past few years, especially with the loss of bandwidth, having a dedicated RF engineer has become much more important on major productions. For Heartbeat of Home, we chose an all-Shure infrastructure for both wireless mics and in-ear monitors. We’ve got 49 channels of UHF-R® bodypacks and 16 channels of PSM®1000 in-ears.”
The wireless microphone and in-ear systems co-exist with 18 channels of intercom. To help handle the task of coordinating more than 80 RF audio channels, Carmel uses Shure Wireless Workbench® 6 and IAS software from Professional Wireless Systems with two scanners. The system, including Shure antenna combiners, splitters, and PWS combiners and helical antennas, is supplied by Cleveland-based Eighth Day Sound.
“I’ve been using the beta version of Workbench 6 for a couple years now,” says Carmel. “It’s very reliable, very sturdy. That’s especially important in America, where we have a lot less spectrum to work with for frequency coordination than in Europe, where we can go up to 790 MHz, which gives us a lot more options.”
The show features several unique wireless applications, the most obvious of which is the miking of the dancers’ feet. A miniature microphone is attached to each foot, with the signals being combined before entering the UR1 bodypack transmitter. “It’s a proprietary system that we developed for Riverdance,” notes Carmel. “The mics are custom wired and positioned on each dancer’s shoes to minimize cancelation and capture the sound the producer is looking for.”
The production also uses wireless to facilitate stage movement among instruments that are notoriously difficult to mic, or that are not normally mobile. Within the band’s substantial percussion section, for example, one percussion set sports a UR1 bodypack transmitter secured to its stand for quick movement from the band riser to a downstage position. Similarly, the Irish bodhrán hand drums have UR1 transmitters with miniature microphones secured beneath its frame. There is also a Shure UR5 portable receiver incorporated into the guitarist’s pedal board, receiving the guitar signal from the UR1 bodypack to feed the guitar effects and, in turn, the system’s DI box. “It cuts the amount of wiring, and so we don’t need to have a rack unit on stage. I have that UR5 receiver frequency copied in my rack backstage for monitoring.”
The entire wireless installation is networked through Shure Wireless Workbench 6 software, enabling the monitoring of every RF input channel and any IEM mix. “I have different groups set up for dancers, vocals, instruments, and in-ears, etc., so I can be sure that all the RF inputs are reaching the stage box,” he says. “We monitor battery, RF, and audio for all inputs and outputs, so the monitor engineer doesn’t have to worry about anything but the mix. During the show, we check every system before it goes on stage, including all the dancer and singer mics after costume changes. It’s a very active approach.”
Heartbeat of Home is using 16 Shure PSM 1000 in-ear systems, which are used primarily for the musicians, audio, and backline crew. “This is the first tour we’ve used the PSM 1000, and, I must say, we are very happy with the RF platform,” says Carmel. “Myself and Steve (Branson, Monitor Engineer), as well as other crew members, use our PSM 1000 receivers in Cue Mode. That lets me scroll through all the mixes to monitor. My own in-ear mix is fed from the Cue Out of the Midas DL431 stage boxes for listening to any input channel.”
To optimize reception of the in-ear and microphone systems, Carmel has taken the extra step of customizing the position of each bodypack on each performer. “All of the musicians on wireless have two packs, one receiver and one transmitter, and both the distance between the packs and their positions in comparison to the antennas can affect reception,” he explains. “So, each performer has a personal belt with the packs positioned for where that individual will be on stage relative to the antennas.”
The production team is constantly looking for other ways to fine-tune the show. “We experiment, trying new ideas to help the flow of everything on stage,” says Carmel. “We are looking into adding more Shure UR1M micro bodypacks for both instruments and performers, and we were recently testing a Shure Axient system for a possible future upgrade. I’m also looking at moving the comms to higher or lower spectrum in order to free that frequency range for the RF mics and IEMs.”
With the critical success that Heartbeat of Home has garnered in Ireland, China, Canada, and the U.S., the production appears to be headed for a long life.