Understanding an artist’s musical intention is the most important aspect of a live production. Whether you’re producing music for stadiums, arenas, theaters, or television, the approach should be the same: Let the artist’s creativity inspire you and always give the show’s arrangements space to breathe. Most artists express their deepest thoughts and feelings through their music, so creating new live productions of their works is an incredible responsibility and honor.
1. Sound Design Is Job One
Sound design is the key to live production success. By investing hours of work recreating sounds from master recordings, or directly sampling sounds from them like kick and snare drums and other unique sound effects, the sound of an artist’s original recordings can be maintained. In my world, drum sounds and synth patches have to be either exact or so close to the originals that no one can tell the difference. Paying this kind of attention to detail allows you to the ability to alter or ornament an arrangement within the context of the original’s intention.
2. Think Like a Film Composer
I’m a huge action movie fan and when appropriate, I’ll take a cinematic approach to live music production. I often employ ominous low sustaining strings or low piano doubling bass lines, sound effects like lightning or crushed concrete to fatten up a unison band hit, reversed glass breaking effects, high to low sweeping drones, and drastic dramatic stops designed to feature a lead or background vocal. Madonna’s MDNA tour is a perfect example of this kind of approach to live sound.
3. Combine Your Studio and Stage Setups
I’ve found it extremely helpful to combine my studio setup (computers) with my stage setup (hardware synths). My main software is Digital Performer running on a MacBook Pro with an internal solid-state drive and a few RME hardware interfaces. I receive master audio files, load them into DP, and edit and create from there. In the creation phase of any concert production, I can alter large multi-track sessions, create remixes, solo individual parts for musicians, score video pieces, and add new interludes or deconstruct sections of music all on the spot. This new rig sits in rehearsal looking like a studio workstation alongside a full tour keyboard setup that includes a Roland V-Synth, Fantom, and Jupiter-80, plus a Minimoog, Access Virus, and other synths. This combined approach delivers maximum sonic quality, connectivity, flexibility, and dependability.
4. Build a Better Team
Having intuitive sound engineers, a programmer with nerves of steel, and a backline crew with the music-tech version of Navy Seals skills is key to supporting a live show with a myriad of musicians and performers. From front-of-house mixers to monitor and lighting engineers, a shared knowledge of how, what, and where sound sources are created allows everyone involved to become infectiously inspired, and the technology involved to become transparent so that the audience can simply enjoy the show.
5. Work Ethic Is Everything
Work hard, work smart, and never settle. There’s always room for refinement.
Kevin Antunes is musical director and keyboardist for Madonna’s MDNA tour and mixed the show’s DVD. He is also musical director for Michael Jackson: One by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, and has been musical director for ’Nsync, Justin Timberlake, and many top pop acts.