Rhythm and Hughes: Creating the Sound System for a Long-running Branson Act

From the October 2011 issue of "Sound & Lighting" magazine.
Written by R. Maxwell

itBranson-02A scene from "it". The cast finishes "Oklahoma."When the Presley family first moved their show to Highway 76 in 1967 (which later became known as the "strip"), it marked a dramatic shift for the once sleepy town of Branson, Missouri. Today, it boasts more than 50 theatres featuring musical artists and entertainers of all genres, attracting visitors from all regions of the country. What started as the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre in 1983 is now known as the Hughes Brothers Theatre - home to the "world's largest performing family."

The Hughes Brothers Show, which started over 30 years ago as a group of five siblings, today encompasses a cast of 47, and continues to expand. lt has been in Branson for 17 years. Known for their lush harmonies, entertaining antics, dynamic dance, soaring instrumentals, and creative production numbers, the Hughes Brothers Show is a classic example of how advances in audio technology have enabled these entertainers to excel.

Marty Hughes, VP of Hughes Entertainment, lnc. and an owner of the Hughes Brothers Theatre, is the senior member of the act. He is also responsible for all aspects of the show from an audio perspective. This 12th of October, 2011 . Liqhtinq&Sound America includes tuning the theatre, running sound checks, selecting and deploying equipment, programming, recording and engineering material for CDs, and more. "Our theatre accommodates approximately 1,200 people, with seating for 950 on the main floor and another 250 in the balcony," he says. "The space is roughly 100'wide and its length-extending from the back of the stage to the rear wall-is about 200 . By the time we complete calendar 2011 , we will have completed 250 shows in this room. For 2012, we're upping that number dramatically, to almost 400, so the theatre will be busier than ever. With a performance schedule like ours, the need to take advantage of automation, wireless technology, and other audio advances to help us deliver the best possible pedormances on a consistent basis became more apparent than ever."

Wireless microphone technology assumes a prominent role in the Hughes Brothers Show Performers are outfitted with Countryman E6 directional earset microphones-with 20 in use nightly in the current iteration of the show.

marty-in-studioMarty Hughes poses in his studio."The Countryman E6 directional works exceptionally well for us," says Hughes. "We used to use a variety of Countryman models. Now, however, we only use the E6 directional. The mic's hypercardioid pattern is more directional and. as a result, it provides better isolation and higher gain before feedback. I particularly like the fact that their sound is clear and warmeven before equalization. Because of this trait, I run some of the mics flat. The Countryman mics are very comfortable and have a very small footprint and, because of this, they're pedect for a variety show such as ours. We want our audiences to see that we wear a mic, but we don't want that mic to be distracting and take the focus away from the enterlainer. l've used a lot of other expensive microphones, but they didn't sound as good and they cerlainly weren't as reliable as our Countrymans."

ln addition to the 20 E6 directional mics, Hughes says there are also 11 wireless handheld microphones from the catalogs of Shure and Sennheiser. "We have a total of 31 wireless channels in use during our show," he notes, "and while there are only a few instances when all these mics are on stage simultaneously, there's a tremendous amount of RF (radio frequency) to deal with nonetheless."

With the FCC's recently enacted changes in the 700MHz band affecting Par174 users (auxiliary broadcast devices, lncluding wireless microphones), Hughes had to make a sizeable investment in new wireless transmitters and receivers for use with the Countryman and handheld microphones. To address this issue, the company invested in Sennheiser ew 500 G3 wireless series equipment as well as Shure U4D-J4 series models.

"Even though we use a lot of wireless mics," Hughes notes, "we've had very few issues with RF congestion. lf we tried to run all the mics in the same frequency block, I suspect we'd have some challenges. lnstead, we have six Sennheisers in the G range, 10 in the B range, and 10 in the A range. We also have six Shure systems in the J4 range. By splitting the mics into multiple frequency groups, we've averted a lot of potential problems."

When queried about the logistics of placing the various microphones and body-pack transmitters on the talent, Hughes notes that, "Thanks to the diminutive size of this equipment, we really haven't had any difficulties outfitting the performers. The transmitters are typically clipped to a belt, placed in a pocket or strapped to the performer's body, and the microphone's cable runs free down the back. This equiPment affords tremendous freedom of mobility, it doesn't inter-fere with wardrobe considerations, and the result is that our performers are able to focus on what they do best-sing and dance."

cody-runs-soundCody Topper, FOH technician, tweaks sound at the house console.ln addition to the 31 wireless microphone channels in use during the show, the Hughes Brothers have a five piece band (guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards) driving the music behind the vocal performers. To accommodate the show's audio inPuts, the 14 . october 2011 . Lighting&Sound America front-of-house mix position is equipped with a Avid Venue SC48, a fully integrated live sound system that combines all l/O, digital signal processing, and tactile control into a single console. As configured for the Hughes Brothers Show, the console has provisions for 48 inputs and 32 outputs, with the two expansion output cards that have been added.

The front-of-house mix position is located in the center front balcony, roughly 60' from the front of the stage. While dynamic automation is used during the show, Hughes emphasizes that, for the most paft, the console uses snapshot automation for quick recall of scenes (audio configurations). "l established a snapshot 'template' that I use to build upon," he says. "The template serves as a good, safe starting point for gain, EQ, effects, etc. This approach provides greater continuity in terms of overall level and EQ throughout all the show's various numbers. We specifically don't want to automate every last aspect of the show, as there are always small changes that occur in any live performance."

While Hughes programmed the console to address the show's various numbers, he emphasizes the need for "real human interaction" during the performances. "Our FOH engineer, Kody Topper, recalls each snapshot for the various numbers throughout the show and makes minor adjustments as required-depending upon what variables crop up during the course ol the performance."

The Venue SC48 handles feeds to both the house sound reinforcement system and the company's recording system, which is used to Produce the act's various CDs, documentaries, etc. "On the recording side of the equation," Hughes notes, "l usually go straight into our Avid ProTools system via the console's FireWire outPut. When this approach is taken, there's a limit of 18 channels, so we divide the show into a series of mix stems, such as a boys' vocal section, girls' section, soloists, etc."

For the house sound reinforcement system, Hughes sends a left-right stereo feed from the console. These signals go to a left-center-right loudspeaker setup. The left and right house mains consist of Mackie HD1521 two-way powered loudspeakers. The center cluster is comprised of proprietary models from Clair Brothers. These loudspeakers are powered bY QSC Audio MX and RMX series Power amplifiers. All loudspeakers are suspended from the ceiling across the front of the stage area.

Low-frequency support is provided by four JBL MPro Series subwoofers - positioned two enclosures per side-on the floor at the edges of the stage. These enclosures are vertically aligned with the left and right loudspeakers overhead. A dbx 120A subharmonic synthesizer is deployed for enhanced low-frequency control. There is also an under-balcony delay loudspeaker system consisting of Community CPL23B ceiling and wallmount loudspeakers. There are six enclosures total-mounted to the balcony ceiling-two for each section.

For the most paft, signal processing is handled directly by the Venue SC4B console. "lt handles all signal processing for the vocalists and musicians," says Hughes. "l do, however, use three dbx DriveRack processors for loudspeaker management. I use one processor each for left, center, and right. This way, I have indePendent control over each segment of the main house sound system."

By taking advantage of wireless microphone technology and console automation, the Hughes Brothers Show is able to provide far greater consistency for each Performance while affording the performers complete freedom of mobility. "The technology we employ in our show has really worked well for us," Hughes says, "and it provides the potential for so many other creative opportunities to explore. This equipment has enabled us to maintain a consistently busy theatre schedule. Customers and industry associates alike say the way we use the technology has enabled us to take our show to an entirely new level."

-R. Maxwell

bransoncritic

Awarded "Best Variety Show" 2010

Read why @ BransonCritic.com

bransonshowawards

Awarded "Best Christmas Show" 2008-2014
Awarded "Best Variety Show" 2010
Awarded "Best Show" 2011
Hughes Family Awarded "Entertainers of the Year" - 2012 for "it"
Awarded "Best Musical Family" for "it" 2014
Awarded "Best Young Male Entertainer" - Jacob Hughes - 2013
Awarded "Best Group" - Hughes Brothers - 2013
Awarded "Best Dance Troupe" for "it" - 2013
Awarded "Male Dancer" - Dallen Hughes - 2013

BransonShowAwards.com

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