Brian Ronan's Sound Design For Annie

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Brian Ronan, who took the Tony Award home last year Best Sound Design of a Musical for The Book of Mormon, is a veteran of the Broadway stage, with additional credits that include American Idiot and Next To Normal, and now, the revival of Annie.

Ronan got involved with the production two years ago, when he took at meeting with producer Arielle Tepper. “I’d known her more socially than professionally for years so I was happy to hear from her,” he says. “It was then that she told me about Annie and asked if I was interested. This marked the first time in my career that I was hired directly by a producer.” Ronan also met with director James Lapine, the sound designer says, “to get his blessing.”

Going into Broadway’s Palace Theatre, Annie didn’t require any acoustic changes to the house, but because the venue is large and has asymmetrical seating sections, Ronan notes that it requires quite a lot of speaker distribution. “There is also a larger than usual amount of box seats that requires its own coverage field,” he adds. “In a system with so much distribution, it’s important to find excess frequencies so that interaction between zones is kept to a minimum.”

Ronan uses a combination of L’Acoustics KARA and dV-DOSC spreakers, Meyer Sound UPJuniors and UPAs, and d&b audiotechnik E3s. “A 16-box center array of Kara’s is at the heart of the system,” says Ronan. “It hangs from a box truss above the orchestra pit. Orchestra left and right have five-cabinet, ground-stacked Kara arrays just off stage of the proscenium. Mezzanine left and right have seven-cabinet dV-DOSC arrays that hang from the same box truss as the center array. Balcony left and right are covered by two seven-cabinet dV-DOSC arrays that hang from a front of house truss that I share with the lighting designer.”

Ronan also has two rows of under-mezzanine delay speakers, the first comprising eight Meyer UPJuniors, while the second is eight d&b E3s. His under-balcony delays are six more d&b E3s, where the first few rows are covered by six d&b E3 front fills. The orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony levels all have side fills, and Ronan has Meyer UPAs for the far fill and d&b E3s for near fill.

“Often times, real estate dictates what speakers I use,” Ronan says. “In the case of Annie, I was able to use my ‘go to’ array speakers. The L’Acoustics line provides me coverage options, and I think the speakers sound good without a lot of EQ necessary. I rely heavily on Meyer for conventional speakers that pack a nice punch and provide vocal clarity. The smaller d&b E3 are surprisingly powerful and fit into small spaces making them reliable front fill and delay speakers.”

For microphones, Ronan has a combination of Sennheiser MKE 2s, MKE 1s, DPA 4061s, and Countryman B3s for vocals. “I use them interchangeably,” he says. “MKE1s I use for their low profile look. For instance, we all know that Warbucks will be bald, so the MKE1 over his ear disappears nicely against his skin.”

Ronan also uses MKE1s for singers who wear wigs, as the smaller size allows for good position without damaging the wig’s netting. He likes DPA’s color choices for various skin tones, and uses B3s for their water resistance on actors who perspire a lot or have to work with liquids. “For the band, I use a wide variety of mic brands as well as direct boxes,” he says. “Generally I use good condenser mics on instruments with the widest spectrum.”

Ronan notes working with younger singers can pose challenges. “Don’t get me wrong; this is a great singing group of orphans, but with their youth comes a lack of vocal projection,” he says. “That means that their voices rely on the sound system more than the adults and can therefore sound a bit canned or piped in. I spent the entire preview process trying to find the exact frequencies that exposed them the most and EQ them out without losing clarity.”

The FOH console is a DiGiCo SD7T linked backstage to a SD10 for monitoring. “I love the flexibility in the programming of the SD7 and its plentiful I/O configuration,” says Ronan. “I think the board sounds good and is easy to navigate on. As a designer, I can get around on the board to do my tweaks while the sound op can proceed with the show. Someday they’ll figure out how to have the matrix section appear in one of the side panel displays, and then I’ll be a very happy designer.”

The SD10 loops through to the SD7 via fiber and allows for seamless FOH-to-backstage interaction. “I can EQ and distribute band mics as I please without affecting the band’s Aviom mix,” the sound designer says, noting that he uses on-board processing from the consoles with the exception of reverb, for which he has a TC Electronic M6000. PRG Audio supplied the sound equipment for Annie.

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