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Feature: Setting the stage

Feature: Setting the stage
Avid Profile at FOH in VAS Live

Feature: Setting the stage

Caroline Moss visits Real-Live’s newly opened one-stop shop for musicians in Shanghai which includes a K-array-equipped venue, VAS Live

China’s relatively nascent music industry has been going through a major evolution in recent years. A new wave of companies is emerging, offering up-and-coming talent a complete path, from management to recording to live performances. This focus on the bigger picture is a refreshing approach to music, nurturing new talent by providing a platform to release and promote albums as well as hone live performances.

One of the latest players to embrace this holistic way of working is Real-Live, which took over an entire old cinema building at the end of 2017. Real-Live had already been operating as a production and artist management company as well as a record label, and was primarily looking for new premises in which to build a studio and rehearsal space.

‘We work with lots of bands on their recording, preproduction and rehearsal, and we needed space somewhere downtown, so people could come in quickly and get ready for their shows,’ says Li Zhan, CEO of Real-Live and VAS Live.

K-array KM312 stage monitors
K-array KM312 stage monitors

The old cinema, however, gave them opportunities they hadn’t initially considered. It was in a good location, on a main thoroughfare near the Jing’an Temple, a well-connected district known as an entertainment hub with its many bars and clubs. However, the old cinema had fallen into disrepair.

‘The Chinese market wants everything to be new,’ muses Li. ‘But we knew what we were looking for and we thought it was a really good opportunity to take over part of the building and renovate it. It’s very accessible and easy for people to get here. Then the owner asked if we’d be interested in renting the whole building, so we decided to expand our enterprise.’

This has included creating the 800m2 VAS Live venue in the footprint of the previous cinema, which can accommodate a standing audience of 1,000. Central to the new venue is a line array system from K-array’s Mugello range – flat, lightweight solutions using the company’s Slim Array Technology, which aims to maintain the desired directivity by virtue of a hyper-cardioid pattern dispersion.

‘I think it’s a pioneering system, a very new design,’ says Li, who had already stocked the Italian brand for his rental company. ‘It’s small, light and powerful, and it sounds very clean. This is our first venue but we’ve used K-array for lots of our Real-Live events, and we’ve rented our systems to bands and promoters. So we have lots of experience in using K-array.’

Five Mugello-KH2s have been flown at either side of the stage, with two KS5 self-powered subwoofers per side and two Dragon-KX12 coaxial point source speakers as front-fill. ‘We only needed two because the coverage is quite enough with the two KS2 hangs – they cover the room very well,’ continues Li. ‘We put on lots of dance and hip hop shows and they like it loud, with plenty of bass.’

Live room of the recording studio
Live room of the recording studio

Two small-format Axle-KRX202s provide side-fill, and the system is driven by three Kommander-KA84 amps. The venue is also equipped with four K-array Mastiff-KM312 self-powered stage monitors. ‘They are great monitors, very powerful and clean sounding and the bands like them a lot,’ he says.

The company has taken advantage of the raked floor of the former cinema, which provides audience members with good views of the stage, no matter how far back they are standing. The area in front of the stage has been filled in and raised up to create a dance floor, while further back, as the floor rises up, rows of narrow tables give people who’d prefer not to enter the mosh pit a space to stand and rest their drinks. ‘Audiences like our space because everyone can see the show,’ says Li. ‘And, as well as the raked floor, we’ve also raised the stage up higher.’

Real-Live carried out all the necessary acoustic work itself, building false walls around the auditorium to isolate the venue and adding soundproofing in the ceiling and floors. The company designed its own acoustic panels and got them made locally, and has also created two artists’ dressing rooms behind the stage.

As it’s early days for Real-Live as a venue operator, the company has limited its investment in equipment for now to the K-array system, and deployed existing rental stock elsewhere. This includes an Avid Profile for FOH, of which Li is a big fan. ‘It’s so easy to operate; I can close my eyes and use it as it’s very easy to find the functions. We are running it with Waves plug-ins to provide features such as compression, EQ and reverb.’

Real-Live and VAS Live CEO, Li Zhan, seated at his vintage Hammond organ
Real-Live and VAS Live CEO, Li Zhan, seated at his vintage Hammond organ

Onstage is a small Midas M32 mixing console for monitoring, which is sometimes run from the Profile at FOH. With its ability to provide customisable headphone outputs, a DiGiGrid IOX I/O interface with Waves SoundGrid software – again previously used for touring applications – is also part of the monitoring setup. A Shure UR4D wireless mic system with SM58, SM57, SM81, Beta 52A, 81A and 91A microphones and Sennheiser ew3000 in-ear monitoring systems are available in the venue. A full lighting rig incorporating a large and varied inventory of Acme fixtures is controlled from the MA Lighting grandMA2 console at FOH.

The building also houses a rehearsal studio and a recording studio designed by Li himself, installed with a Yamaha PM3500 analogue console and Yamaha NS-10M and ADAM Audio S3X studio monitors as well as a classic range of outboard gear from Universal Audio, API, Midas, Tube-Tech, dbx and Shadow Hills. ‘I thought about what my clients would want, and what I’d want myself,’ he explains. ‘We worked with a very good acoustic engineer based here in Shanghai, who helped us with the acoustic design and the recording room. He has managed to get a really great sound in the drum room in particular, and we’ve had lots of very good feedback from some of the older and more experienced sound engineers who really like the drum sound here. Since we opened in late 2018, we’ve already finished two albums.’

Real-Live recording studio
Real-Live recording studio

VAS Live opened in late 2018, after almost a year of renovation work. As well as Chinese talent, the venue has also been attracting some international names including the Vaccines and the Jesus and Mary Chain, both from the UK, and HUSH from Taiwan. There is also a large bar area in the entrance to the venue, with windows overlooking the vibrant neighbourhood. Elsewhere in the building, a third party is operating a videogames arena.

Real-Live is now able to provide pretty much what any aspiring artist needs to establish a music career. ‘We are getting better and better, always trying to connect everything together,’ says Li. ‘My hope is that in the next 5–10 years we’ll have a really famous band, a Chinese Rolling Stones!’

This article was first published in the July-August 2019 edition of Pro AVL Asia magazine. Subscribe at proavl-central.com/subscribe.



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