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Controlled Chaos: House & Monitor Sound For Pharrell Williams Live
Talking with the engineers behind the consoles for the energetic stage show of a world-class artist
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JP: And he is probably one of the busiest people I’ve ever met in my life! But no matter how little time he has, or how fatigued he is, he treats people the same. You know how this music business is, there are times when he’s happier than others, but even then, he is still amazing.

KH: At 5 am, he’s cool… At 8 pm, he’s cool… At noon, he’s cool… You are never gonna catch him in a bad vibe; and once again, he is working harder than all of us. He probably gets negative sleep! [laughs]

JP: People probably think that because he is the biggest artist in the world right now, and because his songs are so big, that he’s not producing as much. No… Pharrell will leave a festival with 100,000 people and go straight to the studio at night and produce records.

Everyone is pulling on him; he’s doing movies, records, shows, and he’s about to be a judge on The Voice; he does not stop, and I don’t understand how he can do it. It seems impossible to work as much as he does, and none of this is by half; the records he produces are amazing—he’s not losing, he’s winning.

How did you guys get into the business of pro audio?

KH: For me, I always had a passion for music and grew up around it. My mum was a beautician, and she did record producers’ hair, so I was always there. I observed… And it called me! Basically right out of high school, I was instantly wanting to do this.

One of my mum’s clients was an engineer, and I shadowed him. Wherever he was, I was there. Fortunately for me, I had the best of both worlds, as I started off in the studio, and the engineer was also a live guy, so I understood both sides of it, almost simultaneously.

Then, when the studios started to decline, live took off – it was an easy transition. I do some studio work here and there, if I get a call, but the way today’s market it, live is where it is at; even the biggest studio console makers are going into the live genre, as people have to perform.

Record sales are on the decline, and live shows are on the upstroke. But there are a lot of engineers out there that are [pauses]... Suspect! [laughs] They sit at a top console like an SD7, and they’re completely lost; that’s because they haven’t found the time to do their homework, but I did that on many desks, and gave myself a solid foundation, which has helped me get where I am today.

JP: For me, I’ve always been around music. I grew up playing drums in church, and my dad had a studio with an organ and a bunch of keyboards. I was always going to gigs with him, hooking stuff up, tearing it down, and it just kind of made sense to me. I was told I had an ear for music, but I was shy and afraid; then I went to college, stopped playing, but was producing in the studio and doing the live thing on the side. I’ve done pro-audio, home theater, worked for small and big companies, toured as a system tech, FOH, monitor guy…

And as I went freelance, it all moved towards the stage, and I realized that working with artists made me comfortable. I learned it wasn’t about me, it’s all about the artist and the band on stage, and that’s when I started getting a lot of calls! [smiles] It’s been an amazing journey so far, that’s for sure…

Is there a moment that stands out for you guys, or does every day roll into one?

KH: I can’t say that any magical moment stands out, as every artist has one at some point in their career. I would say my career has been magical—my 21 years in the biz. Being able to work with artists at the top of their game, like Pharrell, and also those who are today’s opener and tomorrow’s headliner. That’s what I love. I remember doing shows in a mall, and now we’re rocking in a 100,000-seater stadium; and knowing you’ve grown together is really something.

JP: I’ve worked with so many artists in many genres, and it’s always the same: people are people. It’s all about relationships, and if you make them, you never lose them. Those are what make your life great.

Headliner is a recently launched UK-based publication that supports the creative community, focusing on live performances, recording sessions, theatre productions, and major broadcast events. The spotlight is on the technology, but with a lifestyle approach. Find out more here, and subscribe here.

Headliner editor Paul Watson has 10 years live touring experience with bands in the UK and the US, and ran an independent recording studio for five years close to London. He also serves as the editor for Europe for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb.

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