A System Engineer’s Observations On Wrangling A Really Big Sound Reinforcement Rig

Having spent some extended time with just a couple of artists, a few years ago (2006 to be exact) I recently found myself in an unfamiliar position. I was not going to be touring with anyone.

It was therefore time to see what I was made of. Time for some “one-offs”—you know, those pesky little shows where you really don’t know what’s going on until you are actually doing it.

No stage looms, dialed-in consoles or “girlie” techs allowed on these babies. You’d better have your eyes wide open because you’re going on a mission.

As a young man, I worked for several regional production companies so I say “production” because these businesses were famous for trying to be the one-stop shop for the local promoters. You know, sound, lighting and staging in one size to fit all. (Sorry, this was before video became an issue),

To these establishments, shows of this nature were the bread and butter of their existence. These were the trenches that turned us into the sound engineers we are today. Our idea of touring, was a few dates in a row with the same artist who happened to be in the area, but that was It. All of the real touring was left to the bigger sound providers.

There were more of them back then too. In fact, today there are fewer and fewer touring giants in the industry. Yes, we too have been subject to consolidation. (And you thought that was just for Wall Street!) Since the turn of the century we have seen Showco and Clair Bros. become one entity… a scenario that most folks never expected to see. Sound Image and DB Sound are two more touring firms that have since joined forces.

Believe it or not, the fusion of these companies is a perfectly normal thing in the business world. Yes, there is a sound reinforcement food chain! And while big percentages of the touring market are serviced by these two companies, alone, I was about to find out that they also do their fair share: of one-offs.

After spending an extended time away from work to move and renovate a home on the coast in South Carolina I was ready to get back to work. (i.e.: ran out of money). A few phone calls later I found myself assigned to a couple of festival dates. (By the way, ‘festival’ is another word for REALLY BIG one-off.) I spoke with Greg Smith (Showco operations manager in Lititz, PA) and got the big picture. He would be sending me an inventory in a couple of days.

When I downloaded my e-mail a few days later, the attachment I was looking for was an Excel file full of specifics about the gear that would be sent for this show. When I opened the file however, I was in for a bit of a surprise. The inventory was 24 pages long. This was a boat load of audio gear. (Well, not a boat load, but at least four tractor trailers worth).

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