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Audio Comfort Food: Taking A Moment To Realize Why We’re All In This Industry

It’s about how we help so many things come together and the feeling we get from making shows happen.

It’s been almost a year since our industry has been basically shut down due to the global pandemic. Setting aside financial burdens this has caused many of our peers, there’s a psychological battle that we’ve all been facing.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us did not get into this business for the money, but rather the challenge and sense of fulfillment we get from taking a blank slate, whether it be an arena, theatre, ballroom, or a green field, and turning it into a show.

Losing out on that part of my life for the last 12 months (I’m slightly ahead of most of you due to some family leave just prior to the pandemic) has made me think back to how I got started – the less-than-ideal equipment, short set changes, venues with dodgy power, and lack of show advance. Quite frankly, it was awful. But I can’t help but think I would do anything for one of those shows right now, and I know many other live event professionals feel the same way.

It’s comfort food. Most people grow up eating what they’re given and liking it, nay loving it. The food our parents made for us as kids is engrained in our minds. It’s not until we venture out into the world on our own that we realize our parents either couldn’t cook or were feeding us on a shoestring budget or both. Or maybe some were luckier and had great cooks at home.

Either way, most of those meals can’t be found on the menu of any restaurant. And I don’t know about you, but I return to those meals every now and then. The nostalgia, the warm fuzzy feeling of just being a kid and not worrying about things like redundant Dante networks or global pandemics.

I think the same is true of this thing we call live sound. Like many, I got started with live sound in earnest while in high school. The school had purchased a new Allen & Heath GL2400 console. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

We also had about 10 wireless belt packs, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say we had compressors too, but I didn’t know how to use them. There were ground-stacked Electro-Voice loudspeakers that went on the stage lip to provide coverage to an auditorium that seats probably 600. I’ll be the first to say the shows were rough.

Toward the end of high school, I did some work with a local production company. Being 17 and low on the totem pole, I was stuck on the third stage of small street festivals with the “C” rig. Four compressors (which I had since learned to use), a multi-FX unit, and oddly enough, a GL2400. While the gear and my knowledge had improved, I would hardly call the conditions ideal. Summer in Baltimore can be quite sweltering, especially spending all weekend on the blacktop.

Eventually, though, I found myself in a place where I work mostly indoors, with equipment that I’ve specified, and rarely have to roll cases and staging across a terrace full of pavers that we can’t take the truck on (more stories for another time). It’s all so nice, comparatively.

But the thing is, even with all of those shows that had poor gear or grueling conditions or that were just plain awful, I didn’t know any better. I took what I could get and I liked it because it made me full. Would I want to do those gigs every day for the rest of my career? No. But returning to them occasionally with rose-tinted glasses isn’t out of the question. Especially right now.

I love my top-of-the-line line array, digital consoles, and DSP, as well as venues with abundant power, but you bet I’d chow down on a high school auditorium to mix a musical with a busted analog board, ground-stacked loudspeakers, 24 wireless microphones – and no compressors – right about now. The feeling of pulling off a successful show is all the same whether you’re soldering snake channels five minutes before doors open or get to walk in and simply load a show file – just as we’re equally as full from eating a mystery casserole found in the freezer or a steak dinner from a five-star establishment.

As shows begin to return, as we can get back to whatever “normal” may be, as income starts to flow again, we should all take a moment to realize why we’re in this. It’s not about the consoles, or the loudspeakers, or the fancy plugins, or even the catering. It’s about how all those things come together and the feeling we get from making shows happen.

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