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Same & Different: Bridging The Gap Between Touring & Installed Systems

Considering the strengths and weaknesses of the rig in the truck versus the system already hanging in the venue.

By Craig Leerman November 2, 2017

A lot of sound reinforcement gear can do double-duty in being able to handle both portable/touring as well as installed applications. Often these products have modifications specifically for one application or the other, but they offer the same sonic performance as well as virtually identical aesthetics.

This is particularly true of loudspeakers, where “install” boxes might be equipped with stripped-down and/or sleeker rigging without pins sticking out, or be available in optional paint colors to match a venue. At the recent LSI Loudspeaker Demo in Dallas, there were 13 participating loudspeaker manufacturers offering systems designed for both sides of the equation, and in many different sizes and scales.

I recently read an article about audio problems in a new venue at the first show in the building. The venue is outfitted with a high-end permanent system that was not used by the artist for this inaugural date, opting instead to deploy its own touring system, comprised of what’s generally recognized as high-quality equipment. Yet audience members complained that in certain areas of the seating, especially the upper balconies, sound quality was quite poor.

I understand why the artist (and perhaps management and sound team) would opt to use the system they know over something unknown, especially since this was the first time out for the venue’s new rig. (Similarly but at the opposite end of the scale, they may make the same choice because certain in-house systems are older and/or not particularly well maintained.)

Setting Priorities

For the most part, touring systems are about logistics. The PA has to be able to be set up quickly, torn down quickly, and take up as little space as possible (and weigh as little as possible) in the trailer. Of course, vital aspects of sonic quality and coverage must also be delivered.

Most modern touring rigs fit these constraints quite well, with manufacturers developing consistently better systems over the years that are louder, weigh less and rig quickly. But venues that host visiting tours/live events tours don’t make it easy for the audio crew; many are primarily designed as sports arenas, and/or present tough logistical challenges, and/or offer far less-than-desirable acoustics in the form of reflective walls, floors and ceilings.

Multiple levels of balcony seating and sky boxes add to the picture. So does outdated infrastructure such as the lack of (or lack of a sufficient number of) rigging points to fly arrays.

Often it seems that sound reinforcement isn’t the most important aspect of the concert experience, with the desire to present a “spectacle” getting far more attention. Giant video screens and walls now dominate, lighting is over the top, scenic elements and automated trusses now move about during the show, and more.

Further, many artists seem to care as much or more about costume changes and dance steps as they do about the musical performance.

One of the first concerts I worked as a stage hand had three trucks: one for the PA, another for staging and costumes, and the third for lights and backline. I thought that was a lot of stuff until working a stop on tour with 25-plus trucks. (We called it the “Too Much Stuff To Fit Tour,” carrying more scenic elements and costumes than we’d ever thought possible to fit into this particular venue.)

Primary Factors

Sound reinforcement for touring is always about compromise. We want every single person in the audience to hear every note perfectly, but we can only carry so much stuff. Systems are usually designed to be “one size fits most” where there are inevitably going to be some deficiencies at certain venues.

A typical concert rig consists of left and right main array hangs, possible side hangs, rear hangs and delay hangs, front fills, and subwoofers that are flown, ground-based, or both. Mechanical and digital steering has been a great development in helping to optimize coverage in putting sound where it needs to go, but sometimes certain audience areas still don’t receive perfect coverage.

An A/V integration firm can spend months (and even years in some cases) developing house and monitor systems purpose-designed for both a venue as well as the primary types of acts it presents. Contrast this with what’s faced by the touring sound designer, who must meet specific challenges presented by each venue while working with a much more “generic” PA.

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About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Reno.

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