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Inside Sound Art: The Journey In Building A Top Pro Audio & Production Provider

Dave Cousins on the entity he founded's rise from a fledgling basement-based operation to a market leader.

Dave Cousins founded Sound Art Productions in 1981, starting his fledgling sound rental company in a basement in Winnipeg, the largest city in the Manitoba province of Canada. Flash forward 36 years and the dynamic entity is renowned for delivering complete and comprehensive professional audio and production services from facilities in Calgary and Winnipeg as well as a worldwide network of affiliated companies.

“Our philosophy is simple. We constantly strive to give our customers and their audiences the best sound possible,” Cousins states. “To achieve this we concentrate on listening to and understanding our customers. We then give them the best people and equipment that we can for the job.”

Along the way, Sound Art has expanded from strictly supplying public address services to system installations, equipment sales, repairs and maintenance, theatre shows, touring manufacturing, and more. A full-time staff of more than 40 highly qualified engineers with long-time experience serve the client base, bolstered by numerous alliances built over the years to provide top-quality full production packages that include lighting, roof and staging systems. Not only has it all led to steady growth and expansion, but also industry accolades such as a Parnelli Award for Regional Sound Company Of The Year.

“The people that were here in the beginning are still here today,” Cousins notes. “We employ the best in the business. Quality people deliver the quality audio that brings audiences back. We also strongly invest in training, ensuring that we know about the latest developments while continually investing in the very best.”

Forming A Bond

The company’s rental inventory holds in excess of $10 million of audio equipment from top manufacturers, including consoles from a virtual “who’s who” of leading platforms as well as 400 X-Line Advance, XLC and XLD line array elements from Electro-Voice that are driven by digitally controlled EV amplifiers. “My favorite product is the new X-Line Advance Series,” Cousins adds. “We have sixty X2s currently in rentals and absolutely love them.”

Members of the Sound Art team assembling EV arrays for a Canadian Country Music Association awards show in Edmonton.

The relationship with EV, another entity that began in a basement, stretches back more than 25 years, and over the course of that time, the Sound Art Rental Division has deployed EV components at a mind-boggling 30,000 events. The roster includes top touring artists such as Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, and Avril Lavigne, festivals such as Monsters of Rock Calgary, Winnipeg Folk Festival, and Rock On The Range, and for 21 years and counting, the world-renowned Calgary Stampede.

The results have proven consistently excellent, prompting responses like this one in a Winnipeg Sun review of a k.d. lang concert supported by Sound Art: “And the voice? Pure heaven – especially when coupled with acoustics and a speaker system that made it sound like she was crooning directly into our ear all night.”

The company demonstrates its exceptional depth in terms of gear and tech support in its annual work with the Calgary Stampede, handling Main Grandstand shows for 30,000-plus along with more than 15 additional stages. Over the years, larger needs have been met by EV line arrays such as the XLC and XLD Series, and now X-Line Advance, while smaller applications are handled with a depth of inventory ZLX and Sx Series portable systems.

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“All of the loudspeaker platforms for the Grandstand show are on drive-able scissor lifts,” explains Dan Frerichs, general manager of Sound Art Calgary, “and we need to go from no loudspeakers anywhere to covering audio for over 30,000 people in 15 minutes. The arrays are driven into place and plugged in, and the EV IRIS-Net tells us instantly if one isn’t patched-in correctly. That means a lot when every second counts.”

The Coca-Cola Stage is just one of many stages at the Calgary Stampede served annually by Sound Art.

Working Together

A new system design and installation at Bell MTS Place, a 15,000-seat arena that’s the home of the Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League (NHL) in addition to hosting dozens of other events annually, further highlights the symbiotic relationship between Sound Art and Electro-Voice. The company already had extensive experience with deploying EV systems for hundreds of shows in the venue since it opened, and now has implemented a tailor-made permanent solution.

“Depending on the type of event,” Cousins says, “we’ve deployed X-Line, XLC, and XLD line arrays. The entire EV line offers huge ROI, definitely the most bang for your buck of any loudspeaker. We use them every day, so we know what they can do. When I recommend EV to a customer, I’m 100 percent confident that the system will perform as I’ve promised.”

The permanent system deployed at MTS Place includes 54 XLC modules in six clusters using different array lengths at the various hang points encircling the center-hung scoreboard. Four of the arrays are supplemented at the top of the hang with three XLCi215 front-loaded, dual 15-inch subwoofers.

The line array contingent of the system designed and installed by Sound Art at Bell MTS Place.

“The XLCi215s match the footprint and rigging of the XLCi127DVX,” Cousins explains. “Twelve subwoofers represents half of what we would normally use in a tour rig with this many mid/high cabinets, but in this situation, they’re being used as a bass cabinet more than a subwoofer. And they produce a significant amount of output even in this small quantity.”

The system is powered with EV CPS2.12 amplifiers under IRIS-Net monitoring and control. RCM-System routing, FIR filters, and limiting functions are all provided by a set of NetMax N8000-1500 system controllers. And, a more recent Phase Two expansion of the system is headed by EVU-1062/95 compact 2-way loudspeakers mounted under-balcony for press boxes and luxury suites.

Yet while technology is important, Cousins notes that true accomplishments in the systems business ultimately come down to relationships. “EV and the people behind it have become our close friends. If we need support, it’s so easy to call a friend and ask for help, and they’re right there to back us up.

“I can honestly say that EV is responsible for a great deal of the growth and success of Sound Art,” he concludes. “The products hit the ‘sweet spot’ on the cost-performance curve, which allows us to continue to succeed in a challenging industry.”

Find out more about Sound Art here.

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Celebrating over 50 years of audio excellence worldwide, Audio-Technica is a leading innovator in transducer technology, renowned for the design and manufacture of microphones, wireless microphones, headphones, mixers, and electronics for the audio industry.