Issue 37 • March 2011
LIVE • COMMERCIAL
• RECORDING • BROADCAST
The State of Our Union Dave Swallow comments
T Youngsters who are willing to do sound, lights, merch, TM, drive, advance and baby-sit all in one convenient low cost package will dowell.
on hard times in the live sound
his year started to turn out like any other typical January does in the live industry. The usual flurry of emails, phone calls, MyFace and MicroBlogs are shooting in and out of voice and electronic mail boxes all over the place looking for the first signs of work. I for one have joined this hurried number in search of the elusive new gig. After finishing my two-year stint with La Roux back in December, I thought I'd put my feet up for a while and concentrate on the more homely matters that have been a little neglected during that time. Normally, this is the point of the year when there isn't a lot of work around anyway, and those who are working have normally picked up the gig months ago. I have been very lucky in the past and this year I was sensible and started making phone calls back in October and November. I managed to pick up a tour with a wonderful singer that started in December and they were going to be confirming dates in the New Year. But, as with a lot of things that have happened over the past couple of years, budget constraints forced the band to tour in January on their own, setting my plans for the year on an entirely different track. It's only our own arrogance and pride that make us think we have the next gig, but in a world without contracts, verbal agreements are only really worth the paper they are written on. I'm not bitter or upset that I'm not there - I'm just a little frustrated that I don't have any work.
The last couple of years have been hard for many of us and I think this year could be a little harder. With the economic downturn in full swing for the third year, the disposable income, on which we so heavily rely, of the general public is rapidly drying up. Everyone I have spoken to over the last few weeks has said the same thing; it's a slow year, but there's lot's going on later in the year. One theory we have put together is that the festival season is now much longer than it use to be, and also incorporates more and more festivals. Eastern European countries have now opened their doors, and festivals are starting at the beginning of May, and going right through to the end of September. Coupled with that, the fees that artists can get have gone up significantly. The disposable income that the general public have is better spent going to festivals, seeing all the bands they want to see in one weekend, rather than spending it on individual shows. A band used to incorporate a few festivals in their tours, but now only incorporate a few of their own shows in between festivals and that is only to offset some of the costs of travel and wages. Management is taking cautious steps towards their artists' futures, whereas major labels are making major changes to their structures just to survive. Many of us think that the industry would be better off without the 'evil corporate' major labels. They've made their own mistakes and are now baring the brunt of this downturn in our industry. But where does this leave all of the hard working touring personnel? This year will be hard for a lot of us. Those with well established names will have the work they've always had and those youngsters who are willing to do sound, lights, merch, TM, drive, advance and baby-sit all in one convenient low cost package will do well. But, it's this rolling everything into one for a price that can't be beaten that will cause the most harm - without even realising. The intention is to get the band's music out there - and in the bigger picture, the band will do well and eventually earn enough money to pay you well, but this isn't always the case. This willingness to work for next to nothing delivers the biggest blow to the quality of the work we do because each part is spread so thin - although by no means always. Music will survive and it will always be on the road because each generation needs its voice. The question really is how will the quality survive? Have we had our Concorde moment? Is our industry now only about making the figures add up? Or is there still room for technological advances in sound technology, such as Ambisonics and proper 3D imaging to give audiences an experience they've never had before? How cool would that be? I think there is room for all of this within our budgets, but it falls on people like you and me to preserve the fastidious nature of the industry and not follow the cheaper option.
Dave Swallow is a 1S-year veteran FOH engineer who has worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse and La Roux
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