As we gear up for the LDI Show, we’re profiling speakers in our Sound Tracks series of panels aimed at live sound engineers. This week we’re pleased to introduce you to Jamie Anderson, who will be presenting “System Tuning: Optimize Your P.A. Fast!”
Jamie Anderson has been teaching and working in the field of sound system engineering, measurement, and alignment for nearly two decades. He has worked as a technical support manager and SIM instructor for Meyer Sound Laboratories, as a system engineer on tour for A-1 Audio (kd Lang) and UltraSound (Dave Matthews Band), and as a product manager and instructor for SIA and EAW. In 2008, he and three partners founded Rational Acoustics to dedicate themselves to the development, support, and training of the Smaart® acoustic test and measurement software platform.
Anderson has taught more than 275 Smaart and SIM® classes, in more than 20 countries on five continents. He’s been the house system engineer for four Montreux Jazz Festivals and six Telluride Bluegrass Festivals, has worked with Grateful Dead, Anita Baker, and Louis Miguel tours, and has been involved in hundreds of system alignments across a vast range of venues.
Sarah Jones: How did you get your start in the live sound industry?
Jamie Anderson: As a student, working in theatres and small pub shows for the fun of it, and later as an engineering undergrad working as a stagehand at the Worcester Centrum for actual money (beer money)—and to see the big boys’ toys. I started out as a lighting guy and a theatre rat, but I converted to the dark side (sound) when I hit grad school. Sound design led me to system design, which led to the necessity of learning to tech and tune systems, which inevitably led to learning system measurement tools. I ended up at Meyer Sound in the early ’90s when it introduced the SIM II system, and from there, I have worked pretty continuously either using (and learning) measurement systems as a system engineer, teaching them to other engineers (and learning from them), or developing measurement tools as a manufacturer.
SJ: What drives your passion for live sound?
JA: The pace of the work. I love system engineering, tweaking, and tuning, but adding in the extra dimensions of the show’s time constraints, the variety of disciplines all working simultaneously, the artistic definition (or lack thereof), and pace of live sound event production—it really focuses, refines, and enhances your process. There is a set start time, a down beat, a curtain time, that is normally pretty set in stone, and so you must be efficient, situationally aware, technically creative and cooperative, and aesthetically flexible. And maybe just as importantly, there is an end—rig down, cases packed, trucks closed—a sense of completion and accomplishment on an almost daily basis. And in the end, you often get to see, hear, and participate in some great shows.
SJ: Can you give us a taste of what attendees can expect to learn in your panel?
JA: Far too often, the addition of technology—of an analyzer, for example—can actually bog down our engineering and artistic process. We're going to talk about the decision-making process of sound system alignment; the measurement tools that help us make our decisions; and, with an eye to the world of live sound events, how to use them to help make your process more efficient.
SJ: What kinds of new live sound technologies are you most excited about these days?
JA: System modeling and monitoring tools that help us design, verify, adapt, and align our systems from the outset. The more problems we can solve before we encounter them—before we create them—the better. Many of the system tuning issues we encounter can be predicted and addressed, at least on a gross level, before our systems are fired up. One thing that makes a system extremely powerful and adaptable is a very granular level of alignment control—every element having separate drive (EQ, level, delay, polarity) control. Unfortunately, this level of control is also a recipe for disaster and complete loss of controllability. Intelligent and intuitive system modeling and control systems are the key to the future of system engineering.
SJ: What are the biggest challenges facing live sound engineers right now?
JA: Live sound engineers. That, and the possibility of our systems attaining consciousness.
SJ: Let’s hear a story about one of your most notable live sound gigs.
JA: Working as the system engineer in a tent (woo hoo!) at a festival, we had a mix engineer for one act who seemed to be having a bit of a time getting his show together. There was an extraordinary amount of HF sibilance in his (very loud) mix, and the venue being a big vinyl tent didn't help matters much. It was quite a painful mix to experience, and the audience was beginning to turn around and look at the mix position—never a good sign. Neither of us spoke much of each other’s language—it was too loud to have a conversation anyway—and besides, he had decided to ignore everyone around him. So, just trying to be helpful, and relieve some of the pain, I figured I'd give him a little help up top, drop in a nice, wide filter and reduce the sibilant overload. While that seemed to help a bit, it only took about 20 seconds before the mixer turned to his graphic EQ and boosted back what I had taken out.
I'm sure there is a lesson or two in there. Quite possibly, avoid loud shows in tents.
SJ: What’s on your Vegas bucket list?
JA: To see Lake Mead back up to pre-drought levels.
To learn more about pro audio workshops, panels, and events at LDI, visit http://www.ldishow.com.
Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.