“When there’s a whole band its easy to pick out your favorite or least favorite tones and mix around them or with them. But with speaking you have to get a little more hands on with your mix; stacking parametric EQs and even graphic EQs sometimes on one microphone just to get it to sound good & avoid problems.”
Ryan Huddleston—International Roadie
Hey there Ryan – thank you for talking with us today. I know how busy you are. Speaking of which, who are you out with now and what are you doing for them?
Hey Mike, thanks for having me. Yes, life does get busy, especially working for Michael Bolton. It’s been about 3 years with him now and I’ve probably been to some 50 countries or so since. It’s a crazy schedule! I’m responsible for maintaining, programming, and operating all the computers, synthesizers, keyboards, and related video & MIDI equipment. As well as overseeing the horn section, the piano, some stage props, and just helping anywhere I can.
Actually, this brings up an interesting point that I’ve been meaning to call attention to. There is a whole team of technicians that are responsible for how a band sounds. I know that you have plenty of time behind the desk, but you’ve also had your hands on so much more. Since you have such a diverse technical background, can you please help educate us on what exactly each role is responsible for. Let’s start with computer technician. What is that exactly? What’s a typical night look like?
I guess a computer technician would be somebody who makes sure the computer turns on and does what it’s supposed to. Which can be exciting sometimes, after all the international gear shipments. As well as operating and programming related software for audio, backline, video, photoshop, pro tools, fixing Internet problems, plus maintaining all the operating systems, plug ins, drives, hardware, etc.
How about a Pro Tools engineer and operator?
I wish it was as simple as putting a microphone in front of an instrument and hitting the record button, but it often requires much more attention. After the performance is recorded it needs to be mixed, edited and formatted to deliver to the various outlets. Such as radio, T.V., Youtube, DVD, or live playback. The most common though is playback, which is kinda like the nervous system of the production. This would include click tracks for the band and conductor, printed sound effects, cues, MIDI data & program changes, and more.
What about a Backline Programming Specialist?
Backline is the music equipment behind the band, but there’s more than just guitars & drums these days. I spend a lot of time poking around the menus & utilities on a lot of digital equipment, often on days off or at the last second before a show. Finding my way around keyboards, drum machines, synthesizers, various software and third party software programs, pedal boards, MIDI configurations, synchronizing integrated systems & backups, and anything else that needs programming or reconfiguring.
Oh man — that’s a lot more work than we normally think about. So you’ve mixed sound for bands but you’ve also been an audio engineer for lecture seminars. You’ve worked for Donald Trump, Tony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki, Suzi Orman, and George Foreman just to drop a few names. I’m so curious about this. How is mixing this type of audio format different than mixing for a big rock show?
Sound for public speaking is a totally different approach from Rock & Roll. Different techniques are needed when you only have one source to reinforce. When there’s a whole band its easy to pick out your favorite or least favorite tones and mix around them or with them. But with speaking you have to get a little more hands on with your mix; stacking parametric EQs and even graphic EQs sometimes on one microphone just to get it to sound good & avoid problems. Plus, those shows can last 14-18 hours sometimes, which can be exhausting. Especially when each presenter has a different timbre to their voice and speaks for only a few moments, so by the time the mix is perfect you get to start all over again.
And I have to ask – which type of gig is easier?
I definitely prefer music, and find it easier to get through the gig without falling asleep on the spacebar. Technically speaking, none of them are that difficult, it’s often the psychology that can get tricky. Flipping mind sets from talking to a billionaire CEO or a famous Rock Star right into loading a truck with a 300-pound New Yorker can be challenging, especially if you haven’t had decent sleep from all the traveling.
By the way, how did you land such an amazing gig anyways?
Somebody once told me preparation and opportunity equals success. So I’ve spent most of my life preparing for opportunities, a lot of hard work and a lot of luck has led me on an amazing journey. I was kinda born into music and have always surrounded myself with instruments. The week I turned 21, I graduated college with 5 degrees, landed my first international tour with Joss Stone, and got a taste of the sweet and bitter life of Rock & Roll touring, that I just can’t let go of. Plus it helps that people like me enough to rehire me and recommend me to their peers.
OK. so switching topics slightly. Now you and I have known each other for years so I know that you’re going to be to humble and not bring up your new project, but I want to talk about it because you’ve done something truly amazing. You’ve amassed over 10 years of field knowledge into an educational video series. Basically, you teach anyone how to become an International Roadie. Can you please tell us about your new Tricknology video series?
The Tricknology video series is 8 DVDs of 1-on-1 instruction, showcasing many industry standards and procedures practiced by most touring professionals. It includes step-by-step instructions for guitar & bass setups, tube amp & guitar repairs, cable building & soldering, speaker maintenance & troubleshooting, and so much more. I’m so excited to finally share it with the public. After training thousands of industry pros around the world, I formulated a complete course for teaching anyone of any skill set how to steal my job as an International Roadie. The videos also teach anyone how to get their gear sounding and playing better with some great “trix” I’ve picked up on tour, in the shop, and in the studio.
How long did this take to put together? This is fairly monumental especially considering the fact that you’ve always been working on top billing international tours. When did you even find time to do this?
It’s not hard to make time to do what I love. I often work on my many projects on planes, in hotel rooms, backstage on down time, and while at home. As you know, the touring industry doesn’t work everyday of the year, so I spend every free minute working on my own music projects & chasing my own dreams. Plus, I couldn’t have done it without the help of my amazing team, and all the support from my friends, family, and fans.
So last question, but I have to ask. Why? Why did you share all your secrets? Most people really keep their tips and tricks to themselves.
Well I have a lot of tips & trix, and it seems logical to share it with the music community so that we can grow stronger together. I even created a blog to supplement the video series, which is loaded with tips, trix, stories, music, videos, and more. It’s free too! The International Roadie. You never know what, or who, I might find next…
Thank you Ryan – see you on the road!
Ryan Huddleston is a professional audio engineer, technician, and backline specialist, as well as an accomplished recording and performing musician. He has been a key figure for multiple world tours, recording sessions, and production designs for numerous multi-platinum artists and professional productions; including Linkin Park, Kelly Clarkson, Michael Bolton, Joss Stone, Microsoft, Donald Trump, and many more. Ryan is an authorized warranty repair technician for stringed instruments, amplifiers, and other electronic devices. He has also received several vocational degrees and certifications in the fields of music technology, live sound reinforcement, recording arts, digital audio production, amplifiers & electronics, stringed instruments, and wireless coordination.
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for the Ultimate Ears UE University