Hello and thank you for talking with us today. So we all love going to concerts. But few of us actually think about what it takes to put on a show. As the owner of Speakeasy Audio, I’d love to talk with you about the business of live sound production. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of it all, how did this all start? What’s your background?
My business partner, Jojo Vitagliano and I had been buds for awhile and we both were running small audio companies on the Jersey Shore. After competing often for clients, I somehow convinced him to merge our companies.
We were both working for a larger audio company, Asbury Audio, and piecing together gear separately. We started getting our own gigs with Dj’s, local band showcases, and moving supplemental gear for larger festivals and venues. We made the decision to work together and combined our equipment in order to take on larger clients and we grew Speakeasy Audio to be rad company to work with. Seriously, hit us up.
What made you want to start a company? Was there a need that wasn’t being addressed?
For myself, I grew up booking punk rock shows in skateparks and halls so I was always in touch with running my own companies and I’m not a fan of working under people and relying on them as a source of income. So I did what I thought made sense and found a like-minded person that wanted to have fun trying to piece together a nice PA system. Whoever is reading this probably agrees that our audio world rules. So why not try and have a good time in the field and take it serious enough to do a good job so that people want you around for their events.
OK? So let’s start from the very beginning. Way before a tour even starts. Way before we’re even talking about the audio part of it. Let’s paint the full picture so that we can really understand how a sound company fits into it all. Let’s start from here: an artist wants to go on tour. What happens next?
Managers, Booking Agents, Accountants.
OK. So the logistics are worked out. Venue sizes are known and an expected revenue stream can be projected. So now there’s a rough budget framework to operate in. Is this where the sound company comes in?
Nah, we get the call last.
OK. So then what happens? Do you get a call from the management company? What do they ask? What are they expecting? Do you have to put up a bid? Are you competing for the gig against other sound companies?
Luckily for us, we both work as engineers with a great management company called Lever and Beam based out of NYC. They have amazing artists like Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Charles Bradley and The Menahan Street Band, Antibalas, and The Budos Band. These are artists that we bring our microphone and wireless packages, consoles and outboard gear with.
Wow! That must keep you beyond busy. Is your situation different than most other sound companies?
Yeah, I haven’t been home in years. We stay very busy with all of them which is great because on top of everyone involved being great people — the music quality f**king rules. Outside of all the perks, the main reason we do this is because of MUSIC. Speak Easy Audio is different from other companies because we have our hands in a few different spots. We do the touring thing, we have the house gig thing at Asbury Lanes – a 400 cap bowling alley, we have a larger production company called Asbury Audio based out of Asbury Park, NJ and that keeps us busy year round. This is all on top of our normal Speak Easy gigs.
OK. Got it. So what does the sound company typically provide? What are you responsible for? And do you report to the management company, the artists, or the tour manager?
We provide anything from consoles, microphones, wireless packages, outboard gear, and monitor packages. This is usually an open discussion between the audio engineers, manager, tour manager and most importantly the band as far as what comes out. Some times, local concert promoters and venue managers contact us for supplemental gear for larger productions they have booked. Other times, we are involved with private parties or charity events where we are responsible for making the performance happen — even if it means setting up the entire room, designating a performance space, and constructing a professional concert environment.
Are we talking about just monitors or are we talking about a complete sound package — monitors and front of house?
Depend on what the gig is. Normally on tours we carry In Ear Monitors, Microphones, Console, FOH outboard rack. Then we also have our events that we get hired for complete FOH/Monitor packages, Lighting packages, Staging, ect..
Does that change based on venues? What are some of the differences between planning for an arena run versus planning for a club run?
We always have our mics, in-ear units and outboard gear. All the venues we run into on tour are active venues in the larger capacity theaters and up, so usually at that point they have the consoles and wedges.
OK. So how do you get paid? Is it an upfront contract for the tour or is a per show thing?
Every time is different. We’re easy going guys and try to go with what makes sense for the order.
Got it. So what are your actual expenses? You provide equipment and labor, right?
We usually work with the coordinator of each event or tour and discuss all the options. Sometimes a act will need just an RF package of mics and in-ears—obviously that doesn’t need a tech or anything. But might have something that involves building stages, lighting rigs, and running the event so that calls for hiring additional labor on top of the equipment rental.
Do you own the equipment or do you rent?
We own, we rent. We own wireless microphones, in-ear units, quality outboard gear, and a high quality small P.A. system with monitors that is used for private events and rehearsals. Fortunately, we have access to anything else that we need. Staging, Lighting, back-line, and of course, more audio.
Who are your main vendors? How did you possibly learn all this stuff? And how do you stay up with current trends and new developments?
You can learn a lot from the internet. We are consistently checking product websites, forums, and videos to keep up to date with gear. With the Artists that we work with, we are able to work hands on with these new products. Especially on the larger festival stages, there is usually the latest-and-greatest products at our disposal. Euro Festival season is my favorite time of year for gear.
I know some camps carry their own engineers and others work with the sound person that the sound company sends out. What’s the difference really?
More often than not, a band will be traveling with at least one engineer. Once again, budgeting is the major factor as far as what the camp can afford. Carrying engineers is beneficial because you have the same crew dealing with the artist day in and day out. This turns into a comfort thing. The musicians can look to monitor world and see a familiar face and trust that their engineer will handle any issues that might come up during the show. A front of house engineer may know specific details about how the artist wants to sound. Engineers supplied by audio providers still play an important roll and work hard to learn fast on what makes the artists comfortable.
Yep. So let’s end here but let me recap. The next time any of us go to a show and look all around us at the things that seem so permanent, it’s important to remember that most of what we are seeing has been constructed for our entertainment. That essentially, it’s all just a traveling show going from town to town — venue to venue. And that without the sound company behind the tour, none of it would be possible!
Rob Paliaga is the co-founder of Speakeasy Audio and audio engineer for the Lever and Beam family of artists including Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Charles Bradley and The Menahan Street Band, Antibalas, and The Budos Band.
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for Ultimate Ears