Nashville Live!

May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra



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Twenty trucks carry Rascal Flatts' expansive rig, including the P.A. system provided by Nashville's Sound Image.

Twenty trucks carry Rascal Flatts' expansive rig, including the P.A. system provided by Nashville's Sound Image.

Any place where there's a lot of live music, there's sound reinforcement, and with all the activity originating from the Nashville Metro area, engineers and sound companies are as busy as the musicians. What's interesting about the Nashville SR industry is not only the amount of activity, but also the diversity of the business: There is a modest club scene in the Nashville area, plus a few local arena-sized venues, but there are also a large number of major houses of worship, along with full-blown production rehearsal facilities. If that's not enough, the folks we spoke with seem to stay busy providing national acts with tour support, as well as servicing the local corporate community with anything from P.A.-on-a-stick to full-blown concert systems for local festivals.

Engineer Jon Garber came to Nashville from South Dakota in 1997, initially “to do some studio work,” he explains. “Then Everett [Lybolt, Sound Image general manager] hired me to work with Brooks & Dunn as a system engineer. That lasted for three years, and then I worked with Toby Keith and Brad Paisley. About five years ago, I started working as the front-of-house engineer for Rascal Flatts, and it's been a great ride. We started off with one truck and now we carry full production.”

When Garber says “full production,” he's not kidding. The Rascal Flatts tour currently travels with one of the largest systems in the world, with 20 trucks on the road. The Sound Image-provided P.A. system includes Studer Vista 5 consoles for FOH and monitors, accommodating 80 inputs from the stage. Garber's P.A. features 132 JBL VerTec cabinets for highs and lows, plus another 12 Wide-Line Sound Image cabinets for front-fill powered via Crown iTech 8000 amps.

For Nashville's Sound Image, Rascal Flatts is one of many top touring clients, which also include Brooks & Dunn, Paisley and Keith. According to Lybolt, “There's a lot going on in country music. The Nashville machine develops an artist whose career could quite possibly span a lifetime. How is that for longevity? Everybody benefits from that. For example, I have a 14-year relationship with Brooks & Dunn, and they were going at it for a few years before I came to town. I've been with Rascal since they got their record contract. I think after five years, they were doing arenas and now they'll even be doing a few stadiums.

“There's a high level of customer loyalty in this area, and that's a good thing,” Lybolt continues. “Once an artist signs up with you, they tend to stay with you for the long haul. These same bands tour every year. It's consistent business year after year after year, which is fantastic for us, as well as the other sound companies. I put gear on the road in the second week of January and most of the time it comes home right before Thanksgiving. Some of it stays out until right before Christmas. Fifteen years ago, I had no idea that it would be this good.”

Ralph Mastrangelo, executive VP of touring for ClairShowco Nashville, has also noticed consistent, long-term business in the Nashville-based touring market. “Many Nashville-based artists historically have made their living touring,” he says. “Even when record sales were high, they would tour 40-plus weeks a year. They don't go away for two years, creating a situation where personnel changes and you have to re-establish your relationship. Unless they can't afford to carry gear anymore or something strange happens, it is a constant, loyal client base for everyone.”

According to Mastrangelo — whose company's clients include Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson and Martina McBride, just to name a few — “Some of the more established artists don't have to work as hard or as much, but the majority of acts are out the majority of the year. ‘Weekend warrior’ is the term everyone uses here because other than maybe going into Canada or the West Coast for a week or two, these guys are in and out every week. That actually makes maintenance quite easy: If they have a problem with a piece of gear, they can run it through the shop when they return home, we'll take care of it and turn it around for the next weekend without missing a beat.

“Some of the artists that normally carry full production leave the P.A. home for the summer when they do the fair and festival circuit, which has become an increasing part of their schedule,” Mastrangelo adds. “These are considered ‘soft-ticket’ performances, where admission to the concert is part of admission to, say, a state fair. With so many acts on the road all vying for fans' disposable income, it's become more difficult for some acts to sell a hard ticket. Playing fairs may not seem to be a sexy market for an artist, but it's very lucrative and the level of production has been stepped up over the past few years.”

Ken Porter, president of Spectrum Sound, agrees with Lybolt and Mastrangelo regarding the long-term nature of relationships built with Nashville artists. “Our business has been consistent,” Porter explains. “Acts like Wynonna and Kathy Mattea work with us year after year, and their needs remain pretty much the same. Nashville is a weird market because even though a lot of the artists call it home, those who live here don't necessarily play this town. There is not a lot of one-off market in this town. One of the bigger reasons Nashville has remained strong is that you are in the middle of the country: You're about 12 hours' driving distance to get into the New York area, or into Wisconsin, Kansas City, Dallas — even down to Orlando. You can put the band in a bus and get to just about any of the major music markets.

“There's a little shopping center that I pass on the way home from here every night,” Porter continues. “On Wednesday or Thursday nights, I'll see five or six tour buses in that parking lot. That's the leaving spot. Guys park their cars, run into the grocery store, grab some snacks for the bus and then head out. They might leave on Thursday night, and by Friday morning they'll be in Dallas, then do another two or three cities and drive back home by Monday morning.”


Although many top-level acts have the luxury of carrying full production, some mid-level acts don't. For that reason, many will carry a monitor package that includes a desk, snakes, a mic package and possibly stage wedges, and rely upon the promoter to provide the rest.

“A lot of my clientele is in the middle market,” reveals Porter, “and what I frequently put out is a monitor system or maybe board groups and personnel. Not too many people are carrying the whole package because they want to avoid the transportation costs. In this town, a lot of acts go with in-ears due to the diversity of venues in which they perform. They'll do festivals, fairs and theaters, even rodeos. They're in and out of a lot of venues and in-ears provide consistency for them. We might add a drum sub or a couple of subs for side-fill and one of the smaller digital desks like a [Yamaha] PM5D or M7CL, or maybe a Digidesign Profile.”

Michael Allen, operations manager at Hugh Bennett Productions, observes a similar trend. “Over the past couple of years, more acts are using in-ears and a fair amount of them are carrying a digital console and a mic package. It seems to me that they are very concerned with what is happening onstage, especially if they're using in-ears instead of wedges. They need consistency, so a small-format digital console makes a lot of sense. The mid-level acts that aren't big enough to carry full production embrace in-ear technology because it's compact and doesn't add a lot of weight to a truck or trailer the way stage wedges do. Every now and then, you'll see a couple of wedges up front supplemental to the in-ears so they can get the feel in the low end. A lot of artists like to use sidefills or at least subs onstage for the same reason, and a drum sub is pretty much a necessity.”

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