Local Crew: Sound on Stage

Jan 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Sarah Benzuly



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Sound on Stage’s Jerry Pfeffer at one of the many Yamaha boards

The Bridge School benefits. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Numerous local radio station events and accompanying fireworks displays. Bay to Breakers marathon. Greek Theater. Shoreline Amphitheater. HP Pavilion. Blues festivals. San Francisco Symphony at Davies. Stern Grove. Konochti Harbor. Broadway by the Bay. High-profile corporate work.

These are but a few from a long list of events and clients that San Francisco Bay Area-based Sound on Stage (Hayward, Calif.; www.soundonstage.com) services. And just like many local SR providers across the country, it all began with music.

In the late '60s, owner Jerry Pfeffer moved to the Bay Area to play in bands and get a degree in broadcasting. At that time, the San Francisco music scene was exploding, with sounds from the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company and many others blasting over the local airwaves. And the birth of this new type of music and culture also saw the beginning of Sound on Stage. “It was really good here in the late '60s, early '70s,” Pfeffer recalls. “A lot of Bay Area bands were touring, and we started going on tour and building equipment to go on tour. One tour led to another, and we built more equipment. The local scene itself, there were the annual events coming and going from one year to the next. I've been with some events 25, 30 years now. We helped dedicate Shoreline [Amphitheater] getting built originally, so we've been there since the beginning. We were at AT&T Park's [home of the San Francisco Giants] groundbreaking ceremonies. Also, I've been the sound engineer for the San Francisco 49ers; this is my 27th year. I've been through all the Super Bowls.”

Whew. For a company with its hand on the pulse of the city, finding the right crew and right gear to fill the riders is a must. “That's what we strive for,” Pfeffer replies. “You can't continue to grow your company without good staff. So having staff who have been with us a long time helps because they understand the philosophy of what we're trying to do: Please the customer, day in and day out, no matter how big or small.” Making happy customers is a crew of somewhere between 25 and 30 engineers and techs, as well as a slew of union labor. In addition, the company's Cal Cases case company is built into the back of the facility, and provides custom ATA cases and repair/refoam service for other brands. “It was a necessary evil,” Pfeffer says of this new branch. “There are a couple of our people who do nothing but build cases.”

With this new source of revenue, Sound on Stage has been continually stocking its console inventory. “Early on,” Pfeffer recalls, “we couldn't buy mixing consoles, so I built three mixing consoles — multiple-mix desks. But after a while, Yamaha started and we started buying Yamaha [consoles]. I think I owned every one from the PM1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and PM5D. We're starting to move more into digital consoles. I think that's the move at the moment. At this point, if someone comes into town, we get a lot of esoteric digital gear; it's hard to own all the digital consoles that everybody wants. There's about four or five [main digital boards], and each one is about $75,000, so keeping that inventory in stock is hard. But we have 14 or 15 consoles, primarily Yamaha. We had a DiGiCo D5 out; we've used the Digidesign [VENUE], which is a nice console — whatever the rider calls for, and that's primarily where our inventory stems from.

“So in the past 20-odd years,” Pfeffer continues, “I built my own speaker systems, pretty much like every other company did. In the last few years, we hooked up with [L-Acoustics] V-DOSC and we liked the way it sounded and we started buying speakers off the shelf; this is the first time in the company's history that we are actually using off-the-shelf [speakers] that we're renting to people.” The company offers a stocked P.A. inventory, including dV-DOSC, ARCs, 115XT monitors and subs. Complementing this system is hundreds of mics, a huge Shure wireless and in-ear bud inventory, proprietary JBL boxes (“These are small and unique for a lot of these jobs where you need to hide speakers in the corner,” says Pfeffer), Crest/Crown/Lab.gruppen amps, and XTA and BSS processing.

Whether it is thinking about the general overview of the Bay Area scene or getting into the nitty-gritty of determining cable supply, Pfeffer and general manager George Edwards are insistent on one thing: customer satisfaction. Pfeffer's motto, Edwards says, “is, ‘Gentlemen, remember: Every day is about continuing to refine our craft.’” To that, Pfeffer adds, “and try to make everybody happy.”

Sarah Benzuly is Mix's managing editor.

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