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Q&A: Rodrigo Thomaz, Audio-Technica

Dave Robinson 6 May 2015
Q&A: Rodrigo Thomaz, Audio-Technica

Rodrigo Thomaz is a carioca, which means he was born in Rio de Janiero. “It’s a pretty cool thing in Brazil,” he smiles. “Everyone wants to be a carioca, no one wants to be from Sao Paulo!” The 43-year-old has travelled far from local rivalries and is now based at Audio-Technica UK in Leeds, where he is developing forthcoming training initiatives. But if you thought he took a direct route to get here, you’d be very much mistaken….

How did you start in sound?

As a Protestant Christian I was playing guitar, bass, or drums in church, but I hated the sound. Then one night, a friend, took me to see Ed Motta (Very much a Brazilian Barry White – Pop Ed). When I watched his show, I saw the lights blinking on the desk, and I knew I wanted to be a sound technician. I built my own studio, started researching secondhand gear… that’s how it started.

What was your first real break in live sound?

A massive hire company came to do a festival in my town – and I volunteered to help and work for free, which I did for six months, just to learn the trade. I ended up doing monitors for some of my biggest idols.

Then an accident happened: [the mixing guy] was stoned, or drunk, I don’t know, but he fell from the stage, from a height of 2m, bang, straight to hospital! We had a big rock’n’roll band on that night, and no one else was available to mix them… so I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ They gave me a chance. And from then on, I became their main engineer.

One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity…

Yes, but we worked together afterwards and became friends. This was 1993. I did that till 1998, when I met an old drummer friend who said, ‘I’m going to work on a cruise ship.’ I had no idea these ships had so much going on. I said, ‘I’ll give it a shot…’ and the next day I was in Miami!

I worked for ten years on 14 different ships. The first was the Rembrandt on Premier Cruise Lines. It sailed from Cape Canaveral to Nassau in the Bahamas, a four-day cruise. It was the most bizarre thing: we’d have kids on board, with actors playing ‘legends in concert’ – actors who looked like Madonna, looked like Elvis – and they would spend 24 hours a day pretending to be the legends –and Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters wandering around too. But then in the evenings, local radio stations would charter the ship for toga parties with bouncers and topless DJs! Then we’d get Cape Canaveral (NASA) technicians who would launch rockets off the boat…

What sort of entertainment did you have on the liners?

The evening shows could be anything: one night a juggler, the next a production company with 20 singers doing a musical; then an Elton John impersonator. All sorts of crazy stuff.

What’s the biggest act in terms of size?

Probably the New York Philharmonic came on board, about 80 musicians. We did this thing called Theatre at Sea, a classical cruise, from New York to Norway. Three weeks of classical music.

You did this for ten years. At the top of your game, would you be specifying gear for the ship?

Oh yes. After a while [the management] would trust you. When the boats are in dry dock and upgrading, they would come to me, and I would specify certain things like microphones and desks. I was the senior guy so I wanted to be comfortable with the gear I was using.

What was the most highly specified set-up you worked with?

On the MS Island Princess. You would see Midas desks, massive lighting rigs using High End Systems; all sorts of brands for microphones. Apogee and Martin Audio speakers; also Electro-Voice and Meyer Sound. The theatres might be 1,200 to 1,500 seats; and there would be three theatres on some boats – networked together with MediaMatrix systems via Cobranet.

What did that experience teach you?

Technically, it allowed me to have access to all sorts of equipment and to understand different types of music. You open your mind to everything. And it teaches you about the industry ‘from behind’: the logisitics of loading and unloading shows; talking to stage management; even things like clearing security with Scotland Yard when the Queen comes onboard!

You learn how to be a sound engineer that needs to think very fast, and be very diplomatic – you are dealing with 64 nationalities on board at any given time.

I did exactly ten years on the cruise ships – I was on the QE2 when it sailed to Dubai to be sold, and that’s when I stopped.

How did you end up at Audio-Technica UK in Leeds?

I was working at Gear4Music in Leeds – because my wife, a dancer who I met on an Alaskan cruise(!) – is from [nearby] York. Audio-Technica is the Allen & Heath distributor, and I am very familiar with their desks. And my fetish on the cruises was microphones – I had about 50 when I left, including AT of course.

What is your role at AT?

I’m product and training specialist. We’re putting together training programmes for digital desks, all the A&H ranges, to explain about the advantages of digital over analogue.

But it’s not just about selling product: it’s talking about the future, like Dante. We want to reinforce the message about other brands using Dante, and share that information.

I will also help with the marketing, with video and photography. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades. I never say no, I like to help! And my background on the ships means I have the ability to talk to anyone.

Do you miss the cruise ships?

Yes! Nothing beats being in the middle of the ocean, with the sun shining, going for a lap around the ship… We used to chase the sun, we called it. But this is massively challenging for me, and having the opportunity to work with this company is an achievement in itself.

Do you sway when you stand up?

[Laughs] Not now, but a few years ago, if I saw a bottle or book on the shelf, I used to panic… but not anymore.

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