Views from the top: The FOH engineer (Alastair Lindsay)30 August 2016
Who are you and what do you do?
Alastair Lindsay. I work in the live audio industry mainly as a FOH engineer and system designer. I’m hE.
Where do you do it?
Local, national and international: wherever my work takes me. I’m currently working on The David Gest tribute review in the UK with Dina Carroll and Peabo Bryson amongst others, having just come off Fish’s Return to Childhood European Tour. Plenty of variety!
Why do you do it?
I’ve always had a passion for live music from a young age and I first got the taste for it when I picked up the guitar at seven years old. My parents allowed me to go to music school in Hull and it was there that my interest in live music production begun. I love my job, pure and simple.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I don’t think I could isolate a particular achievement. Being a successful engineer is all about consistently delivering the goods and maintaining high standards whatever the challenges, so whilst I’ve experienced a few horrors (like all of us) I think that the greatest achievement is to be in regular demand. Watching an audience leaving the venue smiling and in good spirits is what it’s all about — knowing that you play a key role in making that happen. Getting compliments from punters about the sound after a show is always satisfying as well…
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge coming up?
Brexit! I know that might sound a bit tongue in cheek but I do think there may be some effects on the touring sector. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there are any casualties.
What is ‘the’ perennial problem you face?
There are two. Time: I’d like more hours in the day, please… and personnel. Sometimes it’s hard to find people with the right attitude for the industry. The hours are very long and it isn’t glamorous as some people are maybe led to believe. It can be a very rewarding job but can also be stressful and more demanding than newcomers sometimes expect.
What makes life hard for a front of house engineer?
Plenty! A good example would be microphone technique, as there are some seriously interesting ones out there (without mentioning any names). I’ve worked with some tremendous vocalists over the years with stunning results but then then there’s always the one that thinks they can sing with their mic at the knees. You’re sitting there tearing your hair out, thinking of nice ways to explain how things might work better for them!
What makes (or would make) life easier?
Well the obvious one would be good planning, especially if you’ re going on tour. Getting decent specs and proper venue technical details is a high priority, otherwise you really are walking into the unknown. The different characteristics of venues old and new present a vast range of acoustic propositions – challenges are mitigated by being forearmed with good information. Good loading access is a must as well, it seems that some architects seem to bypass that little detail! The most frustrating issue of all is Wifi, every venue MUST have decent Wifi. It drives me mad when you need send emails or files and you can’t get a signal on your mobile or tablet because the Wifi is rubbish or non-existent.
Has the live scene changed a lot during your time?
Yes indeed it has. There are so many more festivals these days, especially in the UK. It seems that from April to September most engineers are stuck in fields knee deep in mud somewhere. That’s when I envy the studio boys, sat behind their nice console, warm and drinking posh coffee. Technology is moving so fast these days especially with digital consoles. It wasn’t so long ago that you had racks and racks of kit and a large console that took 4 to 6 guys to lift. Now you could literally put the lid on and walk out with it under your arm, job done. It certainly makes life a lot easier and helps with transportation and speeds up the load-in and soundcheck process.
How do you keep abreast of technical developments?
I do try and attend trade shows if I can but since I’m out there in thick of it I don’t get to as many as I’d like. Obviously the industry press is important as well. I’m in the happy position of being approached by manufacturers or distributors asking me to try out and demo new products, so that keeps me in touch and of course I meet all manner of technical folks out in the field so there’s always plenty of opinion out there!
How do you assess the prospects for new engineers coming into the live sound arena?
That’s an interesting one. I often have this chat with my daughter as she is keen to study music technology and get involved with the industry as a career. If a young newcomer is prepared to work his or her way up from the bottom and really put the hours in to learn their craft, the rewards are there. I’ve seen some young engineers who expect to able to jump straight onto a console with very limited experience and it certainly doesn’t work like that. There are sacrifices to be made as well, particularly in respect of your personal life but if you’re prepared to listen and learn (and keep learning) and keep up with the latest technology, there’s a fantastic career to be had.
This is #10 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive 2016, PSNEurope’s 11th annual analysis of the European live sound industry.