Views from the top: The production manager (Phay Mac Mahon)16 August 2016
Def Leppard’s long standing production manager talks about his life at the helm of one of rock music’s most successful acts
Who are you and what do you do?
Phay Mac Mahon, production manager. I began my career in the music business in Dublin in the 1970s driving trucks and doing lighting for The Boomtown Rats until 1980. I then made a move to the Def Leppard camp as lighting designer working with Jake Berry, and have been with the band since. I work primarily in the USA as many of the acts I work with have LA-based management companies. That said, I have toured all over the world many times. I have been doing it for 40 years and I love the business. I took a break in the mid ’90s and did a lot of corporate work, but eventually the industry enticed me back in.
What PA and consoles are Def Leppard currently deploying for their 2016 USA and European run?
We are using an L-Acoustics V-DOSC system in the USA and Canada, and a d&b audiotechnik J Series system in the UK and Europe. Ronan McHugh is the band’s studio engineer and produced their last album, but also mixes FOH for them. He uses a DiGiGo SD5 for FOH. Ted Bible looks after monitors and he also uses a DiGiCo SD5. Audio in the USA and Canada is supplied by Sound Image and they have done so for over 16 years; in Europe, it’s Skan that take care of things. Ronan specs the equipment and the companies Def Leppard use are his choice. He has a great relationship with both suppliers, and the support they both give is excellent.
How do you evaluate such PA systems, and how can the standard still improve?
For me its all about what the engineer wants and is comfortable with. After that its down to what the hire cost is and how much truck space it takes up, as well as the weight as it has to hang in every venue.
Something may sound great but the logistics of carrying it and putting it into buildings each day could be cost prohibitive.
The L-Acoustics K1 and K2 system are usually the one almost every engineer speaks about and requests.
Spandau Ballet, who I was PM for last year on their world run, used a K1 system supplied by SSE, and it was excellent. Robbie McGrath mixed FOH on that tour and he flew the PA way upstage vertically in line with the drum riser, which was behind the band, so it allowed way more seats to be sold at the sides of the stage, therefore generating a lot of extra revenue in ticket sales for the band. Robbie would time-align the system each day so the band could perform in front of the PA, plus sell more tickets , and it was a great result.
Pentatonix are a younger act I look after, and they have just been out in Europe using a K2 system also supplied by SSE. The venues were mid-sized, as in the Zénith in Paris and Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam. The K2 worked perfectly for this size of venue. SSE can take a bow for an excellent job on both of these tours.
Another tour I take care of is (US singer/songwriter) Maxwell and his FOH engineer Wayne Trevisani has specified the new Clair Global CO-12 for the tour this year. I have heard it a few times on Paul McCartney as well as U2, and it is great. So many acts have moved over to it: Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, U2, Guns N’Roses and many more are touring with it.
The system is very compact and lightweight. A typical arena system of CO-12 takes approximately 30 feet of truck space. Most other arena size touring systems, take just over one truck. This makes it very appealing to artists, management and production for budget reasons.
What are the main differences between the USA and Europe when it comes to logistics… and fines?
Most arenas in the USA have loading docks unlike the UK and Europe, and that makes life a lot easier. In general it is easier in the USA for both stadiums and arenas. However, in saying, that Europe is coming along with the newer venues.
Fines are very much in place, or even cutting the power if you go beyond the curfew. It happened a few years ago with Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney in Hyde Park where they cut the power.
The Hollywood Bowl will cut the power if you go past 11pm and there is absolutely no leeway.
Other venues across the USA will charge you $10,000 for going over the curfew, and then $1,000 per minute you keep playing on top of that.
What is the issue that never seems to go away when touring?
Bad routing. Tours are so often planned without consulting the people that have to make them happen.
After the Bataclan attacks and political instability in certain regions, have you seen a rise in security at venues?
Yes. Audiences are slower coming in due to the checks now in place and we see ‘bomb dogs’ now at a lot of venues prior to doors opening.
Your scariest moment ever on tour?
Engines cut out at 35,000 feet on a charter aircraft, due to what they called a ‘surge’. The Captain had to put the plane into a dive to restart it, as we sat wearing oxygen masks! Fresh underwear was required all round!
This is #5 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive 2016, PSNEurope’s 11th annual analysis of the European live sound industry.