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Pete Freeman keeps it friendly at FOH

Pete Freeman, technical manager at Gibson and chief engineer at Camden’s Purple Turtle, reveals to Paul Watson that keeping cool behind the desk is just as important as having a good ear for sound…

Pete Freeman has been technical manager and resident FOH engineer at Gibson for six years; and is chief engineer at Camden’s Purple Turtle, which is where he learned his trade nine years ago and now teaches live sound engineering. Freeman reveals to Paul Watson that putting up with musicians’ tantrums and keeping cool behind the desk is just as important as having a good ear for sound… How did you get involved in the FOH scene? I was always in bands to start with and moved to London to be involved in that side of the industry. I decided when I was in my early-twenties that I needed to do something a little bit more concrete than playing in a band. I always had a good ear; and possibly a better ear for what it’s supposed to sound like than what I was ever capable of creating myself, so you go with your strengths really, don’t you?

I guess you do. So is Gibson your mainstay now then or are there any other projects you’re working on? Well, I am the main guy there as well as the Purple Turtle, but I also run my own little PA Company too. We do some little stages and I do some work for Levis as well as some other corporate stuff. It’s called APA Live Events Ltd. And you also train engineers, don’t you? Yeah, at the Purple Turtle. There are people who charge thousands of pounds to do that, but I just don’t believe in that; I like to teach people how to do things the way I like them done. I know my way is relatively successful and although being a sound engineer can be a pretty cool job, there can be some awkward issues – especially with people. How much of the stuff you teach is technical? It’s more people-skills than anything else, so perhaps fifty-percent at most. At these venues, you’re dealing with up to twenty or so different people a night who are not necessarily the easiest people to get on with. You might get a band that is totally on edge because a load of record executives are coming down, for example. But at the end of the day, just being nice and telling people what do without pissing them off or being rude and patronising is the message I try to get across. In our trade, it’s quite rare to find someone who’s interested in that… [laughs] Do you think being a musician helps you in your job? Yes, I actually do – definitely. You get both sides of what people want: what they’d like and what you might like if you were asking for a monitor mix of a FOH mix. That’s quite a good point actually; if you don’t play, you can’t relate to that. Where did you learn to do it? At the Purple Turtle actually, about eight or nine years ago; that’s where I got into it. I went along and worked for free for a month or so picking up bits and pieces and as time went by I went off and did a lot of touring work with little metal bands and stuff like that. Then I worked at the Islington Academy for three or four years up at The Underworld, and in end they asked me to take over as the head sound guy at the Purple Turtle. It was good timing for me because I was looking for some stability, but I made it clear that if I was going to come in I needed to make a lot of changes, so they agreed to me installing some new gear. What’s the current PA system? First of all we built a decent sized stage; and now there’s a Logic Systems PA. It wasn’t powered properly before and they only had a couple of Mackie monitors, so I brought in six stage monitors and a Soundcraft GB2 console. The main PA is two subs per side and two fifteen-inch tops per side; in total it’s a 12k system – an old dance system that we’ve now stacked correctly and made a little bit more friendly for live; it definitely packs a punch. So it’s different to your Gibson set-up, where you use either an HK line array or a K-array system… Yeah, we got hold of the K-array just after Sennheiser had started to distribute it. We did a great show with the K-array down at the BME at The O2 using K-array with Fightstar headlining; it was a 500-strong crowd and the K-array system held up great. We’ve got one sub per side and a couple of tops. It’s surprising how much you can get out of that system. I did a show at Movida with The Wanted and they have a dance PA in there and needed something to give it some punch from FOH; and the good thing about K-array is that it does that job; and it’s no problem getting it in either. You can get a decent amount of power and when you’re ten to twenty people back, it’s a nice comfortable sound. Is it one of your preferred systems now then? Yeah I definitely like to use it because the portability of it allows you to make a two man job a one-man job in setting up the system, because everything you have, you can lift with on your own. With the HK ConTour system, you can’t move it all as one with the amps and everything else. Also, if I’m using podium mics or lapel mics, I tend to find that K-array sounds so much warmer and generally nicer compared to a standard point source or line array system. And you’ve got a Soundcraft Si3 at FOH? Yeah, it’s the desk I know best to be honest. Over the last two years, Soundcraft has changed a few bits within the software as well which has improved things; the patching is all sorted out now. I love it; it’s quick and easy for me to get round. So you’ve got two very different systems in the two venues you run; does one pose more challenges for an engineer coming in from the outside? I always prefer the digital stuff these days; it’s easier because everything’s in one box – and of course it looks prettier. Analogue is easier to explain to people, but having said that, the Si3 is pretty analogue-minded so there’s never really a problem. The only time I really encounter a problem with the digital stuff is when I have to explain it to an analogue dinosaur who’s really not interested; they want analogue stuff and that’s that, but luckily this is happening less and less. You’ve had some big acts play at the Gibson showcases; what are some of your personal highlights? We’ve had some very major acts: Snow Patrol, Paul Weller, Wishbone Ash; but my favourite would probably be The Union, which is Luke Morley’s new band – he’s the ex-guitarist out of Thunder. It’s all rocky blues stuff; and it was nice because I was doing the engineering as well, whereas often with the bigger acts coming in, I’m kind of babysitting their own engineers. Finally, can you give us a bit of your advice for an up-and-coming engineer trying to make his way in the industry? I would probably say that more than the technical knowledge, it’s more important to become friendly and helpful. Be interested in what people have to say; it’s more important having that attitude then it is to know how long a wavelength is at 1k or whatever; try and have fun with it – and be polite! [laughs]