An innovative new agency established by Alchemea lecturer Darryn de la Soul aims to build enduring live sound careers and supply engineers for a wide variety of events. David Davies gets the lowdown on SoulSound.
Classroom training is one thing – real world experience quite another. No matter how extensive your education, nothing can fully prepare you for a music festival suddenly under siege from the elements. Just ask Luca Romani, who has been hitting the road in earnest after completing a Live Sound Diploma at Alchemea in London earlier this year.
“You might have the wind blowing and the high frequencies all over the place,” he remarks. “You just have to keep calm and carry on!”
It’s a motto that will doubtless serve Romani well as he seeks to make a name for himself in live sound. But he can also count on substantial back-up thanks to a new agency founded by sound engineer and Alchemea Live Sound Diploma course leader Darryn de la Soul (pictured).
The premise of SoulSound is deliciously simple: to provide live sound engineers at a variety of levels in accordance with budget and event type. Rates vary, but young engineers – many drawn from the ranks of Alchemea graduates – are typically available from £80-150 per day. More experienced personnel (in SoulSound’s lexicon, those who have ‘been around the block’) can be enlisted for £120-250, while the ‘super genius experts’ – road-hardened stalwarts including Justin Grealy (Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand) and Barry Bartlett (James, The Hoosiers) – are available for £250+ per day.
“It’s been a constant of my career that, if I have been unable to take on an event, I have always ended up finding someone else to do it,” says de la Soul, whose live sound career began in the early noughties as house engineer for iconic London venue 93 Feet East. “When I got involved with the Live Sound Diploma and was helping students, as well as the people I had worked with over the years, to find work anyway, it started to feel like a natural progression to turn this into a business.”
For up-and-coming engineers, in particular, the agency’s benefits are manifold. Aside from the very welcome opportunity to start earning money straight away, the newbie will have the chance to immerse themselves in all manner of live events – sometimes as a second engineer to one of those aforementioned veterans. So for Romani, the initial few months with SoulSound have already seen him behind the desk at “a few festivals, a country show, a corporate gig, a fashion show… A really diverse mix.”
The survey contained in the new edition of PSNLive airs some negative perceptions of younger engineers – too many, it is suggested, don’t have the right approach or all of the necessary skills. More generally, there is the fear that, as one contributor remarks, engineers are increasingly “mixing with their eyes and not their ears” – a sentiment with which SoulSound’s founder concurs “100%”.
“The level of knowledge required to be a top-flight engineer these days is massive, and a lot of it is not directly related to mixing the board,” says de la Soul. “Four months’ training provides an essential grounding that is the springboard to being a competent entry-level engineer. After that, there is no substitute for just getting out there and doing it.”
During events, de la Soul checks in with younger engineers via text and frequently follows up with clients on the phone the following day. Overall, the feedback to date has been “incredibly good” – a result that stems from a “very picky” approach to recruitment. “I want people who will turn up on time, who will not be hung-over, and who will make sure that the work they do is always good,” she says. “It’s building careers that I am interested in, so I need a few select people who I know I can trust.”
As one of the trusted few, Romani is already reaping the benefits of his involvement with SoulSound. “You come out of college and you need to start earning,” he says. “To have someone back you up like this is fantastic.”