In-house sound systems and the touring market

housedeskI recently saw this article about the venue Rock City in Nottingham,England which has always featured on any decent UK tour of 1000+ capacity venues and has recently installed a complete touring-class PA system. I read the article about this install and immediately thought “the Rock City audio crew are going to be spending a lot of time taking their install out of the room to make way for whatever touring system the visiting act is trucking.” The install did not make any sense to me. Any act touring at this medium-venue level will be carrying production and the production managers are not going to be happy paying a day’s system rental while it sits on the trucks. So they are going to be turning up and insisting the house system is removed to make way for the FOH engineer’s boxes and desk of choice. I thought the install was a bad idea.

I have subsequently changed my mind, for two reasons. Firstly the article mentions that the Rock City management and technical team had looked at the Academy Music Group (AMG) who own and operate 15 venues in the UK, ranging from 800 to 4,921 capacities. The majority of these venues are in the 1000 – 3000 capacity range and all have installed sound systems. AMG are a major force in the UK concert promotion market; I have done whole tours of the UK, playing only AMG venues. However this mention of AMG did not initially change my mind about the Rock City installation.

I then had a great meeting with the senior sales representative for a “major pro sound manufacturer and distributor” (two letters, starts with ‘E’…). He was telling me about the major install they have done for a couple of other venues on the mid-size touring circuit. Full line-array, delay speakers, computer network – the works. The venues also installed desks for both ends of the multi-core with analogue and network cores for acts who may wish to bring in their own control. The venues had looked at their own costs for attracting acts with touring productions and the costs they would then have to pass onto promoters and hirers of the venue (local crew, unsociable hours etc) and decided that in-house was the way to go.

The senior rep also alluded to the fact that the market for PA system rental companies is perhaps shrinking, even with the popularity and success live music has today. Touring is expensive and increasingly being seen as environmentally unsustainable. Companies that specialise in renting sound equipment are going to face tough times due to increased fuel costs and legislative change alone; in 10 years time there may only be one or two of the large companies left.

I then got to thinking about the how the install of Rock City makes perfect sense. Any venue or facility that can position itself to offer reduced production costs is obviously going to make itself more attractive to outside promoters. This has always been the case at smaller capacity venues but the perception has always been that the in-house system will be bad – inferior components, poorly maintained. This is all changing now.

A owner /operator venue like Rock City of the AMG chain have invested in touring-class sound and light systems and can now put on concerts for less cost and, more importantly, less hassle. No need for 12 local crew for load-in and out, no need for 8 o’clock starts and all night- managers, no need for truck parking and late doors due to technical problems. By eliminate these costs the artists walk –out potential also increases.

I mentioned I have done whole tours of the UK, playing only AMG venues. No need for trucks and production, just a few specials in the trailer with the back line. If the quality of in-house systems has improved, and tour managers and production managers will be the judge of this, then booking agents should be increasingly looking to plot their acts into the new in-house venues.

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