The Arts "a Drain on the Economy"? I think not.

In calling the arts a “drain on the economy” (Tuam Herald, 12/01/2012), Tuam Town Councillor Paul O’Grady appears to have little idea of sustainable economic management and even less knowledge of drains. If Mr O’Grady considers a drain to be the continuous loss of a particular resource, in this case the economy, it would imply that the arts exist merely to siphon off the surplus presumably created, in Mr. O’Grady’s view, by those great bastions of the Irish economy – the banks, the property market and the drinks trade.

Of course, some drains can be of benefit to the economy. The draining of lands around the Corrib in the 19th century allowed the reclamation of lands for agriculture. Similarly, the vision and hardwork of Druid Theatre Company and the Galway Arts Festival in the late 70’s and early 80’s did much to stimulate the subsequent reclamation of the then moribund area now famous as the city’s Quay Street. I doubt anyone would call the €20m direct benefit generated by the 2010 Galway Arts Festival a drain on the local economy.

A few headlines from the 2011 report prepared by Indecon for the Arts Council: Over €700m in generated in the national economy by the wider arts sector which includes film, publishing, music, theatre and other cultural institutions; this sector also spent €1.5 billion in the wider Irish economy and employed over 20,000 people both directly and indirectly. These figures do not include the other economic benefit of the arts to the tourism and hospitality sector. I don’t see any Galway City publicans or hotel owners complaining about the arts during the Film Fleadh and the Galway Arts Festival. The wider arts sector contributed over €300m in direct and indirect taxes in 2010. If we were to include all the other creative industries such as television, radio and software development linked to the arts sector, the entire creative industry sector is worth €4.7bn to the Irish economy, employing both directly and indirectly almost 80,000 people.

But perhaps from behind his bar counter, Mr O’Grady hasn’t noticed the other drains in the Irish economy at present. For instance, the drain of talented and creative Irish people working in multimedia, film, publishing and theatre in the US and UK because there isn’t the work here. Maybe he hasn't noticed, but the biggest drain on our economy at present would appear to be the bill for the ponzi scheme created by the people running the property and financial markets in the last ten years.

Mr O’Grady, is it that your gombeen light is on - or is it just the blood draining from your face?

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Improving background music through 100V horns

As followers on Twitter may be aware, we have a large number of systems out for various Christmas markets around the country at the moment. Some of which are using 100v line horn systems to cover wide areas as public address/emergency evacuation systems but also to carry background music.

The nature and physics of the traditional 100v horn dictates that the musical bandwidth of the horn speaker is limited and although there are better 2-way horn speakers now available which stand up to the challenge of a full-range sounding speaker, budgets dictated otherwise.

So to provide a system more suited to background music in conjunction with the horn speaker system, I incorporated several 100v or "constant voltage" 2 way speakers into the system design. These would be located closer to head height than the horn system, in areas around the market where people congregate such as near Gluehwein, coffee or Hot-Dog stalls.

The speakers we used were older (and yes, quite cheap) 6.5" speakers that had done their time and already provided a good financial return. The speaker terminals were protected to a degree from the elements using a cut-out PVC junction box glued to the cabinet using Sikaflex adhesive/sealant which was a substance I use in repairing the motorhome.

By selecting a low watt tapping, we were able to integrate them into the horns located nearby. The horns provide the mid cut or "bark" with the 2 way speakers adding bass and some treble fizz. Now it's not hi-fi by any means but the combination is certainly easier to listen to than horn speakers alone.

6.5" 2 way 100v speaker rigged below a pair of traditional 100v horns. The 6.5" speakers aren't hi-fi but make background music at this Christmas Market sound a bit better around hot-dog and mulled-wine stands.


Audio Solutions: Support Bands

It's not easy being the support act. Generally you get the bare minimum of stage space and soundcheck is whatever time is left before the house crew wants to go for food and so on. So after a bit of thought over the past six months, I think I've come up with a few ways that a support act can maximise it's sound check time and get the best out of its alotted stage time.

1. Type out a channel list and draw a stage plan with power and monitor requirements. Word and Excel are fine for this. Try and keep it all on one page. Now send it to the promoter, the band you are supporting and the house sound crew or the PA provider.

2. Be on time. That means too early.

3. Think about providing some of the following items to make the sound crew's life easier. They will like you for this and may be inclined to go that little bit further to make sure your set goes well.
  1. Latin Percussion Mic Claws for the Kick, snare top and maybe also for your under-mic-ed hats and under-mic-ed overheads with some Sennheiser 604's or Shure B98s for your toms. Less mic stands means less stuff to move on and off stage. This means that when you build your kit off-stage, it's mic'ed and ready to be plugged up onstage. Even better, also provide a working, labelled pre-made mic loom for the drum kit. A sound crew will love you for this.
  2. Z mic bars or the Audix CabGrabber for your combos. Again less mic stands to be schlepped onstage.
  3. If you use a lot of DI's for a keyboard or hard-disc set-up consider bringing a rack-mounted DI rack with some XLR cable pre-loomed and labelled. There are some reasonable quality units that don't cost the earth. They may not sound the absolute greatest, but the goal here is to get as much time onstage as you can. Better still, get a small sub-mixer to mix your multiple synth channels down to 2 channels

4. Try and have your gear in a manner that facilitates easy movement. That means the combos should be on wheels and keyboard/midi/laptop setups should be easily pre-wired offstage ready to power up and connect once you are onstage.

We've put together some packages that combine some or all of the above items. If you are interested in discussing your requirements, feel free to
get in touch.


More Than Just PA Hire

I blogged a while back on some things to consider when choosing a PA company, which centred around the level of advice and production values which professional audio hire companies can bring to your event. As the margins on ticketed gigs and other events fall, professional audio hire companies are bringing more to the table than simply providing audio systems and crew.

Outside of my work with Alex Fernie Audio Ltd., I've done a lot of consultancy in a technical management role for events requiring the integration of the various technical aspects to a production. The Irish National Lottery sponsored
Skyfest is one such event requiring the integration of large format PA systems, 100v line horn systems, RF and microwave transmission, large-scale screens and live performance with a fireworks display and the live TV broadcast of a lottery draw. I've also provided stage management services to festival stages, co-ordinating multiple act changeovers whilst ensuring the backstage, performance and viewing areas are safe for artists, crew and audience alike. These are skills I also bring by default when providing a system for a client.

Many professional audio hire companies are now also willing to share the burden of audio production management for festival organisers. Alex Fernie Audio provided systems on a large number of weekend street festivals in 2011 where we not only provided the PA systems for the various outdoor and indoor stages, but also provided and co-ordinated the backline and instrument hire for the client. For the past two years we have provided a similar service to the Kilkenny Arts Festival, taking care of both the PA and the backline/instrument riders for the over 30 acts involved over the ten-day festival.

Some, but not all, professional sound companies in Ireland offer these "added extras" as part of their festival rental packages. So if you are someone who is at the early part of planning for your 2012 events, it may be worth considering what your PA company of choice can bring extra to the table.


The Summer that was: 2011

With the clocks gone back and the evenings closing in, here's a quick run-down of some of the events that we were involved in over the summer of 2011.

June kicked off with the Havana Festival. This 3 day multi-stage event took place on the Bank Holiday weekend around the streets of Galway. The mainstage featured Salsa and Latin-Jazz acts from France, Ireland and the UK. As the stage was located at the bottom of the pedestrian zone and access would be required for delivery vehicles during the day, the entire stage, PA and lighting system had to be built and de-rigged each day. We used a 4 box aside of Nexo S12 in order to get sufficient coverage down the 80m street. As with many street stages, mixing was side-stage via an SC48, though we used a wireless link to be able to have control of the FOH sound from a position in front of the stage. There was also a smaller stage near the Spanish Arch and several smaller gigs in the pubs around Galway's so-called "Latin Quarter". Backline was also supplied - a lot of percussion and keyboards given the nature of the music. Other gigs in June were a small gig in Ballinahinch Castle with Bill Whelan (Riverdance) and the RTE chamber orchestra and the stunning Janelle Monae. Janelle Monae used a large Nexo S12 system with PM5Ds at FOH & MONs which we subhired from Litton Lane.

July opened with a launch of the Galway stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race 2012. Soon, however, we were knee deep in the 2012 Galway Arts Festival with its usual blend of music, theatre, dance and literary readings. I was stage manager also for the Big Top, which had performances from Bell X1, Duke Special, Blondie and De La Soul. PA for the Big Top was a Litton Lane supplied Arcs system. Finally the last week of July was Race Week and we provided a 30 box Nexo S12 line-array system for the mainstage. FOH boards were an SC48 and a Midas H3000. An SC48 took care of monitors. Also in use were Nexo AlphaE side-fills and 8 mixes of SSE MB4 floor monitors. The Stunning and Horslips were some of the headliners over the 4 day festival.

Into August, we had a few days to catch our breath before we loaded a truck bound for Kilkenny's Arts Festival. Ten days, 27 shows. The venues ranged from St Canice's Cathedral, to hotel ballrooms and other smaller church venues. We also supplied backline for all the events. Nexo S12 and PS10R2 were the main boxes used around the various venues, with consoles from Avid and Yamaha. Things were a bit quieter towards the end of August, though we did supply some Nexo S12, NXAMPs and MB4 monitors to Loftsound for Belfast's Mela Festival. September saw "Fever Pitch", a one day indoor festival in Croke Park's Hogan Suite, featuring Royseven, Ryan Sheridan and more. Finally, the Guinness Live festival was a multi-venue event "weekender" which brought Whipping Boy, Jerry Fish and Duke Special to Galway. Consoles, monitors, crew and backline were supplied.