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  Studio Mix Feature 2

  By Bernard Baur

Over the past few years, Music Connection has noticed that the most popular acts and event planners are incorporating high production values into their shows.

It gives the audience a more complete experience often an unforgettable one. As such, staging, lighting and FX (special effects) are aspects of a live performance that should not be overlooked. And, with rental and cartage companies supplying the necessary hardware, MC has found that anyone with a budget can make their shows unique.


Spectacle has always been a factor in the most memorable concerts. Fans will forever remember Jerry Lee Lewis setting his piano on fire, Pink Floyds laser light shows, U2s extravagant productions and, of course, the pyrotechnics of KISS and Mötley Crües blazing drummer. Today, even the more subdued acts use lighting and staging for dramatic effect. Indeed, dazzling lights, booming sounds and awesome special effects have become part of the live experience.

It has gotten to the point where even unsigned acts on the club circuit have started to beef up their shows with a production worthy of arenas and raves. The reasoning is simple competition is so fierce that acts are looking for something that will set them apart and get them noticed. There are so many good artists, especially in Los Angeles, that extra effort is required in order to stand out. In fact, most of the top drawing acts have some form of production in their sets.

Sometimes its as simple as a hard drive with backing tracks that boost the live sound. Other times its additional lighting that will give just the right aura to the band. And once and a while you'll see FX-related accents like strobe lights, telekinetic props, and confetti cannons.

One L.A. act, The Mutaytor, make a living using those sort of effects. A veritable army of alpha freaks that formed at the Burning Man Festival, the group throw down a techno/retro post-modern circus that includes a team of percussionists, aerial stunts, light shows, multi-media video displays, pyrotechnics and confetti cannons. Though the Mutaytor's production may be more than most artists need, they've been very successful at fashioning a living out of their highly produced shows.

Employing a revolving ensemble of players, the Mutaytor average over 100 performances a year for the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Cirque du Soleil, Disney, and Universal Theme Parks, Video Game conventions, the Billboard DECA Awards, APLA and the Special Olympics. They've also entertained at corporate events, casinos, street fairs, underground parties, schools, film festivals, radio station concerts, trade shows, and the Coachella Festival.

According to their leader, Matty Nash, "The trend these days is to offer more in your show. People expect it and want to be entertained." With The Mutaytor's strong theatrical component, the production has to meet the level of the performance. As a result, Nash reports, "We're always renting new equipment to try out and, if it works well enough, we might even buy it." In fact, Nash says, "We used a confetti cannon so much that we ended up owning one."

Of course, not everyone needs to go as far as The Mutaytor. But adding something special to your show, like the right lights, sound and effects, can give you an advantage that could not only enhance your performance, but your career, as well.


It's not surprising that it all starts with your sound. If your act is not well rehearsed with a presentation that has a solid sonic quality, it doesn't matter how many special effects you add to your performance. To start you on the right path, facilities such as Third Encore offer rehearsal spaces for serious artists. Third Encore's Wynnsan Moore relates, "We cater to a lot of touring acts that rent out a room for a month or two before they hit the road. We offer all the backline, gear and equipment they might need. And if we don't have it, we can find someone who does." In fact, Third Encore shares their compound with a lighting and live production company so you could outfit your whole tour at one location.

When it comes to processing your sound - whether recorded or live - companies such as Gary Ladinsky's Design FX Audio carry state-of-the-art as well as vintage equipment. Ladinsky says, "We run the gamut from the oldest gear to the newest gear."

Most interesting is that, over the past couple of years, he has noticed a change in "how" artists like to record. "Not only are acts doing more live recordings on tour," he notes, "but house recordings have become very popular lately." It seems that quite a few artists - including many superstars - like the comforts of home better than the sterile environment of a studio. But, they want "studio quality" gear to do the job. Consequently, Ladinsky affirms, "We've set up more home recording systems this year than we ever have before."


Once you have your sound nailed, you should think about your show. Just playing your music rarely gets the kind of results you wish for. If you want to present a show that has impact, you have to visualize the big picture and imagine what your audience is seeing.

Lighting and the right staging are considered the most crucial aspects of a live show. They can add drama and emotion to your performance, and get the audience into your music. The cool thing is that lighting technology has improved so much that you can create almost any effect. David Peace of Litewerks relates, "The new technology is amazing. Not only can it be programmed for multiple purposes and effects, but it also uses less energy and produces less heat."

As the laser operator for KISS and special effects wizard for Motley Crue, Peace knows from experience. "Things are a bit more scaled down now," he says, "but the effects are just as spectacular." In fact, Peace notes, "Since pyrotechnics have become so regulated, lighting is frequently used as a substitute for fire. "And it's often more dramatic." These days, Peace points out, "There are so many different lighting systems that you can create any look and mood you want."

Production Design

If you're a touring act, a promoter producing an event, or a performer planning an important showcase, your venue of choice may not provide all you need. In those cases, a production design expert is very useful.

Jimbo Neal of JPN Productions handles events for UCLA, the NBA, Coachella Festival, and Golden Voice, among others. Neal's company will take it from the ground up and design a production package that has everything. One of his clients, Brent Harvey of KBH Entertainment has produced many top line shows, including MDA's Black & Blue Ball, Los Angeles Music Awards, Huntington Beach Spring Fest, the Exotic Erotic Ball and China Club's ProJam. Harvey reports, "When you're producing a big event, you need experienced professionals helping you. One of the first things l do is call Jimbo to take a look at the location and venue."

After discussing details at a pre-production meeting, Harvey and Neal will do a "walk-through" to see what the layout is, and what's available on the premises. Then Neal designs everything, from the staging to the sound to the lights and FX, and even any concession areas the production requires. "We work with so many vendors," Neal states, "we can supply anything and everything you need."

Sometimes people know exactly what they want and Neal simply provides it. "But, more importantly," he says, "they need to know what they want to achieve and how they prefer to make it happen. Then, l can design something that meets their exact needs. If they already have some equipment, it's critical that they make sure it interfaces correctly." Other than that, Neal maintains, "We can do it all for you, or as little as you want. This is a service-oriented business, and our job is to make you happy and your event a success."


Ever since the tragic Great White inferno at a Rhode Island nightclub, everyone has been fire sensitive. In fact, pyrotechnics are rarely used anymore, because, according to our experts, lights can give the same effect. Nevertheless, there are acts that like to use fire in their shows. The Mutaytor are one of those acts. They've performed with flames for years, but take great care to ensure the safety of the audience, performers, and venue.

In fact, on their website, they list 13 safety procedures that they perform - many of them prior to the show. The process is detailed, comprehensive, and tightly supervised, including documenting directions to the nearest hospital and/or emergency room and having a designated driver and vehicle ready to go. Unless you're willing to do likewise, you may want to go with lights instead of fire.


"Though some customers know what they want and are familiar with it," Neal points out, "many more want to try something new." In that situation, Neal advises that they should be very careful and make sure that it will work for them.

The reason, Mutaytor's Nash reminds us, is that it doesn't matter how cool the gear, lighting or equipment is if it doesn't work. "You should always test it before loading it," he declares, "And, if you're not sure how to work it, have the vendor give you a lesson and written instructions." In addition to that prep work, The Mutyator guarantee a smooth running performance by appointing a specific person in the troupe to operate each piece of equipment. That way, there are no surprises during a show.


If you're assuming that the big-time providers we've spoken to are out of your price range, that would not be an accurate assessment. Every one of the rental, production and FX experts we've interviewed indicate that they will work within almost any budget. In fact, several mentioned projects that cost only a couple hundred dollars. A few even recounted events that cost less than $100.

"You do have to be realistic, though," JPN's Neal asserts. "But, almost anyone in this business will do small projects. And, we'll try to give you the most for your money, because the fact is we want repeat business."

All of the suppliers we spoke to provide cartage - that is, they will transport the gear you rent either for free or for a nominal fee. Some even offer engineers or other personnel to operate it if you need help. Their success depends on your satisfaction, and all maintained that they are willing to go the extra mile to make you happy.

Lastly, there are the issues of deposits and insurance - 5 percent to 10 percent of the total cost - and an insurance premium. "Though we carry our own insurance," Neal explains, "we like to have additional coverage, especially on our bigger items." Insurance is particularly important if you're transporting the gear yourself. Most companies will accept normal wear and tear on rented items, but they're less amenable to damage or loss.


According to Brent Harvey, "Once you find someone who's reliable and trustworthy you should establish a relationship." Because, Harvey says, "That relationship can lead to discounts - sometimes as high as 30 percent - that will save you money in the long run."

Mutaytor's Matty Nash agrees, which is why he likes to use the same companies over and over again. "Since we tour so much, we've also compiled a list of local vendors that we use in different regions." That way the group avoids shipping, cartage and other costs, as well as receiving a nice discount for their repeat business.


If you've decided to give it a shot and upgrade your show or put on a big event, you need to plan ahead. Some items are so popular that they're not always available. "We can always get it from another vendor," Neal reveals, "but that may take some time.

Nonetheless, all of the rental companies in this article indicate that if its in stock, its yours for the asking. On larger projects that require planning or design, they usually like about 30-60 days lead-time. It's a good idea, then, to think about what you want, ask for the experts' advice, and give them enough time to get you what you need. Of course, if its an emergency, they're set for that, too. "Hey, it's the music business," Neal laughs, "It's not unusual for artists and event producers to forget things."


When visiting websites or the actual businesses that specialize in rentals, don't be surprised if there is no menu listing all of their gear and services. Most of our sources are reluctant to list what they have on hand, because they don't want to limit themselves and let you know what they don't have - for fear that you'll go elsewhere. As a matter of fact, all repeated the refrain, "If we don't have it, we can get it."


The music industry is suffering from the effects of an over stimulated, media-saturated population. This makes it more difficult for artists and promoters to get bodies into nightclubs and to their events. At times, it seems that audiences have seen and done it all. To combat that ennui, promoter Brent Harvey suggests, "You have to offer something more than the typical fare."

One way to do that is to think about your production, and what you can do to make your show more exciting. The right staging, lighting and FX will add impact to your performance, and may even get people talking. The expenditure may be minimal, but the results could be phenomenal. Indeed, Matty Nash tells us, "We try to add a new element (in lighting, video or FX) to every show. And, more than a few people come just to see what we're going to do next."

- Bernard Baur, A&R Report, Editor

Music Connection - November 21, 2005 - Volume XXIX, No. 24

2005 Music Connection Inc.