Local Crew: Velvet Thunder Sound SystemsFROM FESTIVAL WORK TO BUILDING OWN PACKAGES 8/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
As you read this, the summer music festival season will be coming to a close. While the larger, more-established festivals are relying on a full complement of gear from high-end sound companies, each region in the U.S. hosts its own locally fed event, becoming the bread-and-butter for that region's sound providers. Wrapping up slew of highly attended gigs is Eugene, Ore.-based Velvet Thunder Sound Systems (www.velvetthundersound.com), which just closed the books on such festivals as String Cheese Incident with Peak Experience Productions at Horning's Hideout, Northwest String Summit with Yonder Mountain String Band, High Sierra Music Festival, the Summer Series of Concerts by Square Peg Productions at Secret House Winery, Zimbabwe Music Festival and the annual Eugene Celebration.
Fortunately, there are many locally funded gigs to contract after those festivals have packed up. According to company co-owner Toni Ehrlich (along with Steve Ehrlich and Bill Walker), VTSS has enjoyed a longtime resident capacity (since 2001) at The McDonald Theatre in downtown Eugene, where the company has supplied top gear for such acts as Robert Cray, the Black Eyed Peas, Evanescence, Slayer, Dark Star Orchestra and many others. “Our relationship with the McDonald Theatre and Kesey Enterprises has brought a new opportunity in the form of the annual concert series at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre here in Eugene,” Toni Ehrlich says. “We will be working with Diana Krall, Los Lonely Boys, Gordon Lightfoot, Earth Dance, the Floydian Slips, Floater and others this season. Willie Nelson just graced our stage at the Cuthbert on July 6 — a great show, as always.”
Ehrlich and the rest of the VTSS crew can cull from an extensive inventory of gear for such events, including its own XLT-3 three-way line array with double 18-inch speaker cabinets, which is built in the company's wood shop. “We have over 40 years of speaker system design and manufacture, and electronic design experience in our R&D team,” she continues. “We take a very ‘Clair Bros.’ approach to our proprietary system.” Powering the system are AB International Sub2000/9620/1590 amps, which Ehrlich describes as “little-known and seriously under-appreciated amps with a sophisticated power supply.” Complementing the front-of-house inventory are a Midas Heritage 2000, a newly purchased Dolby Lake LP4D12Z and numerous pieces of outboard; an Audient Aztec handles monitoring chores, in addition to company-built wedges (co-ax 12×2s, vocals; 15×2s, drums and sidefill tops) and AB International and QSC amps. The newest item in the shop is a Yamaha M7CL 48-channel digital console, and the company has an eye toward purchasing a Digidesign VENUE.
Company crew includes engineers Oroville Lawton, Claudette and Dana Heitman, and Rich Hipp, who will occasionally sit in on a gig; Frank Rinaldi is on staff for large live recording projects; Anton Ray; Joe Croce; and Jimmy “The P” Purich.
“Our focus has always been live performance,” Ehrlich says. “We are also involved in live tracking for bands wishing to record. At this time, we are in the process of acquiring a media supply/duplication/replication business that would allow us to take a project from the stage to point-of-sale.
“Local sound companies today face increasing challenges as more tours travel with less,” she continues. “Equipment is expensive; choices must be made wisely. The challenge is always knowing which way the industry is moving and being there ahead of the curve. We have the good fortune to be in a position that allows us to listen to the touring engineers as they come through, listen to and evaluate other P.A.s as often as possible and, of course, listen to our customers — that information is invaluable. As long as our ears and eyes are wide open and we maintain our focus, we will be able to stay competitive in this rapidly changing business. Ultimately, to stay in this business you have to love it.”
Extra quotes from the team at Velvet Thunder
How did Velvet Thunder Sound Systems come about?
In 1989, Steve and Toni Ehrlich moved from Steve’s home in the L.A. area back to Toni’s hometown of Eugene, Ore. Steve’s history in the music business goes back to about age 15, working in speaker manufacturing and doing sound in clubs like the Whiskey and the Roxie. Steve contacted the largest local sound company in Eugene looking for a position. When that didn’t work out, the next step was to start their own company and compete with the guy who wouldn’t hire him, which they did officially in 1991. A few short years later while running both VTSS and a small rehearsal studio, they met Bill Walker (1997) and immediately went out to do a show together. The team was built at that show and has grown steadily ever since.
Is there a specific SR need in your area that may not be found in other portions of the country?
In Oregon, we deal with the full gambit of weather conditions—rain is the most prevalent, but we have snow and ice to contend with, as well as 100-plus-degree temperatures in the summer and wind that can top 50 miles per hour easily. We have been fortunate enough to stay prepared and to build our systems to withstand even the worst conditions.
What are the company’s future goals?
Our goals are to stay in touch with the needs of our clients while offering a better, more high-fidelity solution to audio than our off-the-rack competitors. We will continue to be cutting edge and innovative. We will continue the attitude that we are in the customer service business first and audio business second. We hope to grow and expand our horizons, moving into new markets and offering new products and services. Simply put, our goal is to be the best at what we do without exception each and every day and to focus the talents of our team to meet the challenges of the future.
Velvet Thunder Sound Systems is dedicated to the future of music as an art, a science and a business. We work diligently with young people to encourage their discovery and creation of music in all forms. Our goal is to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to bring music into their lives through benefit events, donations and one-on-one efforts training young people who want to be part of this industry.
We also strive to be as “green” as is humanly possible in our private lives and as a business! We are always looking for new and innovative ideas to apply to our business both today and tomorrow. CAPTIONS The Velvet Thunder XLT-3 proprietary linear array is a compact, efficient system capable of delivering audiophile fidelity to concert-sized crowds. Velvet Thunder custom designs every aspect of its system, from the digital signal processing to modifications in the amplifiers to building cutting-edge components. The XLT-3 array is supplemented with sub-bass from the company's VTS dual 18-inch cabinets.