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Club Profile: Vanguard


In today’s slimmed-down, budget-conscious world, SR companies are looking for new ways to increase their profits. Regional companies are booking summer festivals, rodeos, monster truck pulls, etc. Live sound engineers — after weathering through a packed summer season — look to corporate events and smaller gigs to make the house payment. Even clubs that typically cater only to touring musicians are multitasking.

Set in the heart of downtown L.A., the 21,000-square-foot, more than 1,600-plus capacity Vanguard ( has opened as an amalgamation of a live sound venue, a nightclub, a host to Sunday-morning church services and peripheral events, such as banquets, wedding services and award ceremonies. With such a diverse clientele coming in, the owners at Vanguard had to find an audio system that would be just as flexible as its clients.

Owner/CEO Jordan Birnbaum — who works alongside partner Pasquale Rotella of Insomniac Events and general manager Misty Mansouri — was referred to Steve Leiberman of SJ Lighting (Chicago) by mutual friends; he was hired on as the designer for the club’s lighting, sound and video systems. Apparently, Leiberman’s reputation preceded him, as he had already designed numerous top-notch clubs around the country, including Crobar in New York and Chicago, Nocturnal in Miami and Ice in Las Vegas. Leiberman designed the hanging truss and lighting rig in Vanguard’s main room, which also includes scenic-treated stone walls and a curved bar lit by high-tech LED fixtures. The club also sports a cherry-wood dancefloor, a large indoor balcony terrace overlooking the main room and an Asian-inspired outdoor patio, complete with fountains and a giant Buddha.

Leiberman contacted Sound Investment in Chicago, a company that he works closely with. As Sound Investment is in Chicago and Vanguard is in L.A., Leiberman handed the job out to Sound Investment’s Adam Ward, who is based out of Las Vegas and heads up the company’s West Coast office.

Ward went into the job expecting to install a small, budget-conscious sound system, as audio gear was not high on the owner’s to-do list. However, when Ward had a look-see at the venue, he found that the size of the room would require the owner to upgrade the original audio spec and purchase a better sound system. “[The owners] had a price in their head, but once we went in there and talked to them,” Ward recalls, “we advised that for what they wanted to do, they did need to spend more money and they realized that.”

Sound Investment’s Adam Ward

Ward concedes that the budget still did not have room for a $60,000 — or even a $30,000 — console. This may seem a bit detrimental to a club that is hoping to attract more live sound events — especially when many tours are not carrying full production and rely on a venue’s in-house gear. However, Vanguard is banking on the appeal of the installed Funktion One sound system, which has seen its share of tours, but is being used as an install system at Vanguard. Sound Investment is a Funktion One dealer and so Ward’s familiarity with the system — and having previously installed it at the Ice club — came in quite handy.

According to Leiberman, who spec’d the sound system, “Support is always my main consideration — from the manufacturer and the installation company. Since I have close relationships with [Funktion One and Sound Investment], that helped close the deal. The marketing value of the speakers is tremendous. There is no other Funktion One system in Southern California that I know of, so I knew that would cause a buzz in the club community.”

“The system is basically designed through digital processing,” Ward says of the Funktion One. “It has the EQ and all the front-end gear [including compression/limiting and limiting for speaker protection], as well as built-in mixing capability [with a 12-channel mixer] inside the digital processing. So Vanguard doesn’t right now need to have an outboard mixing console other than for the live sound events. You can take $20,000 worth of gear and they’re in that 30 boxes.” For these shows, touring acts can rent gear from L.A.-based sound companies. “Since most of the live events are special events,” concurs Leiberman, “and there is going to be a rider provided by the band with equipment specifications, that comes in on a rental basis. We ran snakes and made accommodations for boards to come in.”

According to Ward, “We used the Res-5 system, which is Funktion One’s flagship touring sound system, and with Vanguard having the opportunity to create that nightclub as one side and the live sound as another, we could really utilize Funktion One and what the speakers could do.” During the install, Ward tuned the room with SIA Smaart, “and that allowed us to get the focus of the speakers where we wanted them.” The system’s flying system makes the speakers easy to hang, as there are no separate flying trunks or loose parts; all intercabinet flying hardware is built into the enclosure.

“Basically,” Leiberman says, “we were told to accommodate for not only dance music, but for live sound. We set the system up a little heavier for the stage layout so it has four mid-high stage-left and four mid-high stage-right, and then there are bass cabinets on the floor; for rear-fill, we did 2×2. And then we have a bi-amp system so there are different program settings: If it’s live sound, you go to the bi-amp system, change the setting, click it in, and it basically shuts off the rear-fill and then adjust the EQ to accommodate for a sound board and for somebody to come in and mix. And when you have electronic music or a DJ, there is the setting that is the four-point sound, which balances out the sound that way. Then there’s also a banquet setting because we have fill for tables and things like that over the dancefloor.”

Similar to many recently opened venues, Vanguard has had many incarnations: It’s been a warehouse, a roller skating rink and, most recently, Qtopia club. Acoustically, according to Ward, it is an interesting venue in that there are a lot of hard surfaces and, “there’s nothing really there to absorb sound. But surprisingly enough, the room actually doesn’t sound too bad — even with all of those hard surfaces in there.” In fact, there was some concern that with the Funktion One install, they would be “rattling the place like a tin can.” But Leiberman found that the installed Res-5 speakers are “like high-power accurate rifles: Where you aim it is where it goes. If you walk a few feet off the line of the speakers, it’s relatively quiet. They just slice sound wherever you aim them.”

“We did have issues with the neighbors,” Ward says. “We have to keep an eye on the outside sound levels as far as what happens outside the building. One of the good things about the Funktion One system is that it is definitely a point-and-shoot system in that it is loudly pointed, and then away from that, it drops off in terms of SPL level.

“We didn’t put in any acoustical treatments,” Ward continues. “We advised the owners on certain things that they should do that will make it sound better, but that will have to be down the road as far as budget allows. We advised on things like a large ducting right in front of the speaker locations. The ducting is all metal and that’s pretty much right over the downstage edge. They should put some sound absorption in front of that and some over the stage, because right now, the roof is covered in a metal surface and you get a lot of reflection off of that. So we advised that they put baffles in the ceiling to soak up some of the extra sound.”

And this advice is sure to be taken into consideration — and hopefully employed — by the venue’s owners. “The club business is a crowded field,” owner/CEO Birnbaum told Los Angeles’ Citybeat in early August, right after the venue opened, “but when you expand to rock shows, wrap parties, film premieres and special events, that’s where there’s room to have a different audience every day of the week. Then it’s about focusing intently on the customer experience. I’m hoping we’ll be different and bring a kindler, gentler vibe to the club scene in Hollywood.”

Sarah Benzuly is Mix’s managing editor.

Installation of the lighting/sound system rigging begins

The Funktion One sound system’s onboard digital processing

The flown Funktion One system. Note the all-metal roof covering.