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Live Sound

Hooray for Hollywood

Hollywood Sound Systems has had a colorful history, from handling sound for the Oscars in the 1960s and ’70s to providing a veritable Aladdin’s cave of live and studio sound products for rental today.

Burbank, CA—”We’re not the place somebody generally goes for a touring product,” says Les Harrison, president of Hollywood Sound Systems. “I sometimes say we’re like a hardware store: We’re the place you go when you’re a successful professional and you need some more of something, or you’re missing an item.”

Paul Barreras, soundman at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, founded the company in 1960, initially running it out of his garage. In the decades since, Hollywood Sound Systems has been—and continues to be—many things to many different people.

The company has designed and installed audio systems at Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. It handled audio for the Academy Awards ceremonies from 1963 through the mid-’70s, as well as for the Grammy Awards, and originated the sound for many television shows, including Saturday Night Live. In 1975, Hollywood Sound developed the NFL’s wireless referee system.

In 1972, Allen Byers, Hollywood Sound’s wireless specialist, left the company and started Audio Rents, with support from Salvatore “Tutti” Camarata, owner of Sunset Sound Recorders. Byers and Harrison agreed to co-locate their businesses, on a handshake, in 1985. Byers passed away in 1998 and Audio Rents was acquired by chief engineer Bob Burton, who remains at the helm. Three years ago, the two companies relocated from Hollywood to share a building near the Burbank airport.

Audio Rents began by supplying equipment to recording studios, later expanding into post-production. “Because of the relationship between us and Audio Rents, we can cover a very broad range,” says Harrison, who has been with Hollywood Sound for 42 years and was a customer for some years before that.

The warehouse that the companies share is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of live and studio sound products. You name it and they probably have it, from the biggest cabinet to the smallest microphone clip, and most likely in excellent condition. “I generally spend more money on cases than other people do because the cases get beat up, not the systems,” says Harrison.

The warehouse workbenches are networked over Dante, including a Whisper Room where mics are tested. The booth is also wired to a Yamaha NUAGE system in a demo room. “So we can do a voiceover in here,” he says.

Harrison enjoys the challenges presented by his clients: “Somebody will say they want to do something out of the ordinary; I rather revel in those things.”

Hollywood Sound Systems Outfits Temple Hall, Dec. 29, 2014

Last year, for instance, Hollywood Sound provided an audio package for a celebrity wedding at a Malibu vineyard. The ceremony, officiated by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, took place on a helipad where four concentric rings of seats were set up. More than 100 hotspot speakers under the seats, with delays, focused everyone’s attention on the wedding party, on wireless mics, at the center, says Harrison. Speakers on sticks localized a singer as she approached, he adds.

Hollywood Sound is a dealer for more than 100 lines; its first, in 1960, was Shure, he reports. The 2018 line card includes many loudspeaker products: “We’ve only sold them, not rented them. We do lots of different kinds of things, but when somebody has wanted to do a tour, we’ve avoided it. That’s not us,” he says.

The company’s recent purchase of a large ShowMatch DeltaQ line array system from Bose Professional has not changed that situation. True enough, the rig has been used by a series of bands since it was delivered in late June—but that’s because the system hasn’t moved since Hollywood Sound installed it in downtown Los Angeles for the city’s annual summer-long outdoor concert series. This year’s program at Pershing Square, produced by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, included The Bangles, Psychedelic Furs, Ozomatli, the English Beat, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, and Smash Mouth.

At the Downtown Stage, Hollywood Sound flew 12 ShowMatch modules per side with 16 Bose SMS118 single-18-inch subs distributed below the stage lip. Each hang comprised three SM70x05 (70° horizontal by 5° vertical dispersion) modules, seven SM100x05, a single SM100x10 and an SM120x20. Additional SM120x20 boxes provided lip fill.

Harrison and his staff tested the system, powered by six Powersoft Audio eight-channel X Series amplifiers, in the warehouse before trucking it downtown. “That’s a quarter-million watts of power,” he marvels. “It was wonderful, like a big hi-fi.”

Even with the rig deployed downtown, there were still enough boxes in Hollywood Sound’s system to also fly three mid/top modules over a single sub on each side of a stage in the warehouse. “We sell staging and trussing, so we set this stage up for demonstrations,” says Harrison. “We have the Bose system set up over Dante with a Yamaha QL console. Nothing has been EQ’d. We just plugged it in and turned it on—and it sounds gorgeous.”

The stage has enabled Hollywood Sound to host a variety of product demonstrations by visiting manufacturers, training sessions and other events in the past few years. “We did an event with Yamaha and DPA Microphones, with a DPA artist up there and about 70 people,” Harrison offers as an example. Another recent event featured Fulcrum Acoustic and Ashly products.

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But the focus for the foreseeable future is ShowMatch. Harrison has his own opinion of the system: “It’s like I’m not listening to a speaker. I feel like I hear depth, dimension.”

Now, with the Pershing Square concert series over, he would like to hear what others think of the Bose system. “I have invited people whose opinions I respect to come and listen,” he says.

Bill Jenkins, a former employee who left to manufacture his own speaker designs, heard ShowMatch rig before it went downtown, says Harrison. “He said, ‘That’s the best sounding thing you’ve ever had in here,’ and we’ve had all kinds of systems in here. I said, that’s what I thought. I think it’s pretty impressive—enough so that we bought it.”

Hollywood Sound Systems •

Bose Professional •