Rod Nielsen (left) and Roy Kircher in Big House Sound’s warehouse
In about two weeks, Austin-based Big House Sound (www.bighousesound.com) will begin one of its busiest seasons of the year, with numerous SR and lighting duties at this year's SXSW show: the main stage at Auditorium Shores and at local venue Stubb's. In addition, at press time, Big House is in talks with Austin Music Hall to handle its SR requirements. And then there are a bunch of private events that labels and magazines throw throughout the week.
“There is just a lot of work involved,” says BHS co-founder/owner Rod Nielsen. “Most of those [events] want to load in the day before, and they require a lot of attention to detail.” And rightfully so, as SXSW (March 15-18, 2006) will showcase headliners and new talent. Creating the pristine sound for these acts will be all 12 full-time Big House employees, as well as a slew of contractors. “We'll do six or seven shows a day,” Nielsen says. “A lot of these venues are multishow events — five or six acts in the afternoon and another five or six acts at night. So some of my guys will be getting 10 to 15 acts a day for four to five days.”
Back in 1989, Neilson and his cohort Roy Kircher were living in Austin and engineering for local bands. “He and I just ran into each other a lot,” Nielsen remembers. “I had a small P.A. that I was renting out, and he was working with 6th Street bands, as well, and he had a couple of other partners and another small P.A. One day it just came to us that we needed to get together and combine our resources and start something bigger and better.”
In addition to the award-winning Austin City Limits television production and festival, BHS is also contracted for Shiner Beer's Bocktober Festival every year. They also supply gear to local mid-sized (2,000- to 3,000-seat) venues. “In our busy times, [we handle] up to 60 shows a month doing regional work,” Nielsen reports. “We've done a little bit of touring with a Christian band called Caedman's Call. We did that for about five or six years. We also do some Broadway-style shows, symphony work and touring with local artists.”
When a client books BHS, they get access to top-notch engineers and high-quality gear, including large-frame (Yamaha PM5Ds and PM3500; Soundcraft Series Five and SM20) and smaller-format (Soundcraft MH3s and GB8; Yamaha 24- and 32-input) boards. As for P.A., Big House stocks Adamson systems, which have been used since the company opened its doors. “We have a lot of the [mid-sized] Y10 line arrays, a bunch of the [full-sized] Y18s and their MH boxes, which is the standard trap box, as well as 40 boxes of their RA Series, which are great: more of a wrap-around box, like an arena-style.” Power is provided by Crown MacroTech (though Nielsen says he is looking into upgrading to Crown iTechs), and all drive racks have BSS OmniDrive control.
Other gear of note includes Shure UA Series wireless mics, an assortment of effects devices — “just about anything anybody would ask for,” Nielsen says. “We also have an assortment of in-ear units [Shure PSM700 Series] and then a load of rigging,” which includes truss, chain motors, controllers, etc. “We can meet just about any rider.”
“Our main focus over the years has always been on sound,” he continues, “just because that's the thing we've started with. But we started lighting and video divisions to cater to people who need those things, as well. We also have started an install division. Churches are really big here in Texas. When I grew up, when you went to church, it was quiet and the minister spoke and people sang hymns. Now I think there is much more of an entertainment aspect to church. There's a lot more going on — high-end video, concert sound, big lighting — and they're making these into multipurpose rooms: by morning it is a sanctuary and by night it's a youth center with live music.”
But at the end of the day, it comes to maintaining the bond with the local music scene. “We have a lot of very loyal customers that come to us for just about everything that they need,” Nielsen says. “We're always talking to new acts about touring. It's not something that we thought was going to be a bread-and-butter for us, because being in Austin, we just don't see the same amount of big acts coming out of here as you would in L.A. or New York or Nashville. Those [SR] companies are going to get the first pick of the big acts that are going to be out touring and we accept that. But we're always talking to see what we can get out on the road.”
Sarah Benzuly is Mix's managing editor.