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Masque Sound’s Scott Kalata on Exceeding Expectations

The director of theatrical operations at Masque Sound shares that while the audio provider is known for its work on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and touring productions, there’s far more going on inside its New Jersey headquarters.

Scott Kalata, Masque Sound
Scott Kalata

Every corner of the live sound market has its top players—and when it comes to theatrical sound, Masque Sound’s name pops up immediately. Yet, while the company has been a key force in the theater world ever since it was founded by three Broadway stagehands in 1936, there’s a lot more going on inside its 70,000-square-foot headquarters in East Rutherford, NJ—and much of that is due to director of theatrical operations Scott Kalata.

While attending Fairleigh Dickinson University, Kalata worked as a film projectionist and a projection technician. Upon graduation, a colleague introduced him to Jack Shearing, Masque’s owner at the time, and Kalata joined the company in 1991.

“During my 30 years at Masque, I have worked on the shop floor, building sound systems and as a technician,” says Kalata. “I served as an on-site service technician, where I traveled the country troubleshooting our sound packages. I ultimately got involved with the business side of Masque and am now the director of theatrical operations. In my current role, I work directly with the sound designers, associates, general managers and theatrical producers in order to supply world-class, custom theatrical sound packages for a range of Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring theatrical productions.”

Every project has its own unique audio requirements, but the process of handling those needs and creating a sound system that meets and exceeds those expectations tends to follow a familiar pattern, starting with Kalata receiving a design specification from a production’s sound designer and then applying the shop’s resources in kind.

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“We take into account current inventory, the length of the production—is this a limited or open-ended run, for instance—and assess what equipment, if any, we need to purchase,” he says. “Basically, we reconcile a specification against our inventory and the need of the production, and then move mountains to get the customer what they want.”

As with all audio vendors, Masque has a considerable inventory of equipment to draw from, but takes its cues from clients, Kalata notes: “We are typically designer-driven in that we do not purchase a lot of equipment based on speculation, but there are times when we have gotten ahead of the curve and purchased certain technology in anticipation of client needs. In 2019, we made a significant investment in Shure’s Axient Digital and Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 system, which was a very good bet for us. We’ve also seen somewhat of a shift away from line arrays for some applications, with some more shows deploying point-source boxes instead, so that encouraged us to make a substantial investment in Meyer Sound’s new Ultra-X40s.”

“We’re very customer-oriented and our staff is fully empowered to exceed our clients’ expectations,” says Kalata. “Clients can rent their sound equipment from anyone, but for us, it’s the people and the service that make the difference. We continually work to make sure that is the differentiator when choosing Masque Sound for a production. We don’t just rent audio equipment; we work with a production every step of the way to ensure that equipment is installed and working correctly, night in and night out.”

Masque Sound may be best known for serving the theatrical world, but while that’s still a pillar of the business, the company has branched out to also serve ancillary ventures. For instance, its new Production Services, or “MAPS,” division provides rental and production support for shorter-term events, including corporate, television, concerts and special events.

Masque Sound Launches Production Services Division, July 25, 2019

Also, there’s a world of fixed AV venues out there that can benefit from Masque’s expertise, and that’s where its Permanent Installation department works hand-in-hand with AV consultants and designers to deliver high-quality audio equipment to schools, houses of worship, theaters and other sites. Another key point of expertise for Masque is wireless audio, and in that regard, its sister company in Florida, Professional Wireless Systems (PWS), supplies, manages and supports RF and wireless sound systems for major live and broadcast events.

As Masque has expanded over the years, it’s done so because the industry and clients’ expectations have shifted as well. “Momentous changes over the past few years, such as the RF spectrum shrinking and wireless microphones switching entirely over to digital, have changed the way we approach and spec shows,” he notes. “Digital radios are typically more reliable and more spectrally efficient, but they also present some other challenges. We work to ease this transition for some of our legacy clients.

Other major shifts, such as the industry’s steady move to using networked audio in both installation and live production, have put Masque in the position of not only needing to stay up-to-date on technological advances, but often having to advise clients on what’s changed and how best to approach new possibilities.

“From an infrastructure standpoint, productions are becoming more IT- and IP-based, which changes the requirements needed for the audio gear,” he confirms. “A prime example of this is The Muny in St. Louis, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. For last year’s season, The Muny unveiled a completely renovated theater, with fiber connectivity, opening the door to Audio over IP and Dante connectivity. Masque Sound worked with the theater to update its audio components to cater to the venue’s new cutting-edge audio networking capabilities.”

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St. Louis may be far afield from Masque’s typical customer base around New York, but that’s nothing. “International productions are a growth market for us—areas such as South America, China and the Far East,” says Kalata.

Whether the project is across the globe or across the Hudson River in Manhattan, Kalata’s approach to meeting clients’ needs remains the same: “Having worked in this business for quite some time, I definitely have a ‘the show must go on’ mentality. I understand the entertainment business and also the value of top-shelf customer service. Since I used to be a technician, I’m able to understand and reconcile the technical needs of our clientele, and we have a lot of repeat and referral business due to our top-notch customer service. We value these relationships and relentlessly aim to exceed expectations to make sure they remain a Masque Sound customer for life.”

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