From the very beginning, rock and roll was an art form that found ways to squeeze into venues that were never designed with its volume or energy in mind. Perhaps the most extreme example of that is the still-growing industry of music generation and artist themed cruises. One production company in particular, Cincinnati-based Loud and Clear, Inc. has been around that industry from its earliest days and continues to depend on a full inventory of L-Acoustics speaker enclosures and amplification to rock out on the high seas.
“We do cruises for every subgenre of rock music you can think of,” says Loud and Clear President Bill Deavers. “One week it may be something like the Moody Blues Cruise that’s a mid-sized ship where coverage and audio quality are paramount. Then two weeks later, we’ll do Monsters of Rock, which is the biggest, baddest, loudest ship on the ocean with 40 heavy acts and a crowd that expects to have the sound just consume them. In between those, we have some of the best progressive rock ever, where definition of sound is essential. The toolbox provided by the L-Acoustics line—from large-format K2, SB28 and Kara enclosures to coaxial X8 fills and X15 HiQ wedges—allows us to bring the best possible sound to every genre and every stage under often punishing conditions.”
Today, Loud and Clear does an astounding 20 cruises a year, and Deavers greatly appreciates that fact that his K2 and Kara systems are relatively lightweight. “Our guys can practically throw a K2 cabinet onto their backs and carry it down the steps, which certainly comes in handy on a cruise ship,” he says. “We currently have three charters where we ‘own’ the entire ship. Every cruise is sold out with people on waiting lists. And every one of those cruises features L-Acoustics speakers from one end of the ship to the other.”
The L-Acoustics line allows Loud and Clear to deploy systems based on the needs of the venue and less on issues of weight and size. “In the main showroom, we use K2, ground-stacked on some ships and flown on others.” That second part, the flying, is something that lightweight K2 made possible. Prior to deploying K2, all systems had to be ground-stacked. “Weight on a ship is critical, which makes flying difficult. But ground-stacking an array with the protections needed, due to the fact that you’re on the high seas, presents sightline issues that are also difficult.”
Deavers is quick to credit his crew, which runs to 105 people for most cruises. In particular, he calls out Technical Director Eric Cimini, Production Supervisor Nate Schneider, and both Joe Gilkey and Steve Lagemann. “These are the guys who run these cruises and do all of the on-the-ground work,” he says. “My work is months before we set sail, and by the time we do, I spend most of my time in the production office. These guys are the ones who make all the magic happen.”
As one of L-Acoustics’ Certified Providers, Loud and Clear counts on its extensive and varied speaker inventory to handle any situation that gets thrown at them. “On some ships we can deploy K2 and it just crushes. On other ships with different kinds of music, we can go down to a Kara-based system,” Deavers explains. “Either way, we get amazing coverage, outstanding sound quality and plenty of volume, all of which translates to a very happy clientele on our clients’ cruises. The L-Acoustics toolbox allows us to do anything, anytime, on any ship on the ocean.”
Loud and Clear is all in on the music-themed cruises, right down to designing and building extensive custom staging. Every ship has a large, outdoor stage that would be poolside except that they bring along custom-built pool covers for each ship, which enables them to convert from pool to performance with plenty of room for larger audiences. “We design our own stages, and we design the pool covers. Everything has to be engineered to withstand the Caribbean air and wind.”
Every ship has at least one outdoor venue and the elements take a toll. “We take all of these enclosures on cruise after cruise after cruise and they are exposed to brutal conditions. We can experience everything from torrentially pouring acidic saltwater rain to days where the sun beats down and it can be 120 degrees on top of the subs before the wind kicks up. It’s just a constant battle. When we bring our gear back from a cruise, the handles on the road cases can be corroded to hell, but the L-Acoustics gear holds up amazingly well. We’re not losing product to the elements, which is crucial when you do as many cruises as we do, which is a lot.”
February is a typical month. The Loud and Clear crew loaded in the Yes-headlined Cruise to the Edge on February 4 on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliant out of Miami and that cruise went for five days. In addition to Yes, Cruise to the Edge featured program-rock stalwarts such as Genesis’ Steve Hackett and Carl Palmer of ELP, Glass Hammer and Marillion. When that ended, everything was loaded off the ship and trucked back to the shop in Cincinnati to be prepped for Monsters of Rock, which featured more than 40 bands.
“With so many artists, we get lots of different console and backline requests, but we take the most requested items and put them on every stage on every ship. So we have some push and pull when it comes to gear with one exception,” Deavers notes. “No one ever complains about the PA. We’ve made a lot of L-Acoustics converts over the years. Every single AV director on these ships, when we leave, they always ask if we can leave behind the PA.”