Tom, how long have you worked with Shawn Mendes and what makes this collaboration so interesting?
I’ve been with Shawn for almost 5 years. We will always have a unique relationship, as we were both so young when we started working with each other. In fact, Shawn was only 17! There has always been a complete freedom to bounce ideas off each other in order to better the show. I’m pleased to say, the same is true to this day. We chat often about the previous night’s show and ways we can all be improving. It’s a great environment to work in.
How did you become an FOH engineer, and what’s your advice to aspiring live sound mixers?
First of all, you have to be very sure it’s the right career for you. I’ve seen many people who had potential realize after a year or two of an audio course that the lifestyle isn’t for them. It can be very hard to be away from home for long periods of time and even harder to get to a stage where you are renowned enough to even be considered for a tour.
In my case, a local studio happened to offer a ten-week introductory course on sound and recording. I enrolled and studied under engineer and instructor Den Hands, who I credit as being critical to my career trajectory. After finishing the course, I made sure to stay in touch with the other students I had studied with. The majority were a lot older than me and already working on their own musical projects. I decided to take my education to the next level, and at 16 enrolled on a two-year college course in Music Technology. I used my spare time to work – often for free – with other engineers I had met. I quite literally made the final years of my teens, eat, sleep, audio. It drove my parents nuts, and quite rightly so! I would be at college from 9 am to 5 pm and then go straight to work at a recoding studio until the early hours of the morning. If it was a weekend, I would take any live gig that needed an engineer. Sunday would be used to catch up on homework and sleep … unless there was something more interesting going on in the studio!
By 18 I decided North America was the best place for an aspiring touring FOH engineer. I headed across the Atlantic to study Show Production Management at Metalworks Institute in Mississauga, Ontario. I was so enamored by my new surroundings that within a few months I made the decision to stay.
Through a little bit of unpaid work and networking, the touring part of my career really took off, and I began working with artists such as K-OS and Dragonette, travelling across North America. I’m pleased to say the momentum continued, and after multiple North American tours with mid-level artists, I was recommended for the Shawn Mendes gig.
Which tasks are you responsible for as an FOH? What does your job entail?
Mixing! I know that is an obvious answer but that’s the big one. A typical day will see me start setting up FOH at 11 am. I’ll use the local crew to help me unpack my console and lift my outboard and then start patching things. On a good day this process will be finished by around 1 pm, at which point I’ll start working with our Systems Engineer Jeff Wuerth to time align and tune the PA system for the particular space we’re in. I’ll use a recording of the last show and start a ‘virtual soundcheck’ in order to optimize the system for the room and to make any changes in the mix that I feel are necessary. By 3 pm this will be done, and our backline team, monitor engineer and myself will line check. 3:30 pm marks the start of soundcheck with the band. Shawn will usually run a song or two but being so many shows into the tour, things are pretty informal, and usually the guys will jam something fun instead of playing the same song for 100th time! Once sound check is complete, we have a little downtime before dinner and then the show.