Three ways tech is supporting the real gig economy

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Fiona Fraser

Concerts and live performances are still struggling to find a pulse in a post Covid world. But when they do get out of economic ICU, here are three ways technology will continue to drive productivity for the people behind the shows.

Mike Peters – Touring & Production Manager

At concert promotions company, Eccles Entertainment, life is all about the numbers; how many tickets need to be sold and at what price to make a show work.

But it all begins in a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) application. “Our admin team use this to build a detailed layout of the venue, pulling in information from the artist (is there a video/LED screen? How is the band staged?), production and venue (is it seated or standing?)” says Eccles’ Mike Peters. “We compile that information – with the venue’s ticketing agency – into a seating plan that then informs the total capacity, individual ticket prices and, ultimately, the operating budget for the show. From there it’s sell, sell, sell.”

A marketing team taps into the online interface provided by ticketing agencies to drive sales. It’s a two-way street – customer insights and sales information can be gleaned when required. “If ticket sales are below projections in a certain geographic territory, we can measure that and apply more targeted marketing spend. At the same time, if we need to let the audience know about road closures or parking restrictions, we can tell them directly.”

As the gates open for a show, real-time updates via the ticketing agency apps allow Peters to manage the flow of the show. “If we need to hold the band back for 20 mins because half the audience is yet to arrive, we can easily make that call.”

But the most impactful aspect for feet-on-the-ground production staff is that all this information is held in the Cloud. “It means we can be in the office, even if we’re sitting in a field in Thames.”


John Bamford – Lighting Designer

As go-to lighting designer for NZ stalwarts Fat Freddy’s Drop, John Bamford often travels from his Melbourne home to New Zealand for shows – or, did, at least. “The flight is a great chance to put the final touches on a show design, but most of the work is done upfront.”

Bamford usually meets with clients via video conferencing to work through a look-book of ideas, before distilling the best ones into full 3D venue schemas using Vectorworks Spotlight or Wysiwyg CAD packages. “In some cases we render the entire show in our virtual 3D environment. We know exactly how the show will look before a single light has been plugged in.”

Efficiency, functionality and flexibility are the key pillars of Bamford’s craft. “Everyone now wants control at an individual pixel level of anything that outputs light. In the past you would have rigged hundreds of incandescent bulbs – now LED technology means you can very quickly alter the colour, intensity, focus and motion of your lighting.”

“In a major touring show, the band often plays to a click-track. So it’s possible for us to timecode the whole show to within a 30th of a second, and build an automated lighting show around that. That’s how those shows are so consistent and accurate night after night.”

With increased capability comes the need for increased control and the interface between established systems and new platforms is critical. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Bamford leapt into online training. “Funnily enough, I’m becoming a computer networking specialist! Lighting fixtures and consoles are advancing so fast the older control protocol can’t handle it.”

Western Audio

Western Audio’s PA set up for Tool, Spark Arena, 2019

Richard McMenamin – Audio Engineer

Western Audio owners Richard McMenamin and Andy Craig provide sound production support for everyone from Beyonce to Elton John, and continually invest in equipment from leading-edge audio designers such as Germany’s d&b audiotechnik. For Western Audio the payback comes right at the outset of securing a contract.

“First, using d&b’s proprietary software ArrayCalc, we put together a detailed 3D computer model of the site – taking into account seating plan, architectural elements and audience size. This determines the amount of PA we need and how to position the individual speaker boxes.”

If the show is outside, Western uses the same process – but often factors in an environmental impact report on the surrounding area. This forms part of the resource consent process and is an essential requirement for any event promoter.

On show day, everything is laser-measured to ensure the positioning modelled in the simulation software is correct. The amplifiers are networked – to one another and the Front Of House (FOH) control via fibre-optic cabling. “We used to run an enormous ‘snake’ from the stage to FOH, but now it’s just 8 slimline data cables.”

This provides a direct feedback loop to manage the sound environment. Sensors, including hydrometers, are placed on the speakers to provide real-time environmental information. “The arrival of a few thousand people – even in an open field – has a direct impact on our working environment. Not only are they noisy, but they change the humidity and temperature drastically. These two factors alone have a huge impact on the how sound waves behave, so we need to adjust.”

Finally, an advanced analytics program provides what McMenamin calls “extreme fine-tuning”.

“Think of it as construction, but using a scalpel rather than a skill saw.”

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Fiona Fraser

Fiona Fraser spent 18 years as a journalist and editor before founding Contentment Agency, her content and public relations business. From first getting behind a radio sound desk as a teenager, to thrashing podcasts as an adult, she appreciates the myriad ways tech can enhance communication and connection.

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