We're back with a brand new guest blog post and this time we're speaking to a guy we met while on the road with The Parlotones in the UK; their sound engineer, FOH guru and all-round sonic 'go to guy' Josh Pike.
For the 4 dates we were with them one of the most popular phrases heard was 'thanks Josh'. He was on hand to sort out technical issues, get the sound right for each venue and be ready to leap on stage to change a duff cable or re-position a mic stand.
We caught up with Josh once he'd returned to South Africa to find out more about what he does and how he got started.
Hey Josh, according to your LinkedIn profile you're a freelance Sound Engineer, Band Roadie AND Stage Manager and also the founder of a Radio station in Johannesburg! Has your life always revolved around music and when did you know you wanted your career to be in the industry?
Haha, I actually need to seriously update my LinkedIn profile, it's been a few years! But some things haven't changed. My life has pretty much always revolved around some kind of music or sound "scene", my dad was - and still is - the IT and Technical manager of a large radio station here in South Africa, called Jacaranda FM, and I can remember back to when I must have been about 9 or 10 years old going to work with him on school holidays and learning how the radio station worked! Learning about all the ins and outs of a radio station definitely steered me in the direction I would ultimately go. We also used to setup PA systems and multiple cordless mics and headphones for the Outside Broadcasts, and I remember one particularly early morning when I was about 12 or 13, we had to get a signal from a cordless mic over 500m away from the broadcast site, and then get the audio signal from the broadcast back to the PA and headphones, also about 500m away, LIVE - so the DJs could chat with each other and some listeners at the event, and with WAY too few cables haha. It worked in the end! I think I felt way back then like this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but more involved with sound companies and bands. I even decided to take it a bit further in high school, and launch a small radio station, where my friends and I would just play music and talk about school things at their events. We ended up having alumni of the school listening in over the Internet to the commentary of one of the big rugby games we hosted. I decided to go the live sound route though once I left school.
We met you on the European leg of The Parlotones tour and you were pretty much 'the man' when it came to making sure the live sound and stage setup was spot on every night. Do you enjoy working in pressure situations like that and how much planning ahead can you do when each venue must vary in size and equipment?
I absolutely love it. I am a bit of a control freak (what sound engineer isn't?!) and I really enjoy the pressure of being "in the moment". It forces you to think about everything that could happen before, during and after the show. There is quite a bit of planning behind the scenes, though. We have our booking manager / logistics manager / epic coordinator - Gregg Forbes - behind the scenes, making sure we get the correct contact details and that the show is actually going to happen. He then hands it off to me then it comes to the technical conversations, like what backline there is, the mics and equipment available at the venue and when we will be able to load in and sound check, etc. More finer details about those things are then handled between Gregg and myself closer to the time, but I'll sort out all the tech details before the time, and I'll usually be the point of contact on the day, and the one managing our stage techs. In Europe, we have a few more people we deal with locally, as it's a bit of a different industry to South Africa. However, we don't travel with a roadie in Europe, so there's a bit more pressure to load in and setup everything. The band does lend a hand in loading in and out, and setting up before the shows in the UK and Europe. This all usually happens between 1 month and 1 week before the show.
You were doing a range of venue sizes on that tour and even theatres when you returned to South Africa. Do you prefer doing sound in smaller or larger venues? What tend to be the main differences when you approach doing sound at a theatre where the audience is sat down and a 500 capacity, all standing venue?
I enjoy both, but for different reasons. Doing club shows, or smaller venues is fun and difficult, but can help cover up a few things that may inevitably go wrong during the show. Its live... it's not a live show if everything goes PERFECT haha. It's also more intimate and lends itself to a better vibe, being in a club, as the band are so close to the audience. You end up using more tricks you've learned over the years to try to make the band sound bigger and better than they seem in the club as well.
Theatres are a much bigger production. The PA is bigger, the stage is bigger and the band is more on display. There is also more to go wrong... Where you may be able to cover up, lets say, a dud chord or a broken mic in clubs, because everything is so close, becomes VERY obvious and shows very clearly in a theatre or on a large PA. If a cable comes loose, or if a mic breaks, it's a lot closer, quicker and easier for me to run to the stage in a club to fix it, where its sometimes impossible to do at a festival or in a large theatre. These bigger shows for me are such a rush, because you get such an opportunity to make the band sound that much bigger and better! There are moments in a big show where you might get goosebumps that you just would never get in a club show. Moments like having a 70-piece choir backing the band, or a string ensemble, which you would be able to do in a bunch of clubs. It's a spectacle.
How did you end up meeting and working with The Parlotones?
The band did a small corporate show many years ago that I was working at (as a videographer of all things!) and helped them pack up. I got to chat with the guys and offered to help them with the end of their tour at the time, and ended up working more and more with them over the next few years. I started off as a stage tech, setting up backline, tuning guitars and learning from one of their previous roadies. I started mixing monitors on an iPad a few years in, as we weren't touring wit our own console yet, but I knew their IEM mixes pretty well, and it was easier for them to ask me for something than to relay a message to the FOH engineer in a bunch of the venues we were touring in. They also weren't touring with a FOH engineer at the time. I then became FOH and Monitor engineer full time in 2016 on our European tour after a mishap at one of the shows, and have been in this position ever since.
It must be great to get the opportunity to travel the world as part of a bands crew but what do you miss the most about home when you're on the road?
Haha, sleep!!! Sleep is probably the one thing that I don't get enough of on the road, but it's mostly my fault. I enjoy driving, a lot, so I do most of the driving on the tours we do around South Africa and Europe. Most of the other places we have been there has been some sort of a shuttle, but for long tours we usually hire a van, and I end up doing most of the driving. I have a bit of insomnia, so I try to tire myself out by working on some other projects sometimes on tour. I also miss my friends at home quite a bit. I've missed birthdays, weddings, and just hanging out.
Its amazing getting to go to some of the incredible places we've been, but sometimes it's a bit bittersweet. We end up seeing most of these places through the window of a van, or at a rest stop on the side of the highway, but its still so cool being able to call this my job.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in live sound engineering?
Do as much as you can, while you can. Say yes to as many shows and events as you can, and take any opportunity that shows itself. Work with as many people as you can! Each artist or client you work with has something you can learn from, I still freelance outside of the band when they're not busy or on tour, and I still learn things every day while working with other big artists in South Africa and abroad. And mix, mix, mix! Download some free multitracks, grab a pair of headphones or speakers and just try stuff on your computer, if you have the software. The more you do and the more people you speak to and work with, the more you'll realise you either want to do this, or hate it. Never do it because you want to make a ton of money, do it because you are passionate about it... The rewards will come soon enough. And remember that you never stop learning. Stay humble.