Festival Sound: Dave Swallow

With festival season upon us AMI is celebrating by speaking to live sound experts on the festival circuit throughout the week to get their thoughts on the challenges of the festival environment, and what they look for in tech to get the job done. 

With a CV including FOH work for La Roux, Amy Winehouse, Seasick Steve and Underworld, Dave Swallow took the time to give us his thoughts on the state of live and festival sound in the industry,

Tell me a bit about your background in live production.

I’ve been in sonic ops for around 18 years now. Starting my career in the dysfunctional town of Southend-on-Sea, I pushed boxes, painted floors, hoovered rooms and watched other people use mixing consoles. Eventually I got my wings and have been disguised as a Front of House engineer ever since. 

How are you involved in live production for festivals?

I work closely with the artistes and artists with their sonic production at festivals. 

How does the challenge of festivals differ from the challenge of your typical live situation?

I long to have some rehearsals, a soundcheck and some time to setup. Festivals are a joke really. This is not why I got into sound. It’s the audience I feel sorry for. Paying all that money to see all those bands at half their capability. Music has been cheapened to an easy access consumable. 

How important do you think sound quality is to the typical festival audience?

Not very. As long as most of the audience can hear the vocal they won’t complain. Then again I suspect the majority of the audience can’t tell the difference between an MP3 and a vinyl. I’m not saying they won’t appreciate the difference between good sound and bad sound, I just think they don’t know what the difference is. I do, on the other hand, believe that when given great sound the music connects more with the audience and they can feel the difference.

What is your favourite gear to tackle festivals?

A sense of humour, a pac-a-mac and a pair of headphones. A pair of ATH-50’s. When you’re so far back in a tent that all you can hear is tent, I pop them on and hear all the things I can’t hear in the PA. The pac-a-mac is an essential, keeps me dry, and it’s a pretty good wind break. And if I didn’t have a sense of humour about the whole thing then, well, you know…

How do you think festival sound will evolve in the future?

Looking into the future is like looking through the rear window of a DeLorean. I’d suggest we’re in for sinister times. We’ll probably end up with loads of silent discos in underwater fields if the world continues on its current trajectory. There’s some really interesting tech that has come out over the last couple of years and it’s this shift away from line array that’ll ultimately make the difference. 

Live sound has always been about the best compromise and a festival is the worse place to see a band at their best. It’s a truly terrifying thought to think what has been done to music when the odds are against you to begin with.

Dave also penned an extended piece on the problem with festivals in our July issue.