Festival Sound: Gary ‘Monk’ McClements

Continuing our celebration of festival season this week, AMI spoke with live circuit veteran Greg ‘Monk’ McClements as he took time to look back over his 30-year career and give us his thoughts on the festival industry. 

Tell us about your background in the live sector.

I started working with bands in 1983 as a guitar tech, touring with bands such as Doughboys, Voivod, SNFU and Jeff Buckley to name a few, until 1997. 

From 1998 -2012 I was head of audio at the Metropolis in Montreal. From 2012 to present I have worked for many different productions on all types of live events. From 1998-2012 I was FIJM (Festival International Jazz de Montreal) monitor operator and FOH Operator. From 1998-2012, at Francofolies de Montreal, I held the same role as at the Jazz fest. From about 2010, I also got involved with Sennheiser, doing FOH at the Green Stage they sponsored at the Osheaga Art and Music Festival and the Rockfest in Montebello, where they sponsored the main stage.

In 2014 and 2015 I have taken on the role of Stage Manager for the rock fest on the Metal stage, as well as the F1 race and many other small to medium-size festivals around the province of Quebec. In the beginning, I would come to the festivals as guest and now I greet the guests.

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

The difference between a regular live show and a festival situation is that you’re dealing with a number of headliners instead of just one, your days are longer and you are also dealing with Mother Nature!

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

I believe that sound quality is very important to the festival crowd in all cases, no matter what kind of music the festival is promoting.

What do you look for in gear to tackle festivals?

There is so much great gear out there these days it’s really hard to say what the most important thing is. It must be packaged well, properly installed and there have to be completely competent techs, which is as, or more, important than the gear. With the amount of different sound personnel you deal with at a festival it’s almost impossible to make everyone happy, so the key thing is just make sure your audio is well tuned, be honest and do your job.

The gear we provide for the Sennheiser stages holds up very well. Using K-Array speakers for all three festivals I work for them at seems to work well. The weight of the box is a big benefit, as the weight restrictions on some of the outdoor stages definitely becomes a factor. We have always been able to supply enough SPL to make the users impressed and allow them to do their show properly. As a fan of Sennheiser microphones it’s been a great pleasure to get the audio guys to try out some models they may not be familiar with and I’ve had lots of good compliments after their shows.

How do you think festival sound is headed in the future?

Where I think festival audio is heading really depends on where you are holding your festival. As we see decibels levels being restricted, and the systems being capable of producing at such powerful levels, as well as being able to properly throw full frequencies further, I’m concerned that this will cause more issues for us.

Here in Montreal, many of the festivals are held in the downtown core, so the audio design is high priority. But the fact that sound quality is getting better – that can only be a good thing for live music. As I tell the lighting people – half jokingly – I don’t care how many lights you put around the band. Without the audio there’s not much of a show, but we can do a show with a sound system and a candle!