Reliable, No-Nonsense Audio Expertise since 1990
Reliable, No-Nonsense Audio Expertise since 1990









The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Over the last few months, I have spent substantial amounts of time drawing up, programming, overseeing the installation of, and finally commissioning a new sound system for UIC Pavilion in Chicago - the most intense project I've worked on yet. Now, they have had nearly a month's worth of successful shows on this new rig, and are thrilled with it!

What's it made of? Four EV XLE181 line arrays with XCS312 subs create a central cluster that provides coverage in the round, with the capability of individual control over each array. Two more XLE181/XCS312 arrays support a stage at the end of the arena. Power is QSC PL3 series amps, and QSC Basis processing, tied together by Cobranet. Mix position is an existing Yamaha DM2000 console and another QSC Basis, with a Whirlwind E-snake retrofitted as an alternative to the multipin snake system that has been in use since the venue opened in 1981.


Where The Heck Have I Been, You Ask??

Busy busy busy...as the Bokononists in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle would say. So busy, in fact, that I haven't had much time for updating this here Web site. What have I been doing? My usual variety of gigs for my usual variety of accounts. But it's been exciting as always: Various A/V installs in various corporate facilities, assorted corporate shows and meetings, a few theatrical gigs, doctoring up the occasional house-of-worship sound system... What the heck, if I'm so busy I can't update my Web site, that's not necessarily a bad thing!


A Worthy Cause...

So all the cell phone accessories listed on my For Sale page are no longer available. Why? I donated them (along with the cell phones they went with) to an organization called Cell Phones For Life,who refurbish old phones and pass them along to the elderly, the disabled, and shelters for battered women. I realized after dropping them off that cell phones don't need to be the latest and greatest to be useful. If they're still supported by the cellular networks, that's all that matters - for the simple reason that audio is the lowest - but most important - common denominator, regardless of other bells and whistles.

It reminds me of what Doug Jones said when I took one of his classes at Columbia College: Something like 80% of what we learn is learned via sound. It is also (in my view) still the fastest way to communicate, because we can talk faster than we can type (court stenographers aside). After all, if you have to reach emergency responders right away, are you going to call or text 911?


Back To Our Roots...

I spent my spare time the last few days looking up pictures of and articles about some of the vintage tape recorders I cut my teeth on during my formative years, and putting links to them on my Humble Beginnings page. This effort had me thinking about current portable technologies and comparing them to the portables I (or my parents) grew up with...something I doubt very many members of the iPod generation have reflected on. While iPods and iPhones are the best we've seen yet when it comes to on-the-go convenience, are they built to last? Some of the funky old recorders I had were already 10-25 years old when I got them, and still in almost perfect working order. Sure they needed maintenance not required by any MP3 player, but it was a small percentage of the original cost and was usually justified. The earliest portable MP3 players are probably now more than 10 years old...but how many are still in use? Did they die, or get tossed as newer units with more memory came out?

With my old toys, storage capacity was limited only by maximum reel size, lowest speed, and track format. (As with MP3 bit rates, duration was traded for sound quality by speed versus track format.) But, you could have as many reels as you wanted - a concept known by computer geeks as "removable media". No matter how smart we get, we will never break the laws of physics, and nor will we fool a trained human ear. There's a lot to be said for yesterday's design engineering approaches...


The Sale Must Go On...

When it comes to upgrade work at various venues I service, this year has started off with bang - so much so that just keeping my FOR SALE page up to date has eaten up all the time I have for maintaining this Web site. Help me reclaim the floor of my garage - please visit my FOR SALE page! :)


A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words...

So with that in mind, I've been taking advantage of the typically slow holiday season to add more pictures where pictures are due. My Live Sound Engineer/Systems Tech and Event Audio Design & Engineering services pages now have a random selection of a few of my more memorable projects, and the pictures that have been on my System Assembly and Fabrication services page for a while are now enlargeable. More pictures will be arriving elsewhere on this site, so stay tuned!


What's Good For Your Heart...

Just got off a busy week as A1 for a series of American Heart Association press conferences, which was interspersed with a couple days spent recording pharmacuetical advisory board meetings. It was rewarding to come home, read the news, and see headlines about something that was just presented at the conference. (The conference itself wasn't news, but the research being presented was.) But what was most satisfying to me, from a tech standpoint, was being able to fly the PA pretty high (roughly 22' trim), which gave me far more gain before feedback than I would have obtained had the PA been ground supported. I actually wound up with excess headroom! A beautiful thing indeed...


Pickle-As-Transducer Videos Finally Uploaded!

Yep, that's right. My notorious videos of pickle destruction are now available on my Facebook page. However, they're not publically viewable (I may be crazy but I'm not stupid), so you'll have to friend me to see them. But check 'em out, and see how audio can be fun in ways you may never have imagined!


Health Care Reform, A/V Staging, and Me

Anyone who's been paying any attention lately is doubtless aware of the controversies around health care reform efforts. Although I lost interest in the convoluted political ramifications of these legislative actions a long time ago, I quickly realized that if health care reform of any sort became a reality, there would probably be a lot of money in it for me!

For me, an audio guy?? Yes. It doesn't take a crystal ball to figure out that health care providers of all types will need to re-arm and regroup to adapt to whatever legislative changes arise from reform efforts. To do this, they'll have to hold meetings, conferences, Webinars, meetings, more meetings, conferences, and...did I mention meetings? Such events often require audio-visual support of some form or other.

Well, sure enough, ever since health care reform first became a media buzzword, I've lost count of how many events I've worked where health care reform was discussed, and at least some of these were meetings held specifically for such issues. (Incidentally, financial reform has been another hot topic, and I just worked a meeting on bank auditing...)

So if you're an A/V staging vendor, content producer, or meeting planner who's been lamenting the lack of work recently, don't worry - there's gold in them thar hills. You just have to know where to look. Next time someone in Washington publicly utters the word "reform" and is serious about it, your phone just might start ringing.


A Night (or Three) At the Opera

Tonight was the last day of a three-day run of Chamber Opera Chicago's presentation of Maria La O, staged at the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago's near north side. I had the pleasure of being the sound board operator for this outstanding production, which, interestingly, set a new record for me: It was the first theatrical gig I've worked where I had more rehearsal days than show days (in this case, nine and three).

When I got the call for this I was really excited. Performing arts events of any sort are my favorite live sound gigs, but the first thing that came to mind was my Dad being an opera aficionado, and exposing me to a lot of good opera recordings on a decent playback system. So even though neither he nor I had heard or seen Maria La O before, I came into this gig with a good idea of what to expect. Just listening to quality recordings on a decent stereo can be quite a learning experience.


For anyone wondering how I decided to pursue this career, I now have a page on this site going into detail about my early beginnings - starting with my childhood hobbies and covering most of my hard-knock learning experiences and early gigs up to college. (Like a lot of successful people in this industry, sound, music and electronics caught my attention at a very early age.) Check it out!


Reflecting on 20 Years (And Counting) In This Business

As this year got going it dawned on me that I've been doing what I do (professionally) for 20 years now...at least by the way I've been keeping score. Not that the number really matters...it's not as important as what I've learned and accomplished in that time - which is quite a lot, and is covered throughout this Web site. (When my birthday comes around my Dad sometimes asks me how it feels to be whatever age I've just hit. I tell him it feels no different than however old I was the day before. So it goes with my career.)

So why do I claim 1990 - less than a year after I finished high school? That was when I scored my first paying sound gig by way of my own promotional efforts - which were flyers posted in music stores all over the Twin Cities. The gig was with a heavy metal cover band, who had a two-week job in Gilette, WY around Christmas of 1989 and New Year's of 1990. (The whole story will eventually be posted elsewhere on this site...it was quite an adventure.) I recall my Dad being nervous about my hitting the road with a bunch of guys I didn't know at all, but as with many people in this biz, I got started by sticking my neck out and taking some risks. And I'm really glad I did - it sure beat the temp job I had back then as a warehouse grunt in a Best Buys distribution center!


Today was my last day (as A2) on a four-week-long sales meeting for a recently-merged pharmaceutical giant, which took place in a downtown Chicago hotel. (I was told that in the past, this show traveled and spent one week in each of the company's four regions, but this time chose to fly each of the four regions into Chicago, one week at a time.) This was a unique gig for me, because it was the longest show I've ever worked (unless you count the UIC Flames basketball seasons at UIC Pavilion), and because it's not that often that I get to be A2. (In this case the client flew in their own A1; I was hired by the audio-visual vendor.)

However, I do not consider the A2 (or audio assist) role a demotion of any sort, despite all my years doing live sound. Rather, I'm proud to be in that position, because it gives me a chance to be the A2 I wish I could have had on countless gigs where I had to either fly solo or borrow a utility guy with limited audio experience. (Some of those shows - and some install jobs - made me wish I had been born an octopus, not homo sapiens. Imagine the tasks I could execute with eight suction cup-covered tentacles and no **&*$%$#@@* skeleton to restrict my movements! But I digress...) One of my early mentors in this business, Gary Cobb, once said that the best A2 is an A1. I have found that to be true, time and time again, especially when it comes to properly mic'ing up presenters, performers and musical instruments. Some of my best sounding shows sounded the way they did because of a veteran audio tech in the A2 role.


Today I did a small gig for Black History Month: A tribute to Michael Jackson, which took place at Freedom Hall, a cozy little 300-seat community theatre in Park Forest, IL. The lineup was mostly various dancers and dance groups performing to Micheal Jackson's hits, topped off by a Michael Jackson impersonator (something I've never seen or heard of before, but I guess somebody decided Elvis has had enough imitation by now). This event was moderated by one of the DJ's from Chicago's V103 FM, who knew more about Michael Jackson than anybody else I've ever met. Every introduction she did included a story about him - usually something about him donating huge amounts of money to various charities. One that was particularly touching was him buying a new hyperbaric chamber for the burn unit at Brotman Medical Center in Culvert City, California, after his hair caught on fire while shooting a Pepsi commercial in the early 1980s. (I still vividly remember the news coverage of that event - especially the shot of a flame leaping off the back of his head shortly after a pyrotechnic charge was set off.)

As a live audio job this was nothing unusual, but I learned quite a lot about Michael Jackson that I never knew before - mostly because the media painted a very distorted picture of him that made him widely misunderstood. He's a much better human being than all the tasteless jokes about him would lead one to believe.



If you are selling pro audio or MI gear on the Web via local classifieds, beware of a scammer who answers ads with an offer to mail you a certified check or money order, and have his shipper come get the item. He uses a canned response with a Seattle phone number (206-338-2661), and is currently going by the name Jim Bright. (But judging by his poor use of English he's obviously a foreigner, and may not even be in the U.S.) Apparently he's been doing this for a while; when I Google'd his phone number I found a 2007 posting on a boat enthusiasts' Web site warning about him, but back then he had a different name and E-mail address. (A WhitePages.com reverse lookup on that number shows it as an unpublished land line.)

This guy answered three of my Chicago Reader classified ads with the same response. My first clue was that he asked for pictures of the item, even though pictures were in the ad. Against my better judgement I E-mailed him back with an E-bay link for the item and told him to go there if he was serious. He wrote back insisting that I don't need to worry about shipping, but by that point I had done my homework, and have been ignoring him since.

If you fall for his scam you'll no doubt get a bogus payment instrument - cashier's checks and money orders are easy to forge, and your bank will hold you liable. Let your common sense prevail, and let Ebay and PayPal be your friends: If it sounds like a scam, it probably is. If you're not sure, Google some of the particulars in the response and see what you get.


Fidelity FutureStage Program Donates Musical Instruments to Public Schools

With some help from an A-list of celebrities that included Jamie Foxx and Joan Cusack, Fidelity Investments donated $500,000 worth of musical instruments to 16 high schools in four cities: LA, Houston, Chicago, and Boston. This event happened simultaneously in all four locations via satellite link. I had the pleasure of being the A1 at the Chicago site (Kenwood Academy, on the South Shore), where Audio-Visual One (one of my biggest accounts) supplied sound, video, lighting and crew. For me, this was an exceptionally meaningful gig, since I've been a music lover all my life and grew up around musicians. It's really nice to see that even in this economy, the generosity to help cash-starved public schools with arts programs runs strong. (I must add that the kids I saw performing were truly amazing. I have mixed probably 80 or 90 high school ensembles of one sort or another, none of whom came even close to the talents at these lucky schools!)


Latest regarding the future of wireless audio (mics/instruments, IEM, IFB, and intercom): The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has ruled that all 700 MHz band usage MUST CEASE after June 12, 2010. Be prepared: I have already heard rumors about new owners (big telecommunications companies) of the 700 MHz band getting nasty with anyone else they catch operating in that range. (Don't assume that just because it works, you'll be able to get away with it!) However, the good news is some of the major wireless manufacturers are offering rebates for trade-ins of old 700 MHz gear. And, anything in that range is probably several years old by now anyway, so replacement is not too hard to justify.

Need help with this? I'm following it closely, and wireless audio is one of my passions, so feel free to contact me.







Phone 312-301-2111

E-mail patmccarthy@spmaudio.com

Copyright 2010-2014 by Samuel Patrick McCarthy

Last updated 11/3/2014

Thanks to Carl Miller and Elena Papastefan for site development and design assistance