(Photo courtesy of Joe Del Tufo/Moonloop Photography)
Tech and music go hand-in-hand, and that marriage is rarely more important than when a performance is live on stage. Chances are, you’ve seen the work of Tom Manchester, the owner of the Delaware-based Electro Sound Systems, whether it was a concert, event or local theatrical performance.
What’s it like being a sound engineer? We asked, he answered.
Technical.ly Delaware: Briefly, what do you do?
Tom Manchester: We focus on providing sound systems for special events. When you work in the special events field, however, you have to be a jack of all trades. We’ve expanded a good amount into stage lighting, video projection, and a pretty broad range of other services to help make shows happen. Beyond that, I drive the trucks, load the gear, write the checks, send invoices, repair equipment and schedule the crews. It’s a pretty big balancing act some days!
TD: How does art and tech intersect in your day-to-day life?
TM: Our entire business revolves around taking the music, voice and artistic vision of an artist, and amplifying it to be enjoyed by a large group of people. We do that by utilizing some of the most cutting-edge show technology equipment available, and having a team of great techs with a passion for their craft to operate it.
From the moment a sound leaves a singer’s lips to the moment it hits the eardrum of the listener, we have to decide the best and most appropriate way to leverage our equipment to present it in the most desirable way possible. It’s important to not only know what the presenter wants it to sound or look like, but also who the audience is, and how they would like to perceive it — and that is an art in itself.
TD: What does a normal work day like for you?
TM: The short answer is, not normal at all! Most weekday mornings are spent receiving phone calls, answering emails and handling the routine business operations. By mid-day I typically do more hands-on work like repairs or preparing equipment packages for upcoming shows. In the evenings, I try to focus more conceptual things like business development projects and long-term strategy.
On a big event day it’s rise and shine at 7:00 a.m., load the truck, build a big sound system, make it rock, load it out and try to make it home before sunrise. An average festival day is anywhere from 14-20 hours of continuous physical work.
TD: Do you have any tricks that keep you focused while working?
TM: I love a good hands-on project, and it’s easy to stay focused when I get a good workflow going. Whether it’s mixing a band, or building a custom set of wiring, once I get going I feel everything in my brain lock in on the task. In contrast, I’m not too fond of paperwork, but I constantly remind myself that sales quotes and marketing work help fill that gulf between where I am now, and where I want to be.
Twenty-four ounces of Wawa coffee tend to help push things along too.
TD: What is your go-to soundtrack when you need to focus and push through a busy day or tough project?
I once spent the better part of a summer listening to The Dear Hunter’s Act III: Life and Death on repeat while building sixteen loudspeakers. For shop work these days, though, it’s usually something high energy to keep me moving.
The best benefit of being a sound engineer is that you get to work with some pretty amazing live artists. When the band hits their first note and you really lock in with a mix on a great sound system, that’s probably one of the greatest work soundtracks you could ever have.