Front of House With Jon Burton [The Prodigy]

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In this instalment of our Front of House series of interviews with some of the world’s finest sound engineers, Noisegate was able to catch up with Jon Burton who has been sound engineering since leaving school. As a monitor and front of house engineer, he has worked at the highest level with acts such as Stereophonics, Pendulum and, for the last ten years, The Prodigy.

Jon also runs a recording studio complex in Sheffield UK, is a tutor with Soulsound and has a carries a vast knowledge of many aspects in sound engineering, from live to studio and broadcast.

We catch up with Jon as he embarks on another tour with The Prodigy to find out about his go-to gear and hear about his experiences and wisdom from years of working in the music industry.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the Music Industry?

It started at school, an interest in music that became an interest in the technical side as well. A chance visit to Abbey Road studios in my teens got me hooked and I applied unsuccessfully to the BBC for their sound engineering course. A brief stint at art school ended when I left to work in a music shop by which time I had already started a small PA company. I played in bands for many years whilst also engineering for local bands. Eventually, I gave up my playing and concentrated on my sound engineering. I have worked full time in music ever since and have had a varied career as a live sound engineer, either FOH or monitors, as well as studio and a bit of TV work.

Can you spill the beans on some of the artists you have worked with?

I have worked for a wide variety of artists.  Never turn down work because you may not like the music! I learnt early on that you can learn to appreciate most music, and even so, it is usually the people who make the difference. When I was young I worked with a great variety of artists which was amazing. I was lucky enough to work with some big names and was usually naïve enough not to be daunted! Unfortunately, as I get older, I seem to have less new opportunities, having said that I still get the odd interesting gig coming my way. I still say yes to most things. I’m looking for a heavy metal tour! I have never done one! It’s on my bucket list.

What is your go-to gear you always use on tour and why?

I have many favourites and do fall back on certain things. The obvious is my preference for analogue consoles. I own several Midas XL3 analogue desks which are my preferred weapon of choice. I have a Smart Electronics C1 compressor that has done most of the shows I have ever done, a great sounding unit. I use DBX 160 compressors and Drawmer gates still the best workhorse units. I like TC Electronics delays and reverbs and own a ridiculous number of obscure echo units that all do different things. I am guilty of finding favourite bits of gear and falling back on them, probably too often, but it saves time and makes your workflow easier, more predictable. Having said that I love a new gadget and am an eBay addict.

You are on tour with The Prodigy, what gear are you using and why did you choose it?

I’m using everything above with a few more toys added. The big revolution this year is a rack mount Allen & Heath digital mixer that is doing overspill channels I can’t fit on my main analogue console. It’s looking after percussion channels and reverb returns as well as the support DJ channels. Leo the drummer has added a new gong drum that is tuned low. To add impact, I have brought my DBX 100 sub-harmonic synthesiser out of retirement to add a real thud to the sound. It’s an old hi-fi component that adds an octave lower and has wooden end panels and that distinctive DBX 70’s look. Sounds great!

We have been touring with the new D&B Audio GSL system as well with extra D&B infra sub cabinets. We had a total of 38 triple 21” sub cabs on the European tour. The main cabinets are great as they go down low and send the bass well into the top parts of the arenas. Pretty pleased with the system, it has some weight to it.

We have a secret weapon from France that we have been trying out but it’s still in development so that will have to wait until we get it fully working before I reveal what it is, but it is a processing unit with a four capsule measurement microphone that sounds amazing!

What’s the most challenging event you worked on and how did you get around it?

I think every gig is a challenge but some are indeed harder than others. I think the hardest was a festival in Spain. There were two stages side by side and the artists alternated. It was going ok and The Prodigy was due on at midnight, just after System of a Down. Unfortunately, the wind was growing stronger. A sudden gust picked up the roof of one stage and dropped it down again, but no longer fully secure. We evacuated the area and some riggers went up to assess. It was considered unsafe to continue on that stage and the riggers bravely lowered and secured the roof. This left just one stage. By this point, the audience was cold and bored so started stoning the stage. The festival was sponsored by Seat, the car people, and they had a top of the range model on a pedestal beside the stage. For some reason, this had been left with the alarm on. As soon as the first stone hit it the alarm went off. This inevitably amused all the crowd who released a barrage of missiles it’s way. Whilst they were diverted the combined bands’ crews made the most of things and we soon were back running on the one stage. The artists shortened their sets and got on and off in record time. We eventually did the Prodigy show at 6 am. We left the site at 8.30, with a smouldering battered Seat beside the stage and went to the hotel for a shower to then leave for the airport 15 minutes later to fly home. The band did a great show and we left the audience happy, but tired….

If you had a big Audio crystal ball, what’re your predictions for the Audio business?

Speakers will improve. It’s about time someone came up with something better than cardboard and copper wire….

Digital desks will get as better than analogue, eventually.

Somebody will come up with a mixing desk design that doesn’t look like an analogue console with not enough knobs and we will all go yes! That’s a better way to do it!

Tell us about SoulSound?

SoulSound was started by my good friend Darryn De la Soul and she talked me into contributing. She has an amazing way of getting people involved in her vision and I was sold, hook, line and sinker. It has never really earned me any money, but it has led to some amazing opportunities. I have been to many interesting countries to teach which I love to do.

Any advice for future budding sound engineers getting into the industry?

Always say yes! All experience is good. Go to jobs with a good attitude. It is your approach to work, positivity and good attitude that will get you return bookings. There is a Submariner attitude on touring, you want to be working with people who have a sunny disposition and get the job done. We all spend a long time together, you want to spend that time with people who are going to get the job done in a positive way and that is often more important than ability. Ability is important but the way you approach your day is more so.

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