Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson

When it comes to innovation and technological advancement in the world of pro-audio, you’d be hard-pressed to find a company doing it better than Adamson. When catering for large-scale events and production, Adamson is truly first class in the realm of high-fidelity audio. While they were in town to deliver an educational training session on operating and rigging the range of Adamson line array systems, Noisegate caught up with Adamson’s APAC Technical Director, David Dohrmann, and APAC Education and Support Coordinator, Ayumi Hanano, to find out what goes on behind the scenes in the world of high-end professional audio…

NG: Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you started in the music industry?

David Dohrmann: My name is David and I’ve been Adamson’s Technical Director for the APAC region for 4 years and with Adamson for a total of 10 years. Before I got to university, I was a musician and producer and thought it would be valuable to have a solid technical education as well, so I enrolled into an academy for a sound engineering diploma in Germany. It was half musically-focused and half technically-focused, so we had lessons in piano and scoring and that sort of thing, and also how to record orchestras and more technical subjects like electronics and mathematics. My diploma thesis was about the big PA set-up for the FIFA World Cup closing ceremonies. After that, I was freelancing in the pro audio world and have been stuck there ever since [laughs]. My studio work phased out and my live work became a bigger chunk of my business and then I was lucky enough to get this opportunity to work for Adamson. That was after maybe four or five years of freelance engineering. I had a global technical role for the first four or five years at Adamson and then I was elevated to being technical director for Asia-Pacific to oversee all operations.

Ayumi Hanano: I was born in Japan and was raised in England from the age of eight to fifteen. Most of my friends played music and I was always intrigued by what the guy behind the console was doing to make the experience happen. I just thought that would be a very cool thing to do. I was the kind of child who counted cabinets when I went to see arena shows. I started mixing during high school, and then went on to college where I started doing some part-time jobs in local venues and it took off from there. I was a freelancer for almost seven years. I’ve mixed for bands, corporate events, and I’ve done some touring in Asia. It was last year when our [Adamson] distributor in Japan, whom I knew for some time, got in touch with me and introduced me to Adamson.

NG: So what’s your actual title with Adamson?

AH: Education and Support Co-ordinator for the APAC region.

NG: And David, your title?

DD: Technical Director for APAC.

NG: What duties does this include?

DD: Basically, managing our operations in the region on all levels – sales and support, etc. Together with Ayumi, we’re implementing our company-wide strategy to put more focus on the education side of our operations. It basically reflects our mindset as an innovation and performance-driven company, so we want to make sure end users are able to use our high-performance systems to their fullest potential. In return, it makes the owner of the systems happy as it would ensure a long-term ROI with the systems being requested by top acts. As an example, touring productions can be confident all Adamson partners around the globe have a consistent standard when deploying our systems. Ayumi conducts all of the education activities in Asia, and we are actually about to strengthen our presence in the region as we speak. Basically, because we’ve grown so quickly, we’ve seen a big increase in global demand and we’ve been running pretty much at maximum capacity for a while now [laughs], so we are setting up a new APAC office in Thailand – similar to what we have in Germany for the European region – in order to have more local sales support and technical resources available in the region.

NG: Ayumi can you expand on the training aspect?

AH: The course we are running today at CMI Music & Audio is our globally-standardized APPLIED CERTIFICATION training, which is basically our introductory level.  We launched this global training program last year, and this ensures that in any part of the world, our systems will be designed and deployed at a consistently high standard.  We do software training and rig the system, so it’s very hands-on. Early next year, we are launching our ADVANCED CERTIFICATION Training, which is the next level up. It builds on the APPLIED CERTIFICATION and puts more focus on deployment & tuning aspects.

Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson

NG: How does working for Adamson differ from being a freelance engineer?

DD: I guess in the first few years, I really had this pure technical focus, so it wasn’t that much different, but the more you work with a company, the more your focus is much more than to just get the show going. You want to empower your client to get the show up and running and educate them, and train them, and make them confident with the system. So that’s what we refer to as the aftersales support side. But then, more and more, we’re getting into presales – things like setting up demos, doing client meetings, supporting our distributors, and contributing to the overall promotion of the brand. It’s a natural progression. You get more on the sales side, but it’s really product-focused. By the way, you should check out our BEHIND THE CURTAIN video series on YouTube or Vimeo. Personally, I very much enjoy working close to the product and on real world projects. All in all, it’s a really nice progression.

NG: What are some of the most challenging events that you’ve ever worked on?

DD: I guess one of the most challenging ever was in my first year with Adamson, and in my first or second month. I was thrown on a Carlos Santana event in Greece in an Olympic stadium and the objective was to unite three or four different suppliers who were not really friends – quite the opposite [laughs]. And that was really challenging. I had to repair some things right before the show and the delay towers were not in place when the touring crew came onsite.  So that was a little bit stressful but it turned out to be a very good show. Very cool.

AH: The one that comes to mind for me is EDC Shanghai, the Electric Daisy Carnival, which is run by a U.S. promoter for an audience of 40,000. There are EDCs around the world, and this year, they did their first one in China. I think the challenge was to work with local partners, who were not so used to how Western productions would think and work, and vice versa, and to get everyone on the same page. So I had to try to moderate between the parties.

NG: What were some of the biggest differences?

 AH: The conventions were so different. Local partners and the promoter had different priorities and processes and you would only discover those when actually working together onsite. Of course, it’s not just China – every country is different and has different rules and regulations and norms… In the end, going through those kinds of experiences helps you learn and helps people bond, which is good. It’s demanding, but also there’s the fun of getting to know people on a deeper level.

NG: So maybe knowing how to deal with people is an important part of being an engineer?

DD: Yes, that’s true, and especially so when you’re working with a manufacturer. You’re often working with different companies or parties that have different goals and priorities, so you take it upon yourself to connect those gaps and ensure everyone on every side of a production or transaction is getting what they need. We want to make sure that everyone has a good experience when they’re using and especially listening to our systems.

NG: And that’s why the official education and training program is important?

DD: Exactly. That’s one of the key points for the education program – that we make sure that all of our users are trained to set it up properly and make the best use of the system. Basically, to minimize the room for error.

NG: Have there been any other challenges you can think of?

AH: Well, generally speaking, we are growing exponentially in the APAC region and every country has different growing rates and learning curves, so some countries have only had line arrays for three or four years. Just to fly in and do a training is a really big challenge for me because I could have some well-respected engineer in his 50s or 60s come up to me and say that they want to tune the boxes individually, which is not how we think, in regard to the line array theory. So it’s all to do with not taking for granted what they know prior to them coming into our training. It’s adjusting to what they need to know and finding out any incorrect or outdated concepts, or at least concepts that do not necessarily work with our systems, through interacting with them, so I can bring their attention to how we work with ours.

Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson

NG: Do you find that delivering kind of education is any more of a challenge because you’re a woman?

AH: Yes, but only partly. What makes me more cautious is that I am also teaching senior engineers who would have more experience in the field than I do. To be honest, when I’m doing show support or I’m conducting training, I don’t really think about gender because I’m too involved in the technical part of the discussion. Having said that, I always keep in mind to show respect for seniority. And yeah, I think that’s how I get my message across to them. Even though I don’t work for a production company anymore, I still rush to help when some rain hits the venue, and we do the work together and somehow we bond even without thinking. As a whole, everyone I’ve met so far has been very open and supportive and would listen to me. Doing a gig in Vietnam as freelancer and a woman was way harder in comparison. I’m not sure if I could do that anymore [laughs]. Things can be difficult, but I try to build trust by being respectful of everyone.

Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Adamson E Series

NG: And do you have predictions for the future of audio? How is the industry changing?

DD: It’s become a lot more software-based, both on an engineering and application level, and so the user, who also has to be a sound engineer, now has to basically be an IT guy, right? But ultimately, and this is Adamson’s approach here, when you get the foundation right and your speaker system works nicely and you have your Blueprint simulation and your mechanical predictions right, then you actually find you don’t really need to fix things in the mix so much. I am convinced that hardware will still be very important, especially in the high-performance segment. Our unique materials, advanced waveguides, and the fact that our products are being designed from the component level up with a best-in-class density and performance in mind all brought us where we stand today.  But ultimately, it will become a higher level of integration on all levels – electronics, mechanical speaker systems, software, and then audio networks will become more important for sure. So users want this closed system, this turnkey approach, which we are delivering already but we will keep improving and refining the workflow and the seamless integration of components so it becomes a really easy-to-use and failsafe system. On that note, let’s just say you may see some exciting new offerings from Adamson in the near future [smiles].

NG: Do you have any advice that you would give someone coming into the industry as a fresh sound engineer?

AH: When I started working, while I was a student majoring in completely unrelated field, I was very scared of making mistakes. So, don’t be scared of making mistakes. The other thing is to draw a line between taking people’s advice while also knowing what you want – and don’t want – to do in your career. You can only begin to digest and comprehend the advice after you’ve taken on the challenge and the experience, but sometimes, there are people who try to take advantage of you because you’re young, so you have to really read people well and differentiate what kind of advice will be helpful to your growth, and what might hinder you from making advancements. [Laughs] That’s too vague, isn’t it?

DD: That’s the secret of success – to be vague [laughs]! Also, I would say that while it’s good and always recommended to have a strong technical foundation and to know all your tools and all the software, at some point, you have to forget about what you see on the screen and really listen. Trust your feelings about something because if you feel it’s right, it’s most likely that the audience will also enjoy it. And that’s something we can learn from the more senior engineers who made it where they are today without having a formal education: while you should take advantage of what educational facilities have to offer us these days, ultimately, you really need to trust your gut and your experience. At some point, even if the screen tells you that something is wrong, if it sounds right to you, trust your instincts

Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Adamson in Amsterdam
Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Adamson @ CMI Music & Audio
Riding the Rig: The World of Pro-Audio with Adamson
Adamson @ Future Music Festival