When attending a concert, people may not realize the many people working behind the scenes to make this experience special to all in attendance. In addition to the band, a concert is maintained by an extensive crew that includes stagehands, sound engineers, lighting engineers and many other individuals working long hours to bring live music to the masses.
The COVID-19 outbreak has forced a number of production companies and freelance contractors who specialize in live events into desolate times. Even though the current situation for live music production is bleak, two local production entities are maintaining an optimistic view for the future while keeping a watchful eye on the numerous freelancers whom they employ.
For decades, Sound Associates Inc., has been a prominent figure in local concert production. This company has helped sonically accent events such as BayFest, Ten65, Downtown Cajun Cook-Off, Greater Gulf State Fair and many more. Sound Associates is also the production provider for the Wind Creek casinos in Atmore and Wetumpka.
Two weeks ago, Assistant Manager Chuck Johnson said it became apparent COVID-19 would be clearing Sound Associates’ calendar. In no time, Sound Associates watched as the Cajun Cook-Off, Spring Fling and several Easter events disappeared from the company’s schedule. Johnson says the company has “weathered storms” like the COVID-19 crisis in the past. However, Johnson says Sound Associates’ future is not his main concern.
“We’re most concerned about people who may not work directly for us,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the industry is on pause. We have a lot of technicians and stagehands who can’t do what they normally do. Sometimes things happen regionally, like a hurricane or a large festival cancels. People are able to go to another region and work. In this case, you can’t do that. People are on hold.”
For now, Johnson says Sound Associates will be staying in contact with various companies and vendors while taking care of longtime employees. Johnson describes Sound Associates as being “built to last.”
He has no doubt that Sound Associates will be active after the COVID-19 crisis. Until then, Johnson wants to keep a high morale flowing through the company and beyond, while also making sure people are staying healthy and safe. As far as goals for the future go, Johnson believes the amount of live music experiences and celebrations after the COVID-19 pandemic will keep things busy for Sound Associates and other local production companies, as well.
“When this is over, we’re probably going to have a rush of events with people making up postponed dates and fundraisers,” Johnson explained. “Sound Associates and the other live production vendors in the area will be helping each other when it’s over.”
Smaller live music production companies are also being mindful of the present situation while focusing on the future. Albert Robinson is the sole proprietor/operator of Henhouse Productions. Henhouse Productions helped Flora-Bama put its first major stage on the beach. In the past, Robinson and his crew of freelancers have brought sound to the Festival of Art in Orange Beach as well as the SouthSounds Music Festival. Henhouse Productions has also assisted Brickyard Dauphin Street and the Saenger Theatre in their live sound endeavors.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Robinson says Henhouse Productions was preparing for a busy spring filled with live music events, corporate events and weddings. Robinson was also in the midst of two major business decisions when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
“I wished that I hadn’t spent money on new equipment,” Robinson said. “However, I was very thankful that I had decided not to move into a new storage unit warehouse. The new unit would’ve been more expensive, which wasn’t a problem until the jobs went away.”
Even though he is not behind the soundboard, Robinson says he has been staying busy with “menial jobs” around his warehouse. He says his days are filled with chores such as cleaning his warehouse, testing equipment, repairing equipment and building shelves.
As the sole proprietor of Henhouse Productions, Robinson says he is still spending money employing freelance production workers to help him in these tasks. He has the utmost sympathy for the current financial state of these independent contractors and wants to help them in any way that he can.
“Those guys (freelancers) are hurting,” Robinson said. “Most stagehands are freelance/contract laborers. They get a 1099 at the end of the year. I’m trying to keep a couple of guys with me for little stuff around the shop, but I really feel for those guys. We both take the good and the bad, but this is pretty bad.”
Robinson shares the same outlook for the future as Johnson. Once quarantine life disappears, he feels his schedule will be filled with a number of events that will require his services. Robinson also added he will be working with local businesses that hope to evolve into live music venues. Ultimately, Robinson predicts work for local production crews might be overwhelming after the departure of COVID-19.
“I have the feeling that we will be busy with a vengeance,” Robinson said. “A lot of people who have had to postpone or cancel events will try to get back into business when this is over. I think we’ll be busier than we’re expecting to be. I think there might be more than we can handle. I might even lose work, because of how busy it will be.”
Until live music returns to the Azalea City, the local production scene will be moving into the virtual world in a more condensed form. Since venues were forced to close, social media has been filled with live-streaming musical performances. While some performances are DIY experiences provided by the artists, other performances have featured high-level sound and video production from professionals looking to establish their place in the local scene. With this in mind, Mobile may be adding to its live production scene after COVID-19 is a distant memory.
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