Will: I’d like to Welcome Greg Stegal, who’s a wonderful sound engineer here in Austin TX, who I’ve worked with for many years. One of the most notable shows was our Strings Attached Led Zeppelin show. We did three shows. It was packed. I didn’t have to worry about a thing. I was focused on playing the music and entertaining everyone. Greg had everything taken care of to loading in and loading out. Do you remember that show at the church?
Greg: I do. That was a great show! You had a line up of musicians and singers that were just phenomenal.
Will: Thank you. That was back in 2007 when we did that show. How long have you been doing sound in Austin? Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Greg: I have been doing sound professionally in Austin since 1975. I started doing First Stage Audio fulltime with my wife Catherine. We are the two owner operators of First Stage Audio. We have three systems. We go out and do lots of private party, austin cover band shows, all through out the state of Texas. Mostly in the central Texas area around Austin, but we will go anywhere we need to go.
Will: What are some of the bands you work with in the Austin area?
Greg: My primary client at the moment is The Spazmatics. That is one of the busiest calendar bands that I have ever worked with. I also work with Skyrocket. Which I think is where you first met us. I do work with other bands as well. Hotcakes, Suede, and a band out of Dallas called Vegas Stars. We work with then in Austin and San Antonio. We also do the house sound at The Cedar Street Courtyard. And of course, Cedar Street is the A-list premiere, cover band venue in Austin.
Will: Tell me about the day of an event. What things are you thinking about? What you want to make sure goes right, from set up to load out.
Will: So you have three hours before actual folks are in the room, to make sure everything’s in order, and then you’ve got that hour cushion. That’s great. I’ve worked with you on many shows and I’ve noticed you have a lot of compression, you use compression almost on every channel to sort of equal out the sound on almost every channel, which is very rare. Not all sound engineers use compression on every channel. Especially I noticed it really helped the drums sound really full and rich, and helps the vocals come through a loud band.
Greg: Yes, in live music, there’s so much unpredictability that can happen at any moment on a microphone with a performer. Compressors act like a third hand assisting me in that some little peak that would jump way out above everything else, that compressor will clamp down on that and keep it in that nice little pocket that we’re looking for. It’s like when you’re listening to CDs, or your iPod to recorded studio music. Everything is just right where it’s supposed to be in the mix. In the live worlds you have to manhandle the mix to keep them in that same area. A lot of bands that don’t have a soundman out front, and they just run the sound from the stage themselves, those guys are at a disadvantage because they don’t have a set of ears in front of house listening to what the band sounds like to the audience. There could be things going on, that hey are unaware of that’s coming through their PA that is very unpleasant to have to listen to. Feedback of course being the worst. A good soundman is going to’ know how to keep that out of the picture and keep all the other little peeks and things in the pocket of the mix where you’d like everything to be.
Will: As much detail as you want to, of what your systems are, what you have available, how many systems?
Greg: We have two. What I call a standard smaller system and then I have a system that’s bigger. The bigger system would be two stacks per side of the stage. Depending on the act that I'm working for…. Well I’ll give you an example. There’s an outdoor venue north of San Antonio called, Bluebonnet Palace. That easily has the capacity of 2-3000 people, and typically there’s anywhere from 1000-2000 people there when they play there, and this system easily covers all of that. Now my smaller systems, which is what I use probably %95 of the shows that we do, consists of a double 18 cabinet per side, and a mid- high cabinet per side, and I’ll use the Spazmatics as an example, only because that’s who I work with every week. They’re pretty loud rack band, and they can play, or I can do with them and my small system a venue that would have maybe up to 5 or 600 people. Past that, it’s just not really loud at the extreme edges or back of the room.
Will: And you have lights to?
Greg: Well I am not what I would consider a light company, and the lights I have are what I would consider to be minimal but adequate lighting for a local cover band to do a corporate party or a club gig.
Will: ...or a wedding!
Greg: Yes exactly. But as far as a light show, we would contract that out to a professional lighting company.
Will: Are there any considerations, speaking to the wedding audience specifically. I’ve worked with you at Green Pastures. …When you’re dealing with wedding coordinators, what are the considerations when setting up for a wedding?
Greg: I’ve done it for many a year. We always have to work with the client and the venue-catering director, to make sure that everyone’s happy with what we’re going to do there, because we’re usually working in small areas. Like Green Pastures is a very small area. There’s always tables that get right up to the dance floor area, and there’s hardly room to set things. It is an art to figure where you’re going to put the PA, where the mixing console is going to be, ‘cause ideally it needs to be out in front of the PA, somewhere in the audience listening area so that I hear the PA as the audience will hear it, and that is really important to get good sound to the clientele. You just have to work around whatever obstacles are there in the room. I’ve been doing this since 1975, so I’ve had a lot of experience in doing that.
Amanda: Why should a client hire a sound person and a sound company for their event?
Greg: As I said earlier, the big problem with not having a sound engineer out front mixing the band is that, when the musicians are on stage, 1. Their focus is on what they’re doing at the time, which is playing their instruments, or singing. They are not thinking about the entire mix of the whole band. And actually each musician tends to wanna' hear themselves a little louder than everybody else. Because each musician is thinking about that for themselves. So you don’t want a musician on stage mixing themselves on the PA because certain things are going to be louder than others, and it will never sound balanced. And you’ll never have that nice pocket that we talked about earlier of a mix where everything is balanced correctly and you can hear everything, as you would expect to. Like you’re listening to a CD.
Will: You know one thing I remember about our shows is, you’ve been very accommodating in letting us record them. A lot of time we’ll do alive mix. At Green Pastures the wedding client wanted to make a CD of the entire event. From actually the String Quartet playing outside. So you can also amplify the officiate and make sure they’re heard and the vows are heard by the audience and then we went inside to the Green Pastures and you and you’re whole large system in there and we were able to hook up our recording equipment and record the show and that was a really nice addition. So that’s something to that we offer is actually a live recording through Strings Attached working with Greg as a memento to keep a recording of your wedding music and your wedding ceremony. It’s nice to look back over the years.