Behind the Board: Al Vickaryous
May 28, 2021
About me: In 1970 I was 14 years old, in Grade 9 and played in a local dance band. The local booking agency required bands to audition for them in order to be booked so after that audition we played as many as 2 or 3 one-night dances per week all over the province. Every job was legally contracted with an AFM agreement, I had a Union Card. I played and made my living as a full-time musician till 1985, performing mostly in western Canada. At this time canned music and DJs were being considered as a more affordable option than live acts to the venues. Band rates were going down as some bands were offering to play for the door and contracts were on the way out. Time to rethink my future. I was lucky, when I returned to Saskatoon, I got a position with a local blues band that played regularly, so I had some income. Usually when a band splits up there are one or two people from the band that end up with the gear and the debt, that was me. A few local bands asked if I would consider renting it for their use. I found a local technician that I hired to be the system tech and with that, a little service started.
In 1987, Barndog was incorporated as a business.
The goal was to build a company that would offer production services which would include products and technicians. Over the last 35 years we have slowly expanded our offerings and experience to many different customer requests and event challenges. We have been fortunate to grow relationships with many events, organizers and entertainers. Our job was to put it all together. As a company we are focused on service, that means everyone is important and everyone gets our attention.
Mixing isn’t a given for us. Our responsibilities are to ensure that the acts have what they need and that it is working like they expect. A lot of acts travel with a crew and I think of them as an extension of the band, they know what they need and why. The reality is that these are the people that usually get all the time and considerations. The norm for us is to get the stage 40 minutes before the MC walks on stage and believe me this is when you find out how organized you are. Before this time comes hopefully, we are looking at an up-to-date stage plot and have decided how things will patch and if there is a tech. The trick is, the acts that have had the luxury of a soundcheck are positioned and cabled and this must be respected. So, tools like rolling risers, disconnects, soft patching, digital consoles and extra everything is important. It is not out of the ordinary for us to have over a hundred microphones and direct boxes at a show to have what we need in the moment. I think we are pretty good at this. You have to be musical and know how to adapt to different genres very quickly. This could be heavy metal with a wall of Marshalls to symphony players that are sensitive to the conditions. I’m very used to working fast and our staff is very efficient, starting on time with a confident band is important. The way we try to get in front of this is to have a festival patch. The patch gives you a generic plan to configure the inputs to something workable. God Bless digital consoles!
If I’m mixing, I want the band to come out as honest as possible. Instruments all have fundamental dominant frequencies, hi and low pass filters, EQ cuts, vocals and solos should be front and centre. Two reverbs and a tap delay – lets go. Unless something is obvious, I’d prefer not to take artistic freedoms.
Venues: Small podiums announcements to larger venues up to 10,000.
Favourite show you’ve ever mixed: It's never me, it has always been the source. 3 times that I was in the best seat in the house at front of house:
1. Jerry Doucette @ Sasktel Centre / warming up for Lynyrd Skynyrd
2. Bros Landreth @ Rockin the fields Of Minnedosa – I had no idea who the band was before they started playing. Great bands just make it happen.
3. Jeans ‘N Classic with the Saskatoon symphony @ Under the Stars – 76 Inputs
Covid 19 – March 14th / 2020, the industry shuts down, March 19th staff is laid off and the doors are closed to the public. Yikes!! Now what?
For anyone that has started a business, put your all into it, and then find out that the business must close because your service is classed as non-essential, well my heart goes out to you, Scary times. I never stopped going to work daily, and walking into a building with no activity is a drag. Although it's Covid induced, it’s hard to stay positive. But there is an upside. After a few months of looking at the situation with no schedule or deadlines I was able to focus on how things can be improved, so we have taken advantage of some options. I have some of the staff back and are now making changes that we never had a chance to do before. I’m cautiously optimistic on when and what the industry will look like, when or if things will go back to a pre-Covid normal. Till then we are answering the phone and providing what is possible.
Advice for new or emerging artists: Listen, stay open minded, ask questions. Share with others. Be respectful. The industry has challenges like any business but when the magic happens there is no better place to be.
Advice for established and/or touring artists: Please call!
Favourite piece of gear: Shure SM58 cartridge - Haha bet you didn’t see that coming.
Dream gig: Outdoor event, nice weather, Gear working like it should, band in the groove.
Music is a big part of my life and it still is. Business or at home there is always music.
The entertainment business has been my only source of income for my entire life. I’m proud of that. Be positive, enjoy life, stay well.