Lance Wascom, CEO of Tour Supply explains how its automated playback system Playback Control, which has already been used by several big-name acts, claims to fill "an otherwise unoccupied industry niche.”
Can you give us a summary of the main concept behind Playback Control?
To create a reliable playback system for touring bands that is extremely stable, simple to use, and is scalable and customisable to any band’s needs. We are able to fill an unoccupied niche that allows any non-programming tech or band member to easily run and maintain a playback system. Furthermore, at Playback Control, we handle everything involved in the rig from top to bottom including hardware (from an authorised dealer), professional installation labour, software and all necessary programming. Playback Control is very much a ‘plug and play’ system.
Where did the idea for it come from?
William “Viggy” Vignola used to be the drum tech for Tommy Lee with Motley Crue, and he would run their playback system. During the show, Viggy would frantically change drumheads, fix the kick pedal, and so forth. He needed a reliable way for the system to run itself so that he could take care of Tommy at the same time. Necessity being the mother of invention, that’s pretty much where the idea comes from. He began building and programming playback systems that were easier to run.
When people found out what Viggy was doing, they wanted him to build their systems. Viggy would then call us at Tour Supply to build the systems and sell to the bands, and he would handle programming and training. About two and a half years ago, we began to build it in-house at Tour Supply, and rebranded the product as “Playback Control.”
Who are you mostly targeting?
Professional touring bands in all genres and levels, from club tours to stadiums.
What are the main audio elements of the system?
MOTU interfaces, Radial SW8 switcher, and two MacBook Pro computers.
In what ways would adding one of these systems to a band’s setup affect the role of the audio engineer and other live sound professionals?
Nowadays, many bands run tracks during live shows. One of the things that engineers love about our system is the fact that we can provide independent control of each output for every song. When you change the output for Channel 3 in Song 1, it will subsequently change the output for that channel for every song after that. This independent control enabled by Playback Control allows the engineer to easily save their console settings for each song, maybe making only minor tweaks from time to time.
Since we are able to fire MIDI commands from our system, we can control the guitar player’s rig or keyboard players’ sounds. Thus, neither the artist nor their tech needs to manually change these patches throughout the show.
Another example of this is timecode. Since we can distribute timecode to various departments (Lighting, FOH, Pyro, etc), those subsystems can be locked and programmed to this timecode thereby reducing their need to manually control every move. For example, the lighting console can be automated for many of the moves throughout the course of the show. The LD may still have independent control over many things they wish to control, but if there are 2,000 cues in an entire show, they can automate what they want. The same thing goes for FOH or Monitors. The console can automatically change ‘scenes’ from song to song.
What sort of feedback have you had from engineers?
All feedback has been extremely positive. Also, as noted above, FOH engineers love the independent control of tracks from song to song.
You say that one option is for bands to adopt a ‘set and forget’ approach, but some might argue that this would leave them at risk of technical issues?
We build redundancy into every area of the system where possible. That’s why we have two identical computers constantly spitting out the same info. If computer A dies, the Radial SW8 detects a drop in tone and automatically goes to computer B.
Similarly, we provide redundancy in other elements of the installation. For example, each system has a locking Neutrik PowerCon input (and related cable) to provide power to the rig. However, inside the rack, we have a quick disconnect (male to female edison connector) between the Power input and the Furman rackmount power supply. Thus, if the customer loses the PowerCon cable, they can simply open the rack and plug directly into the Edison input using any standard power supply.
Just how customisable are these systems, and could you give us some examples of two completely different setups to demonstrate the flexibility?
Playback Control systems are very customisable. The available outputs for audio are typically either eight or 16. Other available add-ons include MIDI output, timecode, DMX, or on-board video. For example, Lenny Kravitz’s system is an eight-output system with no other add-ons. However, Shinedown has a 16-output system with timecode, MIDI control, and a built in drum trigger/sample system in the same rack.
Do you have any notable users already, or tours that it’s already been out on?
We have about 70 systems out there right now. Clients include Imagine Dragons, Kenny Chesney, Lenny Kravitz, Selena Gomez, Disturbed, Shinedown, Motley Crue, Sixx AM, Chicago, Demi Lovato, John Mayer and many more!
You’ve just opened the Nashville showroom, used to demo the system, so what’s next for Playback Control?
We would like to do some more video work for both new and existing clients. Since we can export HD video directly from our systems, this saves our clients on costs by allowing them to consolidate their hardware and personnel to get great video content for their shows. We also wish to continue exploring all available technology to create more cost-effective solutions for smaller bands.