We’re in the midst of the busiest season of the year for those working in live sound. AMI spoke to Marialessia Dell’acqua about how to get the most out of your work, her favourite audio gear and why the FOH engineer is just as big a part of the band as those standing behind the microphone...
What do you do?
I’m a freelance live sound engineer based in London. I work mainly at music events, venues and at festivals. When I’m not working, I love to play drums and spend most of my free time in my studio recording and mixing anyway!
How did you get into the industry?
My interest in music and sound started when I was young – I use to spend hours listening intently to my parents’ records. I’ve always been intrigued about every kind of music device and all sorts of instruments. As a teenager, I learned how to play drums and eventually started performing live and going to recording studios as a session musician. That’s when my interest towards sound became stronger. I decided to spend some time studying in London to deepen my knowledge and a er completing a diploma in live sound I started a residency working in a world music venue. Here I began making links with other engineers and musicians and built a network of contacts.
What have been some of the highlights so far?
Some special memories so far have been working with the legendary drummer Tony Allen, as well as a two-day special event with Sun Ra’s Arkestra and being part of a great crew at Glastonbury 2017, on a stage where we hosted a high-energy performance from King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard.
What was your favourite project and why?
For three years I was responsible for the organisation and running of a main stage at a small festival in the 50 July/August 2018 UK called Cloud Cuckoo Land Festival. Although a lot of work was necessary to make it happen, this was my favourite project because it taught me so many things I didn’t know. From the planning of all the technical aspects to turning a Somerset barn into a stage, every year was a challenge and with the help of a fantastic team in the end, it was always gratifying.
What is your favourite item of audio gear and why?
My headphones! I’m always dealing with noisy environments and I need something that can screen o the external noise and give me an exact and reliable idea of what is coming through the microphones. I have a pair of Sennheiser HD25 IIs and a pair of Focal Spirit Professionals which I are amazing for this. I also have a soft spot for d&b Audiotechnik monitors – they’re my number one choice because they’re both loud and clear and have good feedback rejection.
What are some of the challenges that you face as an FOH engineer?
Every time I’m in a venue or live space I’ve never been in before, understanding its acoustic is fundamental to give value to the music I’m mixing. Lots of people don’t realise that the FOH engineer is not only a technician but also an important part of a band that can really make a di erence. My everyday challenge is to win the trust of the musicians, make them feel comfortable, understand what genre they play so I can bring out the character of their music because we are both working towards the same goal, making a great show.
Who would be your dream band to work with, and why?
My dream show to do FOH at would have been Woodstock in 1969! Only joking – it’s impossible for me to name just one band as there are a lot of
old funk and jazz musicians I would love to work with. I like so many di erent styles of music. There have been many times where I’ve been pleasantly surprised by musicians I have never seen live before. A few names I can think of Kamasi Washington (I love bands with two drummers), Erykah Badu, Portishead, PJ Harvey and some of the bands from the Daptone Records label.
What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do?
Engineers who are innovative like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. Pioneers of modern sound or passionate and creative studio engineers such as Phil Spector, Alan Parsons, Andy Johns, Eddie Kramer and Susan Rogers as well as all the talented musicians that inspire me to do the best job I can.
What’s the best bit of advice can you give anyone trying to break into the industry?
Listen to a lot of music. Train your ears, watch live concerts and be enthusiastic. Try to build your network and be around people who are better than you; get yourself involved on the frontline by asking an engineer if you can shadow them. You might get your first job when they can’t make it. Don’t be discouraged by any bad experience or mistake, it happens to everyone and it’s the only way to learn.