Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s up-and-coming audio engineers continues with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.
This week we speak to Nat Walker, production manager and in-house engineer for The Bedford, an historic live music venue in Balham, UK, which once hosted early gigs for the likes of U2 and The Clash.
Where did you study?
I studied a Technical Theatre BA (Hons) at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. It covers everything from set construction to scenic painting in the first couple of terms, and then you choose a major and minor discipline to study. I focused on sound, with lighting as a minor. Lighting might be the ‘dark side’, but a working knowledge of rigging and power has always been a useful skill to have.
Where are you based?
I am currently production manager at The Bedford, a multi-room music venue in Balham, South London. It’s primarily an acoustic, singer-songwriter venue, with a real focus on quality – it’s one of the only venues I’ve ever worked in or even been to where the audiences are always respectful, attentive and silent during the performances.
What made you decide to pursue a career in audio?
I actually applied and was accepted for an English Literature degree at Royal Holloway, but declined the offer when I realised I wanted to study sound. I was spending all my free time in venues, working on local shows, hustling for work experience - I’d realised at even that level that nothing was going to compare to the live environment, the buzz of an audience, feeling like you’re part of something. It sounds like a cliché, but by that point I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the venue, we have four or five shows a week to manage, the majority of which I will be the engineer for too. We also have a sister venue in Hammersmith which I look after, and our yearly FolkFest is coming up in July, so we’re planning for that. Outside of the venue, I mainly work in events – launches, weddings, AGMs – installing and operating audio systems. And on top of that, I’m FOH engineer for a couple of new artists on small tours and headline shows. It’s nice to keep things mixed up, as different venues and new systems keep me learning.
Which console are you currently using?
At The Bedford we have a 64-channel Soundcraft Si3. For other events, I usually use a Yamaha LS9 as it’s light, affordable, and really easy to use. Where budget’s more of an issue, I’ve recently discovered the PreSonus StudioLive is a really functional little desk.
What do you like most about this console?
We are lucky enough here to be supported by Harman, which owns Soundcraft, so having the Si3 in a smallish venue like this is a real treat. One of the positives of the desk for me is that it doesn’t lean as heavily on the touchscreen element, as I’ve found a lot of digital desks can. It’s quick and easy to use and the global/channel mode option means any engineer can pick it up easily, whatever desk or layout they’re used to. The Lexicon effects are really nice too.
What challenges do you regularly face working at a venue like The Bedford?
The Bedford is nearly 200 years old now, so the main challenge is keeping it standing up! Joking aside, it’s one of the least difficult venues to work at, with a beautiful natural sound and quality gear. One challenge for myself and the other engineers is keeping the musicians at a nice level on stage – this can be difficult if they’re used to other venues where they need to crank their amps up or really force their voices to be heard – but they always trust us in the end.
What is your favourite ever piece of audio equipment?
I think for pure originality it would be the Placid Audio Copperphone, which is a vintage-style dynamic microphone with very limited frequency response (200Hz – 3kHz) that gives it this really nostalgic ‘other end of the telephone’ tone. It sounds killer as a second vocal mic in a live setting, and has a great effect on guitar amps too. What I like most about it is the way it makes you experiment on everything and anything that makes a sound. It’s a microphone that makes you want to play with it.
What theatre/venue would you most like to work in and why?
I love old venues with huge stages and high ceilings. I think the Royal Albert Hall is the most incredible venue. I read a quote that when it was first built, the acoustics were so bad people said it was the only venue where you heard everything twice. But now it looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. That would be the top for me.
To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Pro International editor Adam Savage on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)1992 535646.
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