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Sound & Lighting: Hear It, See It, Love It

This write-up of mine was originally published in last year's edition of the official Rifflandia Music Festival magazine. I have a few artist write-ups in THIS year's edition if you wanted to pick one up, but I also figured, ICYMI, we are about 3/4 the way through a busy live music-filled summer and it's important to stop down and recognize the contributions of our Island's hard-working stage crews.

There's nothing like the first moments of a live show. Spotlights illuminate instruments, music fades up and your eyes catch silhouettes of the band walking through darkness to get to the stage. This transition from anticipation to excitement is amplified by booming sounds reverberating from the speaker stacks, the flood of lights and colours, and captivating visuals from LED screens. This is the moment that activates that initial flood of endorphins and sets up the night as one you will remember long after the lights shut off and the stage goes silent. But this moment (and other moments of that show) would not be possible without an incredibly important variable in the live-music equation: the sound and lighting crew.

When it comes to live music production, the sound and lighting technicians are usually the first on site and the last to leave. They are the conductors of the audience's experience, responsible for making the artists sound and look great on stage. Yet, in many cases, they've done their jobs right, you could barely notice them. Their days are often long and their job often thankless. But, among those who know (and work with) them, some of this city's best live-industry pros are commonly known to revel in their work as much as they excel at it.

Photo by Tyson Elder (
Photo taken by Tyson Elder (

"What we do is a social job," says Doug Lyngard, owner and president of DL Sound & Lighting. "We get to work with our friends and see cool events. For doing shows like festivals, it's a pretty cool feeling to see thousands of people just go ballistic."

And, while it's a paying gig, people with Doug's talent and passion for stagecraft are genuinely there because they want to be.

"We have the greatest job in the entire world," says Joe Baker, Manager of the Mary Winspear Centre and seasoned sound technician for Rifflandia. "We put on shows. That's what we do."

While the gig isn't always the most glamorous, it certainly has its rockstar moments.

"I mean, Max from Arkells...he and I sat on a picnic table, ate banana bread and talked about the weather in Ontario," Baker laughs.

But there's so much more to the gig than adjusting EQ knobs, sliding console faders, eating banana break, and flipping light switches. The job of a stage tech is one that requires strong communication skills and a willingness to work under immense amounts of pressure to meet specific timelines.

"They call them markers," explains Lyngard. "You have to make a timeline that's structured.

It's sometimes easier said than done. Often, technical obstacles present themselves during setup and sound check and sometimes the slightest setback creates a whirlwind that could test the patience of even the most level headed.

"I think it has to be within your personality," says Lyngard." You have to realize that if you don't stay calm and get the job done - even if the equipment is falling apart or something's not working - if you get all wound up and start yelling at people, you're not gonna get any further ahead."

That stress can also affect the performers and, in most cases, the onus falls on the technicians to reassure them.

"The biggest part of our job is making the artists feel as comfortable as possible so they don't have to think about anything other than performing," says Baker. "I try to make it as fun as I can. I like to crack a lot of jokes. If you can get them laughing and you can get them comfortable, it really goes a long way."

Photo taken by Tyson Elder (
Photo taken by Tyson Elder (

Coupled with their specific skill set, this kind of care and attention can be easily overlooked. The crew are often tucked away side stage or hidden within the front-of-house tent. And while they deserve endless amounts of recognition, most are fine with not being at the forefront of people's attention. However, what became apparent during the quiet and relatively eventless years of the pandemic was the importance of production companies not being overlooked.

"Before, I didn't really think about it," says Lyngard. "Then the pandemic hit, and I was like, 'Oh hey, now we gotta hustle to get stuff.' Fore example, for grants and funding, we were never on anybody's radar. FACTOR was putting out funding for artists and venues but they weren't including production companies in Canada."

In 2020, Lyngard spearheaded Victoria's participation in the National movement #LightUpLive. On Sept. 22, venues and landmarks in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo, and Campbell River lit up in red to pay homage to the entertainers and crew who bring live events to the Island. #LightUpLive drew awareness to venues and production companies that had no choice but to go dark since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores.

"That was a fight that was worth fighting, because FACTOR wound up creating a program where production companies like my own could get funding and grants," says Lyngard. "Every piece of that puzzle is important. Take Rifflandia for example. All of the artists need hotel rooms; they take the ferries; they'll teat in restaurants and maybe buy something from a store. It's calculated that 10-15 businesses could make money from that one event. So it's a whole big ecosystem, for sure."

It's an ecosystem the sound techs are perfectly happy contributing their expertise to. The stage crew on our island are some of the most pleasant and professional people that concertgoers, artists, and promoters could ever have the pleasure of crossing paths with.

"One of the biggest things you'll find with the Riff crew - and we've had 18-19-hour days: no a bad word ever gets spoken," explains Baker. "There are no fights; there's no complaining. It's just a giant ball of positivity that we work in."

So when you're on the field at Royal Athletic Park or in Electric Avenue (or at an event outside of Rifflandia) and you find yourself near the front-of-house booth or within earshot of one of the stage's crew members, make sure you take a moment to thank them for what they do.

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