Big House Sound

by Debi Moen
in Regional Slants
The Auditorium Shores stage is a favorite outdoor space for large festival gigs on the banks of Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin.
The Auditorium Shores stage is a favorite outdoor space for large festival gigs on the banks of Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin.

25 Years of Good Vibrations in Austin, Texas

It was a cosmic coincidence. In summer of 1991, just a month before Austin officially proclaimed itself as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” a constellation of club activity was leading to the formation of a sound company that could handle such a stellar declaration.

Today, more than 25 years later, the Austin-born Big House Sound company continues onward, expanding to supply more than audio. They now offer total production services — lighting, video, staging equipment, backline, and of course audio — for live events and installations.

A tour around the company, located on the south side of Austin, is akin to an art museum experience. Enlarged photographs blanket the walls and offices, offering a snapshot of the company’s history through concerts, festivals, houses of worship, corporate gigs, sports events, restaurants and bars.

FRONT of HOUSE visited with Big House Sound to talk about their roots, what’s in the warehouse, and what’s new on the horizon.

‡‡         A Sound Meeting on Sixth Street

Back in the late 1980s, Roy Kircher and Rod Nielsen were both navigating the crowds and clubs on Sixth Street — Austin’s entertainment mecca — handling sound for local bands.

As Roy tells it, “Our paths crossed, we had a couple of beers, and over time, the idea gelled. We got a bank loan in 1991.”

The idea was to join forces, pool their equipment and get better and bigger gigs. Big House Sound officially opened for business on July 25, 1991. And the better, bigger gigs kept on coming.

Says Roy Kircher, “Our first shows were at The Backyard . There we met several acquaintances with whom we still do a lot of business. And we started at Stubb’s when they opened as well.”

Over all those years, Kircher says, “People always want to be entertained, in good or bad times. Business has been steadily increasing over the past 25 years.”

“Our goal has been since day one to have the best equipment and people that are available. We strive to be a company that meets or exceeds any band or client needs,” says Nielsen.

While the club landscape has ebbed and flowed over the years, bigger venues have burst into business to accommodate more touring acts. And with two million people now in Austin’s five-county metropolitan area, along with the tremendous growth of all Texas cities, there are more festivals, more events, and more need for Big House Sound services all across the Lone Star State.

From left, Scot Beeman, director of live events; Bobby Filarowicz, operations manager; Roy Kircher, owner; Zach Richards, director of installations; Rod Nielsen, owner.

‡‡         A Solid Schedule of Shows

Their busy season follows the school year schedule, as they ramp up during mid-August and are solid until New Year’s. When schools resume, the gigs resume through graduations. The 22 full-time employees, counting the owners, get help from a contract pool of 30 to 40 extra staffers during busy times.

“Most shows are one and done,” says Scot Beeman, director of live events. “We tailor the package to the specific event. Gear goes in and goes out super fast. We’ve done up to 14 events in one day. With South By Southwest (SXSW), it’s usually multiple nights.”

Regular gigs include the two-weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the venue, the Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theatre. Other local theaters include the Paramount, Bass Concert Hall and Long Center; plus two area amphitheaters at Stubbs BBQ and the Austin360 at the F1 Circuit of the Americas.

Their large university clientele extends to theaters, departments and social groups at the University of Texas in Austin. Their scope also reaches beyond Austin to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and venues in between, such as the River Ice House in New Braunfels, between Austin and San Antonio.

High profile corporate clients have included Apple, the Walt Disney Company, MTV Networks, Ferrari, Red Bull, Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, and the past five former U.S. presidents, among many others.

Along with a list of top artists, there are also local favorites such as Willie Nelson, Gary Clark Jr., Dixie Chicks, Asleep At The Wheel, ZZ Top and former Austin resident Robert Plant.

While the concentration is in Texas, they do travel out of state at the request of concert tours and clients.

‡‡         What’s New in the Warehouse

Scot Beeman, director of live events, guides us through the warehouse. New equipment is always being considered and purchased, he says.

“We invest in the latest gear,” he says, pointing to an Avid S6L32D console, a new addition to the inventory. “It’s top of the line. We’re always ahead of the curve.”

d&b is one of their primary speaker manufacturers, he says. “It’s the number-one rider requested product. We’re an integration partner with them. I can bring d&b to any show and people say, “great!”

Another new speaker investment — just a few weeks ago — was an Adamson E15 rig. Big House has been working with Adamson since 1991, and Beeman says they are excited about several new projects they have in the works.

Their microphone supply is primarily Shure — all wireless. There’s also many Sennheiser and AKG units. “In every case we match the specifications given for each event, but we put most of our money into Shure. It’s solid and universally acceptable.”

Beeman expects their next big investment will be in the console market, as they wait to see what’s new.

The warehouse is set up for efficiency. Each piece of inventory is bar-coded and scanned for each gig. “We barcode everything. We’ve saved a lot of money over the years, because we know if a mic or some other gear didn’t come back from a specific gig, and we can go look for it at that location,” Beeman notes. “Most of the time we find it.”

The company recently added Adamson’s E15 to its warehouse. From left, Roy Kircher, Bobby Filarowicz, Matt Rilling and Rod Nielsen.

‡‡         Behind Big House’s Success

Reflecting on his 25 years, Kircher attributes their success to several factors: setting the bar higher, investing in new gear and keeping up with technology.

“We are our worst critics,” Kircher says. “We have always tried to improve on every show that goes out the door.”

Most of those improvement efforts involve organization, he notes. “The organization of getting gear to the show is 50 percent of the work,” Kircher says. “That’s a lot of effort and time. The other 50 percent is setting it up. When you do several shows a day, and four to five days a week, what makes it is our great staff. We’re fortunate to have Scot and operations manager Bobby Filarowicz. It takes key people to run this so smoothly. My hat’s off to them!”

“Our integration projects have been expanding over the years and that has helped balance the business,” Rod Nielsen explains. “Zach Richards and his team have had tremendous success in installing beautiful systems in performance halls, churches and even major sports facilities.”

He cites installs such as Rice Stadium in Houston, Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX and the ongoing audio renovations at the 102,000-seat Darrell K Royal Stadium on the University of Texas campus in Austin.

And after 25 years, Kircher still enjoys shows. But he eyes it differently now. “For me, the joy is watching it all get set up,” Kircher explains. “I like the mechanics of putting it in the air; the packaging of the gear and how it all comes together. That’s what holds my interest.”

Nielsen’s interest goes back to the source of Big House Sound, to what drew the two owners together in the first place: music.

“My love of music is what drives me. Nothing beats the match up of a well-produced event with an inspired artist and the energy of the crowd,” Nielsen notes. “When it’s all just clicking and all the people and pieces are in place, it’s a very powerful and moving experience.”

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