Nightclub Focus: Twelfth & Porter

by FOH Staff
in Installations
The venue has been part of Nashville’s Gulch district since 1984.
The venue has been part of Nashville’s Gulch district since 1984.

After a One-Year Hiatus, 12th & Porter Returns to Nashville’s Live Music Scene By Thomas S.FriedmanI

n February 2015, when 12th & Porter’s previous owners announced that their storied venue was about to close, the local newspapers went into full obituary mode, lamenting the loss of a venue that helped put artists like Keith Urban, Sugarland and Dierks Bentley into the public eye (and ear).

What they didn’t know at the time was that, after a transfer of ownership, 12th & Porter would return to Nashville’s live music scene better than ever. Along with its new acoustic treatments, the club’s new sound system makes the venue and even brighter spot in Nashville’s Gulch district.

John Mills and Lloyd Smith

‡‡         Death, or Rebirth?

The new owners — Infinity Hospitality Group — had no intention, it turned out, of simply taking a wrecking ball to their new property. Instead, they hoped to burnish the legend of the 300-capacity (standing room only) venue, where a diverse array of acts ranging from Neil Young to Vince Gill, Kings of Leon, Run-DMC, John Prine and Townes Van Zandt have come to perform and, on occasion, record live albums.

Infinity Hospitality Group’s Nathaniel Beaver met with Lloyd Smith, the venue’s technical director, and it soon became apparent that sound quality, so often an afterthought, was a key consideration to address the venue’s existing sound quality issues, with acoustic treatments playing a big role in the investment the new owners were making in the refurbished club’s interior.

This was music to the ears of Lloyd Smith, who had come to 12th & Porter by way of live venues and recording studios in the New York area, where he worked after graduating from the College of Saint Rose in Albany NY. The new acoustic treatments, complemented by a new sound system, would address some audio woes that Smith had noticed with the “inherited” house system.

“Nathaniel had already renovated the club architecturally when he asked me what we should do to fix the sound issues,” says Smith, noting that the existing system had been “over-powered, poorly implemented and generally ill-suited to the room.” As for an integration partner, he added, “my first thought was Morris.”

Smith explains further. “When I first arrived in Nashville, I worked various live gigs and also worked as a salesman and integrator with a large music retailer,” he says. “I met Steve Land from Morris at that time, and he later introduced me to the Morris team. Morris really blew me away. This company is a great collection of professionals from around the industry.”

12th & Porter’s new owners commissioned Morris to install a d&b audiotechnik sound system.

‡‡         Choosing the New System

After meeting Steve Land, Lloyd Smith then met with Morris’ John Mills, who would steer Smith and Infinity Hospitality Group’s Nathaniel Beaver to a new d&b audiotechnik sound system. “As far as I know, no one else in Nashville with a club this size has a d&b audiotechnik system, and definitely not one that sounds so phenomenal,” Smith notes.

Before making his recommendation for a d&b solution, Morris’ John Mills met with Infinity’s Beaver to discuss his ideas for improving the club’s sound. ““When Nathaniel first came to us, he said, very clearly, ‘I want every seat in the house to be the best seat’. I told him that could impact the cost, and he said, ‘Just do it right,’” Mills recalls.

At the same time, however, Lloyd Smith knew that Infinity’s pockets wouldn’t be infinitely deep for a 300-capacity venue. While agreeing that a d&b solution would be desirable — Smith had used a d&b J-Series system before and was impressed — he “had some reservations as to whether we could really afford it.”

Although a full-scale J-Series setup might be a tad much for 12th & Porter’s needs, Mills met with Smith and made some proposals for an alternate d&b setup that would be a better fit with the compact venue and its compact budget.

“We went through them all and eventually came to a point where John [Mills] said, ‘This is absolutely your best option if you’re true to your beliefs.’”

‡‡         Matching Sound to Space

Morris provided a d&b Y-Series line array to cover the floor, then worked in the other areas with fill speakers.

With a specific d&b audiotechnik solution in mind, the next step was to shape it to address the venue’s unique challenges. “The listening area is irregular, so the pre-existing straight left/right system could not effectively cover the entire space,” Mills explains.

“We took a different approach to fulfill Nathaniel’s goal of making every seat in the house the best seat. We used a d&b Y-Series line array specifically to cover the floor, and then worked in the other areas with fill speakers,” Mills adds.

“On the floor, the tighter horizontal dispersion Yi8 cabinets at the top of the array keep energy off the walls to the rear of the listening area, while the wider Yi12 hung below covers the front area of what is a relatively short, wide room,” Mills continues, of the 40-by-50-foot space (WxD).

“The fills were quite complex,” Mills notes. “Because 12th & Porter is a relatively small space, the entire floor area is premium for paying customers, so the regular mix position is on the corner of the balcony. To make it even more difficult, the L-shaped balcony extends toward the stage on one side, just six feet from the Yi line array, yet outside of the field of dispersion.

“To address this, we put up a Y7P as fill; this is a point source variant of the Y-Series which exhibits the same tonal character as the main system. This solution translates well in the space, making it easier to mix from this unique location.

“The rest of the fills, which are d&b 5S and 8S, reach the positions where the array is not visible. Regarding the subwoofers, the initial idea was to do a horizontal array, but the stage could not structurally accommodate this. Instead, we installed four d&b 18S-SUBs each side, which created the low-end weight needed for DJ and EDM acts,” Mills adds.

The 300-capacity standing-room-only space measures about 40 feet wide and 50 feet deep.

‡‡         The Grand Re-Opening

Mills and the Morris team installed the system just before Christmas 2015, and the venue officially re-opened in February, 2016.

“We have been doing shows and events almost non-stop ever since,” Lloyd Smith says. “I must admit, that first time behind the console I was nervous, but truth is, I haven’t touched anything on the system EQ side since that first day. Feedback stability is great; this is a small room and it’s real easy for performers to step right out into the field of the system.

For what is a relatively short, wide room, Yi8 cabinets at the top of the array keep energy off the walls and wider Yi12 elements hung below covers the front area.

“We check for that before the show, and if we have a performer using a wireless mic who likes to work the stage that way John has built me a preset in the d&b R1 Remote control software to alter system performance for that.”

Smith’s before-and-after assessment? “It’s night and day. This is a small room with a basic left/right setup and eight fills around the awkward spaces, yet the coherence is amazing, it blows my mind. It’s so clean, no phase issues at all. John and the guys from Morris did that.”

“The response from performers and their management has been great,” concludes Smith. “The system is most certainly rider friendly, and Morris have done a great job. We’re consistently getting more full houses, and I’m hearing good outcry from the professional world here in Nashville.”

Infinity’s Nathaniel Beaver, who is equally pleased, has the last word. “When 12th & Porter wanted to guarantee having the highest quality sounding room in Nashville, we knew that d&b was where we needed to go to find that product. We not only got what we requested, we got a sound far exceeding our lofty expectations.”

The control setup

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