A large concert is only as good as it’s sound and lighting crew, no matter who’s performing. AMFM Magazine caught up with one of the best, West Coast Sound & Light’s Paul Doty, a sound engineer who doubles as both the tour manager and sound engineer for CIRCA and Yoso, the super bands comprised of Yes and Toto members. West Coast Sound & Light was founded 1986, and is a multi-faceted sound and light production company as well as a major AV installation company. Paul told us about the development of his company, what it’s like to work with legendary musician Billy Sherwood (Yes, Toto, Air Supply, Paul Rodgers, Todd Rundgren – that’s just for starters). Their corporate offices are in Northern California, one hour East of San Francisco in Modesto. Paul, who works closely with his wife Leslie, also told us about how his team makes the largest one day Rock Festival in California ( XFest ) happen.
Tour Manager is a different hat to wear from Sound Engineer, and it’s really the work when you’re out on the road. On the Yoso tour when I finally got to spin the hat around from tour manager to front of house engineer, It was like a little vacation, I just got to go out and relax and enjoy – Paul Doty
AMFM: Tell me about your association with CIRCA
PD: I met Billy Sherwood through Bobby Kimball from Toto. I did a couple of shows in Southern California with CIRCA. Before I knew it, Jay Schellen, who is the drummer for Asia, and at that time was the drummer for CIRCA, was telling Billy “when we go out on the road Paul is coming with us. Period.” Through them I met and got to be good friends with Tony Kaye from Yes, and now that the Yoso project has gone separate ways I remain friends with Bobby Kimball.
CIRCA was founded by four musicians associated with Yes: current Yes member Alan White (drums), former Yes members Tony Kaye (Hammond, keyboards) and Billy Sherwood (bass, vocals), and guitarist Jimmy Haun, who played on the Yes album Union. Yoso is an American rock supergroup spinoff from the group CIRCA with (Billy Sherwood—bass/vocals and Tony Kaye—keyboards) and Toto (Bobby Kimball—vocals)
Yoso Live in Europe, courtesy Paul Doty
AMFM: What is the largest show you have ever done?
PD: If you’re talking about scope of reach it would definitely be the CIRCA 2012 show, we had people represented in about 20 countries that were watching that around the world, which was very surreal. If you’re talking about the amount of people attending a live show we do XFest every year, and that is California’s largest one day festival. We do between three and eight main stages at this thing and there is probably 16,000 to 17,000 people in the audience. In one day my company will service anywhere between 40 and 60 bands, all in one day. So we have a lot of equipment and we rent a lot of equipment for that one day because its mass, we also need mass personnel. I have heard figures at one time where there there’s probably over 100 people hired by the promoter to staff that event.
AMFM: What kind of problems come from a event of that size? Or is it just different every time? What kind of hurdles did you overcome that you didn’t expect?
PD: XFest is all about logistics and when people come out to see an event like that it runs smoothly – this band comes on then that band comes off. People don’t see what goes on but the truth of the matter is we start preparing for XFest at least four to six weeks before the event ever happens. As far as lining up equipment, booking equipment, booking trucks, making sure that the crew is secured and just advancing all those bands. You think about all the bands that are on that bill, you know all those have to be advanced with on the phone so it’s quite an undertaking. Matt Cross, our President of Operations, oversees that event and just does a stellar job with it. He really is one of the best in the business.
AMFM: Tell me a little bit about your business and how it got started
PD: West Coast Sound & Light has been around since ‘86. I had worked for another production company for a number of years. I started off in the industry as a designer, and I built equipment back in the day when we had to build all of our own stuff, you couldn’t readily go down and buy audio equipment. I got hired by a sound company to be their system’s designer and did that for a number of years and then started my own sound company.
AMFM: You have gotten pretty big, and I was wondering if there was a gradual process to that or did you jump into it? How did that go?
PD: It was a gradual process. We started off through the 90’s – I think was the start of our growth years. We picked up more and more national acts. Then at the turn of the century we started to growing early into the touring industry and we expanded into installations. A sound and light production company is all about survival so we became anything to make a buck.
AMFM: Do you have any connections with any sound and lighting people here in Austin?
PD: I do, the guy that ran my southern California office, up until two years ago we had a northern and a southern California office. Tim Nesbit was an old Showco engineer, which was out of Texas, who went to work for me down in southern California. He passed away last year. And I have a lot of connections with people in Texas through Showco and through him.
AMFM: What are some of the obstacles that you had to face now that we are going into the digital age? I know that you are streaming live, and for pay, a CIRCA show. Was that your first one or have you done that before?
CIRCA 2012 SHOW
PD: That was a live pay per view. I was thinking about it the same time Billy Sherwood was thinking about it. It is kind of funny how the whole thing came into being. He gave me a Skype call one day and he said “You know me and Tony Kaye did this thing in Japan and they put it on Skype. We came off stage and found out with hardly anybody knowing about it we had like 2,000 people watching. You have a production company and we have a band, why don’t we see if we can put something together?” From the time we initially discussed it to the time where we broadcast a concert literally around the globe was probably two months total. We had learned the technology in that time and had been able to do it. But it was big undertaking.
AMFM: So you built the infrastructure around that show, and are you still doing that?
PD: Yes we are, right now we are in the middle of our busy summer season. So there really no time for that type of production, nor is it the time of the year where we need to create work. It is something that will probably kick back in and take us through winter months. That is probably where we are going to go with that, but we are still developing the technology. To the best of my knowledge we are the only ones talking about doing it the way we’re doing it. There are a lot of complex things that have to come together and we just happened to be in a position where all of those planets align, sort of speak.
AMFM: Then you are very lucky then, i know that there are a lot of people out there that are doing live streaming but it’s free, it’s not pay per view. So you guys are ahead of the curve – everyone is trying to come up with business models on the internet that actually payinstead of just giving stuff away. So i commend you for that, that is awesome. You guys have grown from just lighting and stage to everything, you’re on the cutting edge.
PD: Well we try to be. Today, if you are not moving forward and you are not creating the next thing to come down the pike you are losing ground so you just can’t stay stagnant anymore. I think those days are over.
AMFM: What do you see for the future for your company?
PD: We decided a number of years ago that we were going to put a big effort into New Media and we started moving in that direction. we have always been ahead of the curve a little bit where those things are concerned. For instance when we first put our website together, i think it was ‘95, which doesn’t seem like a long time ago but at that time in 1995 if you went on, at that time Yahoo was the big search engine not Google, and you went on and Yahoo-ed something simple like ‘sound company’, or ‘sound production’ the amount of companies that came up was zero. There just weren’t any on the web. And we thought that in the future that business was going to be done on the web and that we needed a website. So we started to put together a website and we got laughed at, what would a sound company need a website for? And today if you Google ‘sound company’ or whatever you get a myriad of things that come up. We started to lookat new media and four years ago we got our feet wet with a podcast and started to do an audio related podcast called the Audpod. And once again people were like, ‘Why are you doing that? It seems like a waste of time, what is going to amount to podcasting and Itunes and all this stuff…’. Well four years of that basically taught us how to do it and be that far ahead of the curve and now this year we are launching two brand new podcasts. We just launched one with Roman Guzman who is a local radio personality in Northern California that features Celtic music, World music, and Progressive Rock music. Right out of the shoot it is doing better than the Audpod ever did and at the peak of the Audpod we had about 10,000 subscribers.
In the fall we are going to release what we think will have critical mass and that is a show called Icon. The premise of the show is we take iconic albums from our life time and we talk to the people who were there when the albums were made and we get the behind the scene stories, stories that people haven’t heard before, whether it’s Frampton Comes Alive or Jimmy Hendrix, Are You Experienced, to name a few.
AMFM: That’s really cool it’s like a story of the road kind of thing but a story of the studio.
PD: We are hoping that it will have a very wide appeal to anybody who likes music on itunes and will give us a vehicle to move forward and develop that media even more.
AMFM: So are you planning on putting that up on itunes and monetizing that?
PD: No! It’s going to be free. The reason we are doing that and how that works into a business plan is No. 1; the Audpod put our name out there in front of a lot of people and people began to know us from that so it’s a recognition thing. Icon will take that to a new level, it will have a wider appeal with that. Plus it’s kind of weird, the networking that happens when you do a show like that, by the very nature you’re talking to recording engineers, recording producers, artists, and when you’re talking with them on Skype you’re like ‘Oh! you know this person?’, ‘Yeah, i know this person. I went out and toured with this person.’ Networking is really how I think businesses move forward.
Paul Doty, CEO
Leslie Doty, CFO
Matt Cross, President of Operations