Making music happen: Duluth tech specialists help musicians on stages near and far

Anyone who's ever gone to a concert of any size knows that, while the main attraction will always be the musicians on stage, those musicians also clearly depend on skilled technicians and crew members to help them be all that they can be.

Gary Meader /
Gary Meader /

Anyone who's ever gone to a concert of any size knows that, while the main attraction will always be the musicians on stage, those musicians also clearly depend on skilled technicians and crew members to help them be all that they can be.

But who are these folks? What leads a person to a career in a field like that? There are many locals who have worked for years to help put on shows large, small and everything in between.

Jake Larson is an engineer and musician who spent years in the trenches of local clubs before pulling away from regularly doing live sound to focus more on his recording work. He went to Music Tech in Minneapolis to learn about studio and live engineering, which eventually led him into a decade's worth of jobs doing sound at the NorShor, R.T. Quinlan's and Pizza Luce. Larson said that his path isn't necessarily the one a person interested in getting into mixing live sound has to take, but it worked for him.

"You can certainly go to school for it," Larson said. "I did, and I think it gave me a really great base knowledge to start from. A lot of it is trial and error and experience, but without knowing the basics, it'll be tough. There's a certain amount of electronics and acoustics you're going to need to know, and how the signal flows through a system. That's stuff best learned in a book or classroom."


Jake Larson

"That being said," Larson said, "there's no reason you can't just start doing it and end up being a sound-engineer legend. Mostly, what you need is an insatiable thirst for experience and an ability to fail over and over and not get discouraged. It takes loads of experience to be able to quickly troubleshoot problems. A crackle can come from a dozen places," he said.

Often, local engineers who are diligent about always getting better at their craft will find that larger opportunities will come to them through bands or companies they've done work for.

"It's very possible to make the jump from bar gigs to touring," Larson said. "Sometimes, (a) person will get an opportunity to hit the road with a band they've worked with locally for years that decides to make a go of it. I've had a few opportunities to do that, myself, and I learned that I dislike touring. It's very hard on your relationships, being gone nearly all the time."

"Another way to be a touring sound engineer is to work for a sound company," Larson said. "They'll send you all over the place in trucks with giant PA's, and you'll work harder than anyone else. It's extremely demanding, physically and mentally. You have to be there long before anyone else, and you leave long after the after-parties are over, only to do it again the next day. I have huge respect for people that do that."

One such person is Trent Edgerton, lead production specialist for Sound Central Production Services, the West Duluth-based company that is a part of The Hub for Event Logistics, a relatively new umbrella enterprise that calls itself a "one-stop shop" with a "full suite of technical and creative services." Edgerton co-founded his company more than 15 years ago, and it has grown into an operation that is capable of covering every aspect of a concert's production, from instrument rentals to staging to lighting and more. The company regularly makes huge, arena-size shows happen all over the Midwest, and Sound Central works with each act to meet their individual needs.

"Some bands travel with nothing," Edgerton said. "A lot of these artists have fly dates." This means that, instead of showing up at a gig with a trailer full of gear, the artists just fly into town and use rented items. In addition, some acts will bring road crew with them, and others will not. "Then, it's up to our best judgment - we think we know this style of music, or how they want this."

Usually, Edgerton said, the vast majority of the musicians his company works with will bring a front-of-house engineer with them. But he often is asked to supply techs and crew members, and he said that Sound Central is set up for any situation.


"As far as the technical side of operating something, or the equipment that's needed - every one of those holes, we can fill," Edgerton said. "We can run it all for them." He noted, too, that Sound Central can help people looking to put on a larger event - but who might not know how - cover all their bases, even down to where the garbage cans or porta-potties might be.

Edgerton estimates that his company is involved in "99 percent" of concerts in the area in one way or another, but it doesn't mean he's resting on his laurels as a result.

Trent Edgerton

"You want everything to be perfect," he said. "One hundred fifty miles away, there are 20 companies our size that can come up here and do the job. You have to stay on the ball."

In the end, it's about putting on a great show that brings joy to people. And that's a noble goal. Whether it's a bar band playing covers on a tiny stage or an international superstar playing at Amsoil, local people are there at every level, making it all happen.

If you go

You'll have plenty of opportunities to see music crews at work during the Homegrown Music Festival, April 29-May 6 in Duluth and Superior. Read more about the local music scene in DNT Extra, a special supplement to the News Tribune on Sunday, April 29.

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