Bruce Reiter, Sound Engineer and Production Manager (R. O. C. U.)
By Liam Klenk
Bruce Reiter is a sound engineer who also works as a tour manager and production manager. For the last eleven years he has worked for the Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch. Bruce shares his experiences in an industry he loves with us. He speaks about staying healthy on tour. About the importance of kindness in the music industry. About how we can learn from each other. And about how we have a responsibility to speak up if we see or hear things which are discriminating. Stand up for each other.
Here is Bruce Reiter in his own words:
Since 2010, I’ve worked for the Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch.
It’s been a wonderful experience. I met them on their first tour. At the time, I mixed for another band called Dragon Force. Five Finger was opening up and that’s how I met them.
With Five Finger I usually work 6 months a year, then I have 6 months off. So, in the beginning of this pandemic, it didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary. Working a few months from home was normal. However, after a while, I began to feel the shutdown, too.
Since 2000, we live in our home in Atlanta, Georgia. When I’m off tour, we spend a lot of time traveling. My wife and I love to go to Chicago. To visit museums and art galleries.
I love going to shows. We go to concerts on our own time, too. We actually buy our tickets. Because we don’t want to rely on guest lists and stuff. There is this band called The Greyhoundswhich we love. We buy their records, vinyl, etc.
The last bit of traveling I did before lockdown was when I went out to Las Vegas after we had two tours cancelled, to tear down the audio gear and send it back to the audio company. I’ve been home ever since.
Thankfully, I’ve found some studio work to do. I have the good fortune of having an Avid S6L mixing console with a Protools system at home.
I spend a lot of time practicing mixing the Five Finger Death Punch show and experimenting with new mixing methods to improve the sound of the live show using what is referred to as virtual sound check.
When it came to live sound, up until the early 2000s, you’d just mix the show and it was good or bad. Then you moved on to the next gig.
Then we went digital and they came up with virtual sound check. I am using pro tools to play back the show through a mixing console and choose all the sounds, the effects processing, and the vibe of the band.
Having that ability to do a virtual sound check changed the way live sound engineers work. The lines between live sound and studio sound are blurring.
Virtual sound check translates perfectly to an actual concert. It’s very important to have a good systems technician who understands how to deploy the speaker system in the most balanced way. So that every seat gets an equal volume level.
A lot of people are experimenting with immersive sound systems now. Most concerts will have a stereo sound system and fill for the sides and rear of the arena. For the seats in the bad sections.
I personally have not used immersive sound systems yet, but I’m following the technology. It’s important to always keep up with the latest and greatest.
You can still use your older equipment. But at some point you’ll be faced with having to use the latest equipment. Then, if you can just do it with no fuss, it’ll be easier for you to keep your job than for others who haven’t kept up with technology.
We used to have mentors. You’d find whoever was the best and available to you. They’d teach you what they knew. Eventually, you’d need more knowledge, and you’d find someone else. You just kept on learning like that with people teaching you through experience.
Nowadays, a young person can go to school and mix a band at school. And there is a lot of educational material available on YouTube.
Finding jobs in the music industry is a challenge. Everyone asks how to get in.
I think the best way for engineers, technicians, lighting techs, sound guitar techs, etc. is to start off at local clubs. Go there. Volunteer. Do whatever they can. Get their face known. Basically, just keep on meeting people and build relationships.
One of the most important things: It is very important for people to be kind in this industry.
Especially in the 80ies and 90ies when I just started out, a lot of touring people and band people were quite arrogant and unhelpful towards those wanting to learn. It was really uncomfortable. People would make it so difficult to get a foot on the ground.
Now it’s a different environment. We go on tour and we make sure that the bands get everything they need to do their show… lighting and staging, the time, the equipment… all they need.
We’ll make sure the opening bands have communicated with the audio companies to have all their details sorted out as well.
We’re just helpful to people on tour. We don’t make them wait. We’re punctual.
A lot of the time, we’re in intense situations. We work twelve to eighteen hours per day. Then, afterwards, we get on the same tour bus together. Everyone is tired and pissed off. You have to let go of animosities which may happen then. When you see other people being tense, help them relax. Help diffuse situations.
Everyone should be a leader to a certain extent. Whether they are in the lowest or highest positions. They should just help foster a kind environment.
For example, I remember twenty years ago, a situation when a sound technician sand-bagged me during sound check. He only allowed me six channels, no effects channels. I found myself in a no-win situation because the sound wouldn’t be good no matter what I did.
Twenty years later, I saw him again. I remembered him immediately. I showed him the console, helped him set up. And told him he could use my equipment. I was as nice to him as I am with everyone.
He didn’t recall our first meeting twenty years earlier when he was the headliner and I wasn’t. He didn’t remember how unnecessarily harsh he had been.
It’s a small business. If you are an asshole, you’ll have limited opportunities. Because people just don’t want to be around that. That goes for any kind of backstage environment, be it theatre, concerts, or tours.
Asking questions of experts is important. Every tour I’ve been on I seek out an expert, just shadow them and see how they get their results. I take on whatever is useful for me to make my skillset stronger.
Sometimes it’s the opening band that’s just a beginner or sometimes it’s a seasoned professional from whom I can learn something.