Colin Pink: The Show Must Go On

Having worked on both The BRIT Awards and MTV’s European Music Awards, as well as being Hans Zimmer’s FOH engineer, Colin Pink’s sound design has truly been heard all over the world. Here he talks to Headliner about how he started off working in sound, and how he’s adapting to the digital era.

Coming from a musical theatre background, it’s rather curious that sound designer Colin Pink has now become one of the go-to audio people for big live events, not to mention his extensive work with one of the greatest film score composers of all time, Hans Zimmer.

It was all the way back during his school years however that Pink first got into sound, passionate about the technical aspects of theatre and performance from a young age.
After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and working in a few regional theatres, he found himself at The National in London, where he worked his way up to sound supervisor:

“We did quite a few musicals, which is an invaluable experience obviously from a show mixing point of view,” reveals Pink. “There was lots of time spent mixing and playing around with how to make a band sound nice.”

It was here working with 24-piece orchestras that helped Pink to hone his craft. He soon ended up running audio in The Olivia, a 1,200 seat amphitheatre with an interesting acoustic character, and one of The National’s three stages where most of the big musicals are performed. He held this position for around a decade, learning theatre sound design extensively before turning freelance:

“Sound in musical theatre is very complex, simply because you’ve got so many points of reference,” Pink explains. “It’s all about time aligning microphones to be moving around on stage, keeping the image working so that the audience actually believes in the actors.

"I always say if you can see or hear what the microphones are doing on a theatre show, the actors might as well stop acting, because as an audience member you have to believe what’s going on.”

People in my age bracket started with analogue and early on in our careers, things started to go digital.

Due to the amphitheatre shape of The Olivia, it contains around five times as much air volume than the average West End theatre, meaning it behaves very much like a concert hall and subsequently throws up a lot more challenges.

This provided Pink with a steep learning curve, where he really got to grips with the physics and practicality of the space. Adapting to the emerging digital era of consoles however proved to be much less of a system shock for Pink:

“People in my age bracket started with analogue and very quickly and early on in our careers, things started to go digital,” says Pink. “So we’ve evolved with it, which I think in a way helps you understand workflow better than those who have solely used digital.

"The great thing about the early digital boards was the recallability. The National is quite unusual in that it’s got three theatres within it, but each normally has three different shows running, which means that one of your biggest problems is changing from one show to another – reliably – in half a day.

“The concept of being able to have a snapshot recall of every parameter is a brilliant thing, especially in theatre, because each scene can be a completely different style depending on the show,” Pink continues.

“There’s so much jumping around stylistically that it was very hard in the old days to keep up with that. I always remember you spent most of the show resetting the day, as opposed to listening to what you’re actually doing. So suddenly, all of that brain space was freed up.”

It was only after Pink left The National that he started working on more live events using a DiGiCo D5, the first large-format theatre desk that sought to push the boundaries of possibility in audio.

Fortunately, Pink had gained enough experience doing system design effects and FOH in theatre that he was able to flit between the two, and adapt to the sound design side of things quite seamlessly:

“Once I left The National, I did corporate shows and some music shows, and it was quite interesting to get into the bigger rooms. I’m always pushing to try and learn more, but it’s quite nice to keep grounded in the fact that everything you learn is so experienced-based.”