John Clark III’s career took a real spike in the mid 1980s. He ditched his dump truck, became a roadie for a string of club bands, and got his first break behind the console after the sound engineer at his local club offered him his white gloves for the night. Now, he is riding the faders and heading up production for renowned US artist, Ciara...
You got the bug from mixing in clubs, but how did you move into the pro tour scene?
I got hooked up with a production group based out of Phoenix, Arizona, working a gig with Kanye West before he made the big time. He liked me, and we worked together for about five years; from there, it kind of went crazy – it was a time when all the work was coming in, and it was a great stepping stone period for me.
You're currently multitasking, which isn't easy for any man to do...! How do you fuse the two roles, FOH engineer, and production manager?
[laughs] Yeah, I’m looking after her, pretty much! I take care of the band, make sure my technical crew have got what they need, and I also interface between the stage manager and our crew, and stuff like that. I’ve been with Ciara for two years now. It’s really about building a great relationship with the artist, as you need a very high degree of trust. She sees me in her dressing room, handing her a microphone, and her in-ear pack, and the next thing you know, I’m saying to her, ‘OK, walk to the stage slowly ‘cos I’ve got to cut through the crowd’, and she just laughs. She finds that funny, this big giant guy running over everybody out there! It does become kind of tedious and difficult sometimes, because if there is a problem on stage, I’m taking care of it, so I have to rely temporarily on the house guy, who might be a company guy, or whoever brought in the PA, to at least make sure all the channels are working, and give me a start, just in case I have to run out at the last minute. That’s when it gets stressful!
What’s going on up there, gear-wise?
We’ve used a variety of headset mics over the last couple of years on Ciara, some of which are better than others, but that type of mic normally works best for her shows. Then we use a Lectrosonics Venue receiver system with the VRT receiver modules, and the SMQV belt pack transmitter. That system is totally rock solid. What’s also very convenient is that the [Lectrosonics] HQ happens to be in my home town, so that’s pretty cool! I’m very happy with the products, as they’re so reliable and easy to use. Also, we have no RF issues, as it’s all in my pelican case with the headset. We also have the HH handheld with the HHC cardioid condenser capsule for Ciara, for when she’s not on her headset.
How do you build a trust with an artist as a production manager?
Well, what happened with Ciara was, in the [backing] track days, there wasn’t really much to do, so there was a lot of time available to take care of what she needed, and to answer her questions - making sure she felt comfortable with her stage setup and the way her gear sounded. Making the production calls was just something else that the team needed me to do at the time, and it organically grew into this engineering, production management type of role. She is always keen to have the same crew with her all of the time - she doesn’t really like fill-ins, so the trust developed over time. Then management made a change, and upgraded me to production manager and FOH.
What kind of venues are you playing?
It’s anything from 1,000-seat venues to large clubs, and we’re playing lots of festivals. Also, we do a bunch of corporate events - about 70% of our work is now corporate, actually. The fact that we are the entertainment for large corporations is what’s taken us overseas. These kind of shows range from 500 to 10,000 people, which is mind boggling to me. Sometimes I’m like, ‘oh, the public’s here’, and they’re all, ‘nope, just the company’. It’s incredible, really, the size of some of these corporate event; it’s more like playing a festival!
Is there one bit of kit that makes your life that bit easier on the road?
[pauses] The wireless stuff. The fact that wireless is now where it needed to be is a great breakthrough. I love the convenience of not having the wires, and that we get the same – perhaps better – sound quality without the wire. I’m now genuinely excited about the future of wireless, and the direction it’s going. Karl [Winkler] showed be a glimpse of some of the digital systems Lectrosonics are currently working on, and it’s amazing. They’re totally on the cutting edge, which is fantastic.