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Interview with Front of House Engineer Joseph Hellow (Post Malone)
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Interview with Front of House Engineer Joseph Hellow (Post Malone)

Following the success of his sophmore album ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’, Post Malone has been on a worldwide arena tour. His touring company Posty Co. have been putting on a spectacular show, with truly stunning sound to accompany it. Front of house sound is the responsibility of engineer Joseph Hellow, who has been with the Posty crew for approximately a year now. We caught up with Joe to find out how Symphony I/O Soundgrid helps them to achieve studio-quality sound on stage.

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So we’re here with Joe, Hello Joe!

Yes, Joe Hellow, hello Joe Hellow! But with a ‘W’, I spell my name with a ‘W’.

Where did your career begin for you?

My father George Hellow started me in the business. I am a second err, what do you call it?... second generation sound man! I learnt a lot of the history of sound through my father growing up. He started one of the first A-level studios in Canada, Polaris Recording Studios in Windsor, Ontario in 1970. That’s where I got my foundation for music and sound.

After that he was the president of IATSE, and my local was local 580. He brought me in when I was 15. I was one of the young bucks that everyone trained because of who my Dad was. I got s**t on a little bit, they were hard on me, but really that old school mentality of working in concerts, and ya know the brotherhood / sisterhood was inflicted onto me at a young age, which was great.

I would say that my big start was working some of these Broadway shows. So I went from doing local off-broadway stuff to doing professional grade Broadway shows, and touring. I used to be able to memorise the show, and basically go off comms and run the whole show and all the lavs perfectly, make a couple of notes and just rock and roll.

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What was it that attracted you to live sound, as opposed to working in a studio?

A lot of people stay in the studio. I really love the live show because when the show is done, it’s over. There’s no remixing and going back over it. Once its done its done, so you work your butt off and you make it the best you can and I love that about it, and so I fell in love with that.

Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with in the past?

I worked for a production company so I did sound for a lot of people who didn’t carry sound engineers and that’s where I got my roots. Big Sean for a couple of years, couple of one offs with Bryson Tiller in & out of that camp for me.

It’s been a ride ever since because he’s an amazing person to work for. Very human, very passionate, someone that I want to go the distance for, go the extra mile for.

How did you come to work sound for Post Malone?

I’ve been working with Post Malone for about a year now, right before Coachella of last year. How I got started with him? Basically, I did one show in the summer where he didn’t have an engineer and he performed the crap out of the show at this festival. He was such high energy and I said to myself this is someone that I want to work for.

I put it on a Google Doc, he was top of the list. So a couple of months before Coachella and I said ‘which artists do I want to try to get in with and work for’ and he was on the top of that list. All of a sudden a got a call out of the blue from Dennis Danneels, who’s the production manager who I’ve worked with for a lot of shows, and that was that, it was history.

It happened and it’s been a ride ever since because he’s an amazing person to work for. Very human, very passionate, someone that i want to go the distance for, go the extra mile for, you know. That’s important cos if you’re not excited about each show, then I feel like there’s no point being here, you know. I’m anxious before every show. So that’s kinda how we met and how this manifested altogether out of luck or what have you.

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What a difference in sound, what a difference in clarity, what a difference in conversion, jitter, it’s magical. I noticed a night and day difference

What’s your setup for the tour and how does Symphony I/O MkII Soundgrid integrate into it?

I’m using the DiGiCo SD10. I noticed there was a little brittleness on the conversion going from different impedance, and going mic level when it should be line and using XLRs and having the desk convert it. Nothing against the DiGiCo, it’s just the way it is. I have to have my rack gear, I would try for an SD7 which you could change to line but I couldn’t get it every show.

I talked to Carl [Himmelman] from Apogee and I fell in love with the company. I talked to those guys on the phone and they were very responsive. He explained to me how it works and I’m like okay that makes sense. I’m gonna try it before 2019 so i can tour with it. It was very easy to understand.

Very simple setup but oh my goodness what a difference! What a difference in sound, what a difference in clarity, what a difference in conversion, jitter, it’s magical. I noticed a night and day difference between the old school way I was doing to the new school beautiful way of doing it. So yeah, it’s just magical.

What would you say is your favourite feature on the Symphony?

The Soft Limiters that are in each channel - I love them, just in case. Even though I’ve clipped them, they’ve sounded cool anyways. With the desk I’m running 96khz and this can keep up with it at 96k stable, and soft limiters for Joe, guys like me who like to SEND IT!

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How does this all tie together with Waves SoundGrid?

So in order to get this into the network of the DiGiCo, I have to download the driver, go to SoundGrid inventory, I have to select the Symphony as Device 2. Normally you would have Device 1 as the DiGiCo SD and the Multirack, so those go together. I use the clock from the DiGiCo and then alls I have to do is go to SoundGrid connections and create a Soundgrid connection. You can use 64 channels with those ethernet lines, I’m using 8 for Symphony and the rest are 1-56 of Waves plugins that I can potentially use. I’ve got 2 extreme servers and they’re really cool… I like them a lot… And once you do that your done - your going ethernet into the switch that’s connected to the desk and then the computer and your locked in.

If anything were to go wrong or fail at a show, do you have a backup?

I have some fail safes built in. The Symphony has never ever had an issue, but if the power gets cut or if something happens with that ethernet line or something gets messed up I have a button on my desk that deactivates everything that I’m using besides the desk, and puts some dynamics in there. It doesn’t do the same job obviously because that’s why we use this gear. Volume-wise we won’t know a difference but I’ll just hear depth being lost.

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It’s important when tuning a room to not ‘tuna fish.’ That’s all I’ve got to say on that. You can’t go crazy with trying to tune a room, you have to trust your instincts.

What’s your method for Soundchecking different arenas?

I record every show and I play it back so the artist doesn’t have to show up for soundchecks, we do it for him because he’s a busy guy. I’ll play him through my speakers the night before, and then i’ll play it through the PA and tune the room accordingly.

I see the room as a speaker box. I grew up watching my dad tune speakers. I even started a small little thing with him at the studio doing installations of subs in cars and stuff. I learnt a lot in that respect, tuning a box, tuning a speaker and that’s how I look at each room.

The only variance is bodies and insulation. So the insulation that we put in the box isn’t there. So I have to guess what that insulation, those human baffles, are going to do to the room to absorb certain frequencies. I’ve pretty well got it dialled in for arenas and you know there’s slight difference in every venue because of the shape. You can do a lot with guesstimation. It’s important when tuning a room to not ‘tuna fish.’ That’s all I’ve got to say on that. You can’t go crazy with trying to tune a room, you have to trust your instincts.

Production manager Dennis Daneels stops by...

Joe: This is Dennis - he’s our production manager, he lets me do a lot of stuff.

Dennis: Yeah -

Joe: He let me bring a lot of subs on this tour and a lot of PA you know...

Dennis: - He means I put up with a lot of stuff!

Joe: Not everyone understands what it takes to have a linear sound to the audience and he does. He has a heavy background in a every department which makes it very convenient for the workers because he gets it. He lets us do our gig but he can oversee it in a well way because he’s versed in it which is very important. And that’s why I love working with this camp and I love Dennis! (put that all in).

Dennis: Put that all in there

Joe: Yeah really good guy though, really good guy.

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What are your plans for 2019?

I’m going to South America for Lolapalooza with Posty, I’m just doing Posty and then like, I’m doing very little for other artists right now. I’m going to do the sound design for Migos for their next tour. When I’m at home I’m trying to remix and master for their live show along with final mixes for people for the studio. I can’t spend too much time because I have a family. But at the end of the day I do want to help artists get their sound.

My priority is Posty you know, that’s my main priority and other than that we’re waiting to do another US tour. I’m not sure when that’s going to be announced or when its happening, but we have enough shows to stay busy with.

Anything else you’d like to say?

@joehellow on instagram and if anybody has a question, I’ve really studied this and put it into practical use and I’m willing to help because Apogee…

*BANG* - one of the pyrotechnics lets off a firework.

… ohh, break the mic, that was 136db! Um.. Apogee has supported me and I’m willing to put it forward if anybody needs some help from a practical engineer that’s out there using this gear, I’m willing to help as well. We can make this thing happen and help people, cos it’s a really good product and I believe in it.

Thanks again to Joe Hellow and the rest of the Posty Co. Crew for having us!

Post Malone is currently on tour and will be back in the UK for
Reading & Leeds Festival 2019

Check out Post Malone’s Music, Tour dates & Social Media here

Follow FOH Engineer Joe Hellow on Instagram @joehellow

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This new blog is presented by the team at Sound Technology Ltd, a leading distributor of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the UK and ROI.