The Modern Era of Sound with David Williams

(David Williams with Fifth Harmony in Abu Dhabi)

The path to success for famous and respected musicians is mirrored by those who work with them, professionals like sound engineer David Williams. While interning at Studio 301 in Byron Bay (Australia) he got an offer to start mixing punk and indie rock shows in the nearby city Brisbane, his former and future home. These were small, gritty clubs that exploded with the energy of the bands and fans alike. Williams was hooked and when after his first tour with Michigan based band La Dispute in Australia, they offered him a job mixing them on the road that eventually set off a chain of events that would lead to him mixing in some of the world’s largest venues with renowned artists. Along the way David has paid his dues and accumulated a mass of knowledge making him a sought ater FOH (front of house) sound engineer in today’s upper echelon of music.

Previously a drummer in rock bands, Williams discovered that he had a natural ear for mixing live music. His earliest jobs as a sound engineer were working with mostly punk, rock, and hardcore bands. These bands required him to create intensity as he describes, “These genres for the most part are just about making the music big, heavy, and in your face. The drums need to sound huge. The bass and guitars aggressive. Vocals in these genres can be pretty all over the place and very artist dependent; it requires an engineer to understand the band’s sound rather than superimposing their ideas on these groups. In contrast, Indie music is more subdued with influences that can range from folk to electronic and dub. Running sound in the club scene really allowed me to focus on hearing the music the way an artist hears it and recreating that accurately. That’s really what artists want…good sound but also their sound.” US band La Dispute recognized this ability in David’s skill set and snatched him up as their touring sound engineer traversing the world. His talent was subsequently noticed by many of the biggest touring pop acts, leading to a career mixing sound in every size venue imaginable.

The pop music genre brings its own idiosyncrasies. Among the pop artists Williams has worked with are: Fifth Harmony (multiple principal singers on stage, a backing band, and lots of backing tracks to achieve the sound of their record), solo artist Charlie Puth (who plays apiano with a backing band and tracks), and DNCE who are a full band blending pop and indie genres. David is currently working this summer as sound engineer for Grammy Award Winning band Portugal. The Man, the Alaskan band known for their mix of rock, indie, and psychedelic elements that draw on hip hop (big powerful bass) and metal influences (the group covers Metallica and Pantera mid-show) in their live set. Earlier this year David was on tour running sound with DNCE playing iconic venues like London’s Hyde Park (to a crowd of 65,000) and Stadt de France in Paris (capacity of 80,000). David relates, “When I started working in bigger clubs and festivals with La Dispute there was a big jump in regards to what works versus mixing in smaller clubs. When I moved up to playing bigger theaters and arenas with many of the pop acts I’ve been working with, the big adjustment was in really getting a big vocal sound to go with everything else. Many of the artists I work with need this and being able to deliver that vocal sound keeps me working.”

(Photo courtesy of Jack Gorlin at DNCE/Bruno Mars show in Paris)

Festivals offer the opportunity for music fans to see several of their favorite bands in the same day. It also creates a number of factors for a sound engineer like Williams to deal with to make certain the show is at the high level of excellence that both artists and audiences expect. Soundchecks are brief if they even happen. Describing his recent experience with Portugal. The Man at Lollapalooza, he communicates, “We added five additional singers and three strings players whom I had never heard before until they started playing! That definitely added another level of anxiety but kept me on my toes. We had an L’Acoustics K1 system that day as they were the festival provider; luckily they had done an incredible job of deploying and tuning that system so it sounded great. Even with the biggest names at the best shows and utilizing great gear, the ‘unknown’ factor at festivals requires you to dig deep and bring the same excellence that performers bring. It’s mutual respect and it’s a big part of what inspires me to keep doing this.”

Kelly King writes for numerous popular online media outlets in addition to being a staff writer for NYC & LA based/internationally published Drumhead magazine.