Signalling brighter days ahead, New Zealand’s musical summer took a turn for the better for six weekends in January and February, as local rock outfit SIX60 took to the road for their SIX60 Saturdays tour. The band played a series of venues with a stellar line-up of local guests to the largest audiences the country has seen since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, with SIX60’s long-time audio supplier, College Hill Productions along for the landmark journey.
“The past 12 months have been a rollercoaster, everything happened pretty quickly,” said College Hill Productions Operations Manager, Reeco Adriaansen, on the topic of New Zealand’s first lockdown period late March 2020. “Prior to the lockdown, we watched all of our confirmed jobs wiped from the calendar and that was scary, we had around three months of our busiest period disappear over a few days.”
Adriaansen and the College Hill Productions team began evaluating the future of the company at that point. “Thankfully, government wage subsidies rolled out pretty quickly and covered most of the lockdown period which meant we were able to retain our staff. From there we entered survival mode, by diversifying to find some income and maintenance, lots of maintenance work because there was nothing else to do.”
Given the months spent in exile, when the call came in for the first show post-lockdown, College Hill Productions staff were eager to get back on site and power shows. “I think we had a few volunteers on the very first one. In general everything went smoothly, there were a few habitual things that needed remembering but they were minor,” he recalled the physical aspect of the gig the hardest, given the team’s latency with months away from the job. “There were a few sore muscles after the first few gigs. It’s hard to replicate truck packs and being on your feet all day while being isolated at home.”
Discussing some of the challenges that still face College Hill when it comes to putting on live events, Adriaansen cited two further snap lockdowns taking place over a few weeks at a time late last year.
“These created some uncertainty, especially the first one, as you don’t know how long it’s going to be for and you fear the worst,” he added. “Luckily, most events were postponed as opposed to cancellation. This did, however, cause all events to end up being on the same dates which ended up stretching us a little but we got there.”
Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, College Hill Productions focussed on international acts visiting New Zealand, which made up a large number of bookings on the firm’s events calendar.
“With borders closed this has taken any such shows away. We’re also now going to a Northern hemisphere Summer which means we would historically tour that part of the world. Australia and New Zealand have recently opened up a travel bubble, which will hopefully open up some opportunities for us.”
Having been the audio vendor of choice for Six60 for the past three years, the band’s latest run of shows in January and February, saw increased audience attendance. “The band has exploded in popularity in the time we have worked with them. This year’s run had extra dates in larger venues than the same tour they did last year with different sized venues depending on the size of town or city we arrived in,” Adriaansen explained. “The final show of the tour on 24 April 2021 will potentially be the biggest show for a New Zealand band on home soil. It is also set to be the first concert to be held at Eden Park, Auckland.”
The College Hill Productions audio rider for the tour comprised L-Acoustics K1, K2, and V-DOSC which were deployed as needed for the different venues. The mixing consoles of choice featured a Soundcraft Vi7000 at FOH and a DiGiCo SD7 in the monitor world. The suppliers also produced Shure wireless package including UR4Ds and PSM1000s with an additional d&b audiotechnik M2 wedge package.
Six60 Audio Engineers, who also happen to be College Hill Engineers, composed of Chris Tate at FOH with David O’Brien holding down the mix in monitor world. Having used many different consoles from DiGiCo’s SD Range, O’Brien chose a DiGiCo SD7 to give the bands a flawless mix. He rates both their ease of use and, most importantly for him, their reliability. With the console set up simply and using nothing other than an SD-Rack, it was used for both SIX60 and the support acts and, with the support acts changing for each, the tour ran much like a festival with mixes built on the fly behind the LED wall without any line of sight.
“I chose the SD7 because it offered a few features I think make for a good workflow,” O’Brien said. “Having two master fader banks allows me to put the tech/shout mixes on the upper master bank while keeping the band outputs on the lower bank. I also like having three screens which provide a constant overview without needing anything external. This keeps my Snapshots and chosen channels in a prime position, making monitoring them easy. Having a dedicated gain encoder on the top row also helps to have everything at your fingertips.”
O’Brien also notes that the SD7 gave him confidence programming scenes between set/stage changes, knowing that when he pressed ‘fire’, it would just work. Dual engines, meanwhile, offered him peace of mind when touring through regional parts of New Zealand where it would not have been possible to get a replacement console. “The console performed great!” concluded O’Brien. “It got a good work out and everyone couldn’t have been happier.”
College Hill also provided a number of audio engineers to work the show including Kevin Bennett, Johnny Keirle, Tracey Dorn, Josh Early, Lisa Fahrenberger, Nathan Collins, Brooke Paterson and Daz Thorpe.
“Although logistically it’s still tough,” said Adriaansen. “Thankfully, we’ve been lucky on this run and already played to over 100,000 fans. It has been a pleasure to work with the band and everyone else involved leading up to this landmark event. Hopefully by the end of the year we will see more borders open and things go back to how they were pre-COVID-19.”
This article originally appeared in issue #261 of TPi, which you can read here.