Jon Burton Q&A
We chatted to one of the UK's leading sound engineers about his incredible career...
Throughout his 30+ year career within the music industry, Front of House Sound Engineer Jon Burton has worked with the likes of Pulp, Pendulum, Stereophonics, Bombay Bicycle Club and most recently toured with The Prodigy. He’s one of Backstage Academy’s very own masterclass experts and it’s almost certain that if you go along to one of his lectures, you’ll learn a lot more than just how to become a sound engineer!
We caught up with him to find out more about his incredible career, his very ‘sound’ advice and why he wanted to get involved with Backstage Academy…
How did you begin your career in sound engineering?
I started at school really. I was in bands from about the age of 16 but was always interested in the technical side. A job in a music shop helped me buy my first PA amp (valve). A chance visit to hear a recording session at Abbey Road studios and I was hooked! I soon had the beginnings of a small PA system and started doing sound in local pubs. This led to some work with a local company Tiger Hire, and my first tour.
We’re sure there’s been many, but what has been the most memorable moment in your career to date?
There have been many, but I think the first few shows I did with Pulp. I came in as a stand-in monitor engineer for a show in Bristol. While we were there they were offered an Oasis support at Sheffield Arena the next night as the touring act had pulled out. The FOH engineer couldn’t do the show so I was asked if I could. Of course I accepted and next day we travelled up North to do the show. We did a couple more festivals and then were offered the Glastonbury headline slot when the Stone Roses pulled out. I had only mixed Pulp three times by then. It was a fantastic show. I was pretty nervous but it all seemed to go well and when they played “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” I think they marked a real feeling for a generation. Magic.
What’s the biggest capacity arena or festival you’ve ever worked on?
I do big festivals pretty regularly, but a few years ago we did the Polish ‘Woodstock’ Festival. It was a free event and Prodigy were headlining. They were expecting a big crowd but I think the numbers surprised everyone. It was very stressful day as there was no barrier. We insisted one was needed for safety reasons and a big argument raged, and continued to rage even after the show. Estimates put the crowd between 400,000 – 550,000. I wouldn’t like to say how many but it was very scary. It took me 20 minutes to get to the mixing desk from stage, a distance of 50m. The organisation was appalling and to be honest spoiled any elation at mixing for such a huge crowd. I think we marked it in the ‘got away with it’ column.
Obviously you’ve been in the industry for an impressive amount of time – how have aspects of your job changed as technology has evolved?
The rise of digital has been important. I still have not used a desk I like the sound of, or think is any easier to use. I know we can argue about channel count, scene storage etc but they don’t sound as good to my ear. However for me the major advances came with L’acoustics V’Dosc Line array. This literally revolutionised speaker systems, especially for large shows. I couldn’t imagine doing a show without a line array these days. I also predate digital reverbs. I remember when the first really affordable digital multi effect came out, the Yamaha SPX90, I sold my tape echo and bought one straight away!
What piece of advice would you give a young person wanting to go down the same career path as you?
It is hard work and long hours. You have to be reliable and have a great attitude. On tour you work as a team, you have to be able to get on with people. I have done this job for a long time but I still look forward to work every day. It is hard but it can be very rewarding.
Why did you decide to get involved with Backstage Academy?
I have been interested in education for many years. I was invited by BA to come and talk a few years ago. When my old friend Dave Swallow asked me to get more involved I saw this as an opportunity to try and help students become sound engineers! I have the practical less technical slant. People will tell you that my lectures are as much about the importance of making tea as physics.
To find out more about the Live Events Production course check this out: http://www.backstage-academy.co.uk/degree-courses/foundation-degree-course-live-events-production/
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