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Tucson sounds: Meet your local sound tech #1: Ted Riviera

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Tucson sounds: Meet your local sound tech #1: Ted Riviera

Plus: Dispatches from Ladytowne

  • Izzy from Stripes ushering in the new regime
    Matt Rendon, Midtown Island StudiosIzzy from Stripes ushering in the new regime
  • Ted Riviera playing musician and sound engineer at the same time.
    Ted Riviera playing musician and sound engineer at the same time.
  • Matt Rendon, Midtown Island Studios"The only thing that should matter to a teenage girl is her band."

If you’re a musician who plays out live, a sound tech can be your best friend or your biggest nemesis. A bad sound experience can kill what might otherwise be the best gig of your life and a great tech can not only make you sound your best but push you to limits you didn’t know you had in you. 

Here in Tucson, we are blessed with some marvelous live sound engineers at established venues with great systems like Club Congress, Sky Bar or the late, lamented Flycatcher and some out-of-the-way spaces as well. Since the role of live sound is pretty damned important to musicians and, frankly, audiences, your friendly neighborhood music columnist reached out to a few of Tucson’s favorite board jockeys to learn a little bit about how the do the magic that they do.

Our first "victim" in the Sound Tech Inquisition is Tucson musician and sound tech Ted Riviera. Unlike the on-staff sound engineers at high end venues with custom sound systems, Ted often has his work cut out for him, working as a mobile sound tech and the sound guy of choice for a loyal bunch of punk, metal and dive bar rock and roll bands, as well as some nationally known folks including local legends Fish Karma and Rich Hopkins. He also runs sound and helps with event promotion for the recurring concert series at Brodie’s Tavern known as Sonidos de Luna. Sound engineers are kind of the superheroes of live music. So, with that in mind, what’s your origin story?

Ted Riviera: ”Well, I was backpacking in San Joaquin Valley, when I stumbled upon  a member of the honorable Intergalactic Sound Lantern Corps, and because I tried to save his life with no concern for my own safety, he bestowed the sound lantern ring to me.”

TS: Seriously, though.

TR: "When I started doing this, I was living in Central California in the San Joaquin Valley. That part’s true. Back then, there  were only really 2 or maybe 3 local clubs that had PA systems or sound people, so to get my band more opportunities a PA was needed. {After acquiring one)  I became the Sound Guy."

TS: Sounds legit.

TR: "I started working from time to time as a stage hand and assistant to a guy who ran a recording studio pretty soon after that. Getting better at it came from having been at a ton of shows as a youth where the sound guys [and yes, guys because at the time it was mostly just dudes doing this gig] didn't care about the music or what the artist was trying to do. So I said to myself, if I did that job, I'm not doing it that way! I guess as a kid I was reading my own tea leaves and didn't realize it.

TS: Going back to the superhero analogy for a sec, unlike a studio sound engineer, you folks have to do this all in real time, so you kind of have to be ready to swoop in and save the day. Sometimes while bands are requesting adjustments to the mix, gear isn't functioning and people in the crowd are being, well, people in the crowd. If that isn't next level multitasking, I don't know what is. How do you handle juggling all of those things? Is there a kind of video game thrill to getting it right? 

TR: "Knowing the gear you're using helps. Trying to get in front of the problem before it happens also helps, like hearing that high frequency is starting ring out and getting stronger, adjusting the channel EQ or the overall EQ to stop feedback, knowing the ceiling of sound you can go to and not going there, because the sound won't be clean and it will be a hot mess."

"It's not so much a video game thrill, but more like kung-fu movie magic. It might seem like anyone can do sound , but you've got to realize that a lot of trial and error happens along the way for a sound tech to make it look effortless. It can be stressful, especially when a band doesn't realize you're on their side. The musicians, say for example, the bassist, the singer, and the keyboard player, might ask for changes to the mix seconds apart from each other and since you can't adjust everything at once, they all think you are not listening to them, so they just keep asking. Meanwhile, you are working out why a monitor isn't receiving a signal from the board, or something like that. Past experience with bad, 'I don't care about your band' sound guys can lead bands to dismiss you a little. You can do sound for the same band for years and they still act and talk to you as if this is for first gig at sound."

TS: What do you love best about doing live sound? Describe what it's like when everything does go just right.

TR: "When you help the band reach the audio magic they are trying to bring to the audience, and know you had a part in helping that happen, even if no one else does. You know you are doing it right because the band isn't struggling to hear, the singer doesn't feel like they damaged their voice when singing, the drummer can hear the lyrics and goes 'Hey, wait, that last song was about my girlfriend! Bastards!' Hahaha."

TS: What are some newbie mistakes people make the first few times they get behind a board? 

TR: "Thinking it's all about volume and not shaping the EQ. Thinking you can use the mains as monitors, meaning putting the mains behind the drummer so the band hears what the audience hears. Sometimes people try to save time and money by not using monitors.

TS: How can musicians, event hosts and venues be more helpful to the sound person?

TR: "Give the sound guy a chance to find the problem and make the adjustments. If he cares about your art, he will work with you to make it magic. His name is attached to the sound as well, after all! Let him or her know what you want up front before the show is under way. Surprises, like bands switching slots at a multi band gig,  can make a hot mess, especially if there is a time limit for the switch over."

TS: Sometimes bands run into issues when touring or at less familiar venues where they don't know the sound person and their input or feedback isn't listened to very much. Any advice dealing with a condescending or "hostile" sound tech?

TR: "I have, as a musician especially. I  damaged my voice partly from this experience - having to sing over a loud mix. The main focus of the sound person should be vocals, then the instruments. An amp can be turned up for a solo if needed, the drummer can always hit harder, but the voice is a muscle and can only go to its limit and no more, or it's damaged, maybe for good. Even the loudest, toughest singer can damage their voice. So as a band, a group who is sharing the same vision, part of the same art, looking for the same goal, you should be prepared sonically come down for your bandmate the singer. The sound guy or gal while you are on tour is the venue's choice, though. To fight with him or her is to fight with the venue, and you have no idea how closely he/she is connected to the venue. If you want to come back, you might have to play the game, so be smart and pick your battles. But then again, sometimes you have to fight them. For instance, if the singer blows their voice at one bad gig, it's blown for all the other amazing venues you are touring to."

TS: What are some of the best and worst moments you've ever run into running live sound?

TR: "The worst was a gig where my main speakers blew mid-set due to age, primarily.  You see I currently do a mobile sound service, a "have PA, will travel" kind of thing, so I had no back up. The only thing I could do to fix it a little was to DQ in a way that the vocals sounded like they were treated with an AM radio effect. Luckily, it worked in the end. The best was with (Phoenix band) Scorpion vss Tarantula. Their lead singer wanted to go into the crowd but the mic cable wasn't long enough, so during the guitar solo I disconnected her original mic line, added a second cable, and communicated silently to her that she had more line. She saw me nod, jumped into the crowd, and communed with the audience the way she wanted to, without missing a beat or killing any of the energy and magic of the moment."

TS: When bands and musicians have to run their own sound, as often happens at house venues, small coffee shop gigs and the like, what are some simple guidelines they should keep in mind for a not too awful sound experience?

TR: "Don't start with a low volume from the board, because if you can't reach the board, you can't turn up mid song. As a singer, iif you are a little hot mid song, you can sing quieter or pull away from the mic more, and if that doesn't seem to be what you want to do, have a member of the band stand out front to hear vocals with the band and adjust. Always remember, a little louder on the board is better then too low."

TS: Favorite gear or "wishlist" gear for running live sound?

TR: "The new Bluetooth digital snake, where the audio snake sends the digital mixing board signal to the table. My Carvin powered mixing board has served me sooo well for the last 20 years. I got lucky when I got it."

TS: Favorite venues to run sound at? Favorite fellow sound engineers?

TR: "Vinny's in California and Brodie's here. Gary Mann, Frank Blair, the guy at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Dana Fehr at Congress, Ken Andree, the guy at the Surly Wench, the gal at La Capilla de los Muertos in Hermosillo, Mexico."

TS: Last but not least: do you have an overall philosophy about running sound?

TR: "Don't leave your board during the band's performance, even to watch and listen to the band. Ride the faders if you need to. Ask the band what they need before and during the set, and whatever the musicians say, don't let your ego get bruised. You maybe a good hearted sound person but in smaller venue gigs that would make you the unicorn with wings. A lot of rock bands aren't use to the sound person caring. It's a combo platter of love, art, and science, with a splash of crazy."

TS: When's your next show running sound?

Ted Riviera runs live sound and plays this weekend with his band the Gunrunners at Palo Verde Neighborhood Park Fest on Sunday, March 24 at 3 p.m. 

Dispatches from the not-so-velvet underground 

This Thursday night, dear readers, when your intrepid reporter should have been fine-tuning and editing this very article, she was instead out witnessing live music at this month's edition of Ladytowne Live at Club Congress. And once again, she is pleased to report that the kids are alright.

Local teen rock supergroup Stripes, fresh off an epic recording session at Midtown Island Studios, were in fine form: playing for a much more docile crowd than their usual manic, slam-dancing peers and giving more fucks, both verbally and figuratively, than probably 90 percent of the rock bands that have ever graced the Congress stage in recent years. For all the epic swearing and adolescent pathos of the band's material, though, they've been doing their homework. Tight harmonies, rich, resonant vocals, gorgeous, chimey guitar riffs and hearts-on-their-sleeves lyrics about the beautiful hell of that short, bittersweet window when one is old enough to see the world for what it is but not old enough to tear it apart and fix it. 

Stripes just recorded a nine-track album-length release at Midtown and plans to release it in late May of this year. In the meantime, guitarist frontwoman Izzy has a word of advice for you all. "The only thing that should matter to a teenage girl is her band." She adds that she's once again lost her wallet, which is brown and has a phone number on the front and an obscene declaration written inside in magic marker.

Meanwhile, at the same gig, Najima Rainey, aka Just Najima, delivered an emotionally raw and riveting set of powerful Southwest gothic soul, following an equally impassioned interview with Ladytowne host Miranda Schubert. Just Najima's debut album is also due out in the next several months, featuring guest performances from some heavy hitters including Jillian Bessett and Amy Munoz Mendoza.

In other news, the biggest local show your reporter didn't make it to this week may have been the proverbial one that got away. All reports indicate that the most recent performance of Lenguas Largas at Wooden Tooth Records was an utter and absolute beast of a show, mainly due to a new but not entirely new addition to the lineup as Free Machines/Resonars drummer and sometime Lenguas percussionist Johnny Rinehart has joined the band on bass.

Ladytowne Live returns to Club Congress on April 30, while Stripes plays Wooden Tooth Records on April 18. Just Najima is on deck to play La Cocina May 7 as part of a fundraiser for KMKR Radio. Meanwhile, Tuesday afternoons at 4 p.m. on KMKR (99.9 FM) Johnny Rinehart's DJ alter ego, Johnny Sparkles takes to the airwaves on that station's newest show, the '60s psych, garage and vintage vinyl mix "Johnny's Garage."

Check your local listings...

Friday, March 22

  • Bear Down Music Festival - 6 p.m. UA Mall
  • J-Calvin, Oolalong, RickyTruly - 8 p.m. Sky Bar 
  • Las Chollas Peligrosas - 10 p.m. Club Congress
  • Jimmy Carr w/ Rogue Violin - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • Royal Agaves - 7 p.m. House of Bards
  • Juju Fontaine - 8:30 p.m. Arizona Beer House
  • Miss Olivia & The Interlopers - 9 p.m. Surly Wench

Saturday, March 23

  • The Unday - 4 p.m. Fourth Avenue Street Fair, Haggerty Plaza Stage
  • Leila Lopez w/ Brian Green - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • Speakeasy Sessions - 6 p.m. Dillinger Brewing
  • Tropical Beach, Timothy Eerie, Untied Snakes - 9 p.m. Sky Bar 
  • October Intuition - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Shooda Shook It (Album Release) - 9 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Bruv Luv Collective Lip Sync Battle - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Homo La Flor Queer Dance Party - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
  • The Dead Writers, Nocturnal Theory, This or This - 10 p.m. Thunder Canyon Brewery

Sunday, March 24

  • Keli and the Big Dream - 3 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina 
  • Palo Verde Park Fest (Food and Music Festival) - 3 p.m. Palo Verde Park
  • Boy Harsher, BOAN, Body of Light - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Jade Jackson - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Tablao Flamenco - 7 p.m. Exo
  • Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands Brewing

Tuesday, March 26

  • Juliana Warkentin, Tay-Tay, Zarzan - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Ulthar, Languish, Skullcrush - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Wednesday, March 27

  • Mo Urban's Comedy Open Mic - 7 p.m. Bar Passe
  • Moaning, Soft Shoulder, Feverfew - 9 p.m. Owls Club
  • Tonight's Sunshine, Diluvio, Dry River - 6:30 p.m. Club Congress
  • Galactic w/ Erica Falls, Already Ready Already - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre

Thursday, March 28

  • Slow Crush, Holy Fawn, Trees Speak - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Octopus Heart - 7 p.m. MSA Annex
  • Nancy McCallion & the Scarlet Letterment - 7:30 p.m. House of Bards
  • Get Married, Ametuer Palm Trees, Logan Green - 9 p.m. Owls Club
  • Miss Olivia & The Interlopers- 8:30 p.m. Tap & Bottle
  • Wooden Tooth DJ Night- 8 p.m. Che's Lounge

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at


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