Chat with Rob Holland

I had the pleasure of having a chat with Rob Holland one of Zimbabwe’s top sound engineers, and this is what he had to say:

This was extracted from the AV Directorate magazine produced by Audio Academy.

1) How different is the sound engineering industry now than it was 15-20 years ago?

Well it has grown a lot. 15-20 years ago there were only 2 or 3 players in the industry, and two of them had good, but home made loudspeakers. Most churches had systems that were not great and no personnel to run them properly. it was a time when there was very little available as foreign currency and R.S.A. was also experiencing some sanctions, so apart from equipment made in South Africa (mostly by Prosound) and equipment donated my American churches, there really wasn’t a lot around at all. If a big music act came to town, they usually brought their own pa and engineers, so for us, there was very little exposure.

2) What inspired you to do audio engineering?

Who was your mentor?  Like any teenage boy, i liked music, and the louder the better. my father was a classical music
fan and sang with a classical choir, so i began to be able to discern good and bad sound, understanding purity of instruments, how music fitted together and what something in balance sounded like. So i took up being a dj, and was very fussy about the sound quality (I am still fussy), but never had decent equipment available.. Local hire stuff was really no suitable. but in 1980,

I worked on a show at 7arts where the pa system was something that had come in for Independence celebrations for the Bob Marley Concert. I heard sound like i’d always wanted to,and the engineer (whose name i never knew) taught me quite a number of valuable fundamentals that I still refer to today… like the height and placement of speaker systems in relation to the room and audience. He also showed me very roughly how a mixer worked. A few years later I volunteered to do sound at church and learned a lot more… mostly that I didn’t really know as much as I thought. When the church needed a decent pa for the HICC, I was tasked with sorting that out and met Steve Roskilly from Shed Studios, who was also the local Prosound representative. I began to spend more and more time with him, asking any question I could think of relating to things I didn’t understand or could not get to work properly. When the ne Electro Voice MT2 rig arrived, I had learned a lot of theory and the engineer with Hosanna Integrity showed me how that theory worked in practice. Steve Roskilly became my mentor and we did a lot of work together, as did Keith Farquharson a little later.

3) What inspired you to do trainings in houses of worship and how far did you go?

When I discovered that I had always know more than many other church sound guys (and I didn’t know much to start with) I also realized that many expensive pieces of equipment were being damaged by people who didn’t know how to operate them. I had gained a bit of a reputation because we had a big pa system, and so people asked for help, and I had some answers for them. So we put together a training manual and did day seminars covering theory and practice of fundamental basics. we did this for about 3 or 4 years and produced a few guys who turned their volunteer work into a paying career.

4) Audio Academy is arguable the first formal college to be dedicated to sound education, how would you encourage the populi to learn the art of audio engineering and science of system technology?

Sound is a science. If you want to do it well, it is important to understand a bit of physics, a bit of electronics and a lot of music. Anybody can twiddle a knob or push up a fader, but not everyone knows how frequencies work together, how electronic signals flow or how music is constructed. Gain structure and control, not only in the console, but also in every device in your signal path is something that is regularly overlooked. Sometimes less is actually more, but that doesn’t make sense! but once we get our heads around this and loading amplifiers and coupling speakers, half the battle is won. After that, its practice and exposure to all different kinds of music, not just appreciating the song, but listening to how all of the parts fit together and making sure that if you look at an instrument of a singer, that that thing can actually be heard in balance with everything else. the one thing i always told my students is that there is always more to learn. no one should ever think they have arrived. so, if people want to get good, they should get knowledge first and get practice after, Audio Academy is such a great place to start  to build the correct foundations for this.

5) When did you start audio engineering.

At a professional level. 1994, when the MT2 rig arrived

6) What do you encourage the nation to do in order to make Zimbabwe sound better?

Invite good foreign engineers to conduct workshops specifically tailored to meet our needs. using gadgets can be taught from YouTube, but positioning the right microphones on instruments and voices, using instruments together, separating similar sounds and using the right tools is something that you have to be shown. I learned valuable lessons from friends of mine who had toured with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Coldplay and U2. Simple things like riding bass and kick together, compressing a snare mic as another channel and panning vocals and guitars.

Written by Mbaki Nleya