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 Light Jockey

The Future of Nightlife in Charlotte: The Alleycat

The Fusion Venue
Designing the Lighting and Sound System for the Alleycat

Design Dialogue by Jack Kelly of Eye Dialogue | Photography by Jack Kelly

May 1, 2007 | Charlotte NC

Lighting Equipment:
4 x Elation Vision Scan 575e
4 x Rosco Custom Gobos
8 x American DJ Par64 LED
8 x American DJ Par56
4 x Used Par64
4 x Elation DP-415
Elation Octostrip System
Martin Light Jockey

Sound Equipment:
4 x EAW MK2396
4 x EAW FR250z
DB Tech Opera Live 405
6 x DB Technologies M15-4
4 x Yamaha P7000
Allen and Heath GL2800-32
DBX 1046 Quad Compressor
DBX 1074 Quad Gate
4 x DBX 231 Dual 31 Band EQ
Lexicon MX400 Effects Processor
Ashly 3.24 Matrix Mixer

Sound Equipment:
8 x Shure SM58
7 x Shure SM57
Audix Fusion 7: Drum Mic Kit
20 Mic Stands
Rapco Db100 Direct Box
Rapco Sig Series Snake 16x4
Rapco Road Hog M-25
Hosa Insert Cables and Snakes
Pioneer DJM-3000
2 x Pioneer CDJ800
2 x Technics SL-1200 MK5
The AlleycatAlleycat Sound Board

The waning interest in the singular clubs, restaurants, music venues, and neighborhood bar has led to fusion venues. These venues combine all of the above. In the fickle market of entertainment with big profits and devastating losses, progressive bar owner/managers are seeking a gambit of beverage connoisseurs from the 6 o’clock after work cocktail to the 9 o’clock music lover to the midnight-party-till-closers. Multi purpose venues have a larger client base and they provide an atmosphere agreeable to larger groups of individuals with diverse interest.

The Alleycat GuitarI’ll start with entertainment venue theory. The trick to success in entertainment is first location which doesn’t involve me. Secondly, in order to achieve success you have to exceed the standards within your market, which makes the formula for success different in every market (city, neighborhood, etc). Otherwise opening day buzz will die the first month. For example, if your competition has 6 Plasmas, install 6 plasmas and a video screen. If you competition has a 4 monitor sound system and a par can rig, buy a 6 monitor sound system and an LED par can rig. If your competition is open till ten, stay open till 11. New owners tend to overspend making an unrecoverable start up cost or under spend and never get anyone in the door. I had the privilege of working with the owners of the Alleycat, leaders in the entertainment industry in Charlotte. Each owner represents some of the most influential and successful venues in town. So we began the lighting and sound system design for a new type of entertainment venue in downtown Charlotte.

The Alleycat has introduced the first full service venue to downtown charlotte. No longer is the CD player playing the same tunes night after night, nor the disgruntled group splitting up to get something to eat. Between live music sets a real DJ spins the tracks you would expect from a serious dance club. The kitchen provides both full meals and late night snacks. Although many restaurants have radio, bands, and a menu, the difference is in the Alleycat‘s professional daily approach to each element.

This presents some unique problems for the lighting and sound designers. Kevin Mitchell and Andy Kastanas wanted to provide a light and sound system that can handle both live music riders and satisfy the needs of touring DJs. Oh yeah, and they wanted to keep the budget below 50k. Yikes! So we came up with multipurpose sound and lighting system to handle everything.

In order to make an impression and compete with the other lighting systems in town we had to approach the stage differently. So we combined lighting styles of the night club, and the music venue. For the stage, we used 12 par cans for the stage: four pairs of Red, Blue, Green, & Yellow for the back line and four un-gelled pars for the front wash. This par set up gives the Alleycat the traditional rock and roll feel: chasing par cans from the back of stage, strong white light for illuminating the front of stage. Everyone is comfortable with this look. That is rock and roll circa 1975.

OctostripBefore I go any further, I believe that the most important purchase any club makes is the controller. I don’t care if you have only 2K in lighting. Without a good controller, the fixtures are only using a small part of their potential. Many venues will get a decent system but the lights are not functioning at their full capabilities, much like buying a new car and still walking to work. It doesn’t make any sense. Everyone has their preferred controllers, and I am not saying they are wrong. However, I am a big fan of Martin Light Jockey for clubs, music venues and restaurants. Once it is programmed a monkey could run the board, and with a little training- the monkey could program new shows and look good doing it. Please don’t be insulted, in the night club business sometimes tasty elixirs and seducing vixens can turn the most astute operator into a bumbling fool who will thank me for the simplicity of the Light Jockey every time.

Now returning to lighting fun, four LED pars line each side of the stage for a side wash. The American DJ Par64 LED’s aren’t very bright but provide energetic sparkle effects and rich color accents. I like the constant color morphing on stage whether that is from reds to oranges or blues to greens or the entire color spectrum. The purpose is to make the band look more interesting: live music is never perfect and it would be unrealistic and unnatural to expect a CD quality performance every time. In the YouTube generation, Music alone is not enough for today’s audience. The interaction between the power of live music and the stage lighting creates impacting visual imagery impressing the music with images in the viewers mind.

In order to satisfy the needs of a dance club, we needed moving heads or scanners. We wanted a unit that would work both as a disco light and a band light. The Elation Vision Scan 575e has a wide beam from 20 to 24 degrees, prism effects, dual gobo wheels, and a frost filter. The VS 575e provides both a large short-throw gobo projection for the short ceilings and generous stage wash. We placed them on each corner of our dance floor so that they could pump the energy for the dance numbers and create motion on the stage for the bands. The multiple purpose system creates a powerful dance floor as well as introduces modern lighting techniques to the stage without loosing the classic rock look for less than 13K.

For a small touch of elegance, we back lit 2 frosted panels behind one of the bars with the Elation Octostrip System: 8 x 1 meter led bars with a programmable power supply. The fixtures pointed directly at the white wall behind the glass. The reflected light creates a flawless light texture unobstructed with hot spots, as the controller slowly morphs through the entire spectrum of color. The color changes are so slow that they are only noticed when momentarily ignored.

The AlleycatThe Alleycat

The sound system was a completely different problem. I was given a budget under 35K which sounds like a great budget till I was told my system needed to satisfy touring band riders and that the system needed to provide appropriate levels for a night club as well. Myron Server and Chris Mitchell were integral decision makers in the sound system. The EAW MK 2396 and FR250z delivered the sound we needed and the price we wanted for the front of house (FOH) system. Don’t be deceived by the size of these boxes. Although the speakers are relatively small, the quality of components provided more than enough sound for the 10,000 sq ft venue. The four FR250z subs fit snugly underneath the stage. A metal grate was framed in front of the subs to prevent eager fans from kicking in the front of the speaker. The EAW boxes give the quality of sound we needed as well as give us a well respected speaker system to satisfy the demands of club tour riders.

The AlleycatFor the stage we used Shure and Audix microphones and saved some money on the stands. Microphones are relatively inexpensive and a cheap knock offs can be an endless nightmare for the soundman. So never skimp on the mic. However when it comes to mic stands, Guitar Center sells cheap metal stands that may not last forever, but for $10 to $25 a pop, who cares! In the next couple years, the Alleycat may replace the stands. For staying within the budget, I know I made a good choice.

For the monitors, we used 6 powered DB speakers and a separate DB speaker for the DJ monitor. Kevin Mitchell wanted to use the stage as a dance floor for the DJ only events. So on the nights when the Dance club is in full effect, we place the monitors along the back wall of the large stage. The 6 monitors provide full sound for the dancers on the stage which the FOH System can not cover.

For the mixer we chose the Allen and Heath GL2800-32. The dual function live sound mixer provided 32 channels for mixing and plenty of room for effects and monitor mixes. With an 8 bus mixer we had plenty of room for two effect channels and 6 monitors. For effects we went with the Lexicon MX400. The Dual Stereo MX400 has a wide array of rich, complex reverb algorithms, delays, effects and dynamics. It is loaded with options providing two channels of stereo processing at a great price. After talking to several sound engineers I feel confident that the MX400 is one of the best values on the market today.

For the processing, we spent a little more money on an Ashley Matrix Mixer processor. Particularly for DJ nights, I feel that having a lockable matrix mixer is necessary for the sanity of the management who may either not have a professional sound man every night or have eager unprofessional DJ sound engineers who like to blow horns. We tuned the system to the room and compressed the sound to prevent clipping when all the externals were at full. However providing the control necessary for Live Music, we included 4 DBX dual EQs, a quad gate and a quad compressor. The soundman now can control the sound with external gates, compressors, and EQs. We didn’t want outside sound personal to have access to the matrix mixer so we needed to have additional processing for those without the lockout code. Retuning the main sound system night after night can be discouraging; turning off the externals for DJ events is easy.

The AlleycatRushing through the last several choices, I would like to discuss the amps, DJ equipment and cabling. For the amps, I was looking for an alternative that was less expensive than QSC or Crown. I found out the Yamaha P7000 amps were being used with several touring festival rigs in the area so I ask about their performance and everyone gave me the thumbs up. For CD players and mixers, Pioneers are the standard in night clubs in the states, familiar to all professional DJ’s. Traveling with DJ’s around the country, Rane’s Sérado is the leading MP3 computer system and its fully functional turntable inputs are keeping the turntable alive. So, for turntables there is only Technics or you can buy crap and hear complaints. Finally I love Rapco and Hosa. Both cable companies have great prices, outstanding customer service, and make every cable imaginable.

Boasting the most progressive lighting and sound system for a music venue in Charlotte, the Alleycat is sure to make its mark. Combining live music, DJ’s, food, and bar; the new generation of trend setters now has a place to settle. Exceeding anything in its class in Charlotte, expect some confusion. At times, it thumps like a dance club. At times, it is conversational like a restaurant. It hosts the best sounding cover bands in Charlotte. What is it? The answer is yes. Progressive in concept and style, the Alleycat is going to change the way Charlotteans view the live music venue . . . scratch that . . . the Alleycat will change the way Charlotteans view entertainment.