Since graduating from our live sound degree at dBs Plymouth, Jerome Attrill has embarked on an exciting career - one that we've previously only scratched the surface on. We caught up with him to talk life as a professional engineer and his mission to use his position and experience to encourage the next generation of creatives to explore the world around them.
It was five years ago since Jerome decided to move away from the Isle of Wight to join dBs Music Plymouth where he studied the FdA Live Sound course. After graduating in 2017, he's been dotted about the south of England, spending most of that time working for events company JH AV Ltd in Cornwall.
When we last spoke to him, he had just joined the JH AV team, but so much of his story leading up to that point went untold. Now, with so many more experiences behind him we start our chat by going all the way back to his first role out of uni as a theatre technician at Arc Theatre Wiltshire College.
Learning on the job
"In my last couple of months at dBs I knew live sound was what I wanted to do, but there was nothing really on the Isle of Wight and I needed something that was going to support me. I was lucky enough to have interviews with the likes of Capital Sound Hire in London, but unfortunately, didn't get the role, though just getting an interview with the big guns in the industry was a real confidence boost.
"I expanded my search outside of live sound to look into the broader side of events and the Arc Theatre role came up, which had live sound involved in it, so I applied. Next thing I know, I've got the job and it was like, 'Okay, I'm gonna have to learn some new skills now!'"
Learning those new skills had to be done at a lightning-fast pace; in Jerome's first week in the role he was presented with a desk he'd never used, 12-way radio mics and a script for Beauty and the Beast that he had to learn before the opening performance at 7pm that night.
"It was a little bit crazy… but luckily, Leo Brown [pictured left], one of the lecturers at the time on the live sound course, actually owned one of those desks, so I had a quick sneaky phone call with him and got a few quick tips to get my way around it and focus on learning the script."
The intensity didn't stop there, and Jerome found himself learning lighting, rigging, set design and projection all from scratch. During a production of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jerome also found himself creating sound design for the giant.
Over the course of a year spent at Arc Theatre he worked on a range of productions, most memorably a very special performance of Bob Baker's musical 'Silver', which Baker and his wife who co-wrote the script attended on the night. Jerome would also introduce the students to the production side of things, illuminating the work it took to get an event running, which subsequently led to several students taking on small tech roles.
After a year though, Jerome was ready to embark on a new path and soon found himself reacquainted with JH AV Ltd, who he'd freelanced with whilst still at dBs Music.
"It's a funny one really because Olly Wickes, who was one of the dBs lecturers at the time, was asked by JH AV if he would come and do sound on a show on the Isle of Wight. Olly said, 'I can't, but I know the perfect person who can,' and it started from there. I did a few bits as well in Plymouth and Cornwall, whilst I was still at uni, but there wasn't a position for me when I graduated.
"Then as I was looking to move on from Arc Theatre I saw they had a new position which I applied for and I got the position as AV Events and Warehouse Technician. I've done the gig on the Isle of Wight now for the past three years as my sort of hometown show, which has been great."
Though the role initially started with an emphasis on the warehouse side of things, and organising the equipment, Jerome's experience was never intended to be squandered and as JH AV's jobs started stacking up, he was hitting the road to cover a range of events.
The autonomy of his theatre role was certainly a blessing in disguise for Jerome, but he's quick to express the benefits of being surrounded by a supporting team.
"There's six of us and it's a very close-knit community, everybody crosses paths, everybody can ask each other questions. We can see what each other has planned for the week, if one person looks busy we offer to help them and get ahead of the game, so it's really nice how everyone mucks in and helps each other out.
"I have been able to keep some of that autonomy and have done project management stuff as well now with JH AV. I've taken on a few of my own clients and some of the JH AV regular clients and I now design their events and make it happen, which is nice. The role very much adapts to what's happening each day."
Getting out there
For Jerome, moving from the Isle of Wight and seeing what opportunities awaited him was always part of the plan. What quickly becomes apparent during our conversation is that helping the island's next generation of creatives to get out there is extremely important to him.
"Every year I take my 'Christmas break' and I come back to the island with a car full of kit and work on a student performance for Rye Academy. My friend, who is in one of the bands I manage, is a GCSE music tech teacher and helps out with the performing arts department.
"They've got a great theatre and we wanted to give the students a real world experience. I bring eight radio mics or more and the full digital desk and we get them mic'd up properly.
"It's incredible, because you just tell them what we want to do to make everything sound as good as it can and they really listen and they engage with it. They help out with the backstage stuff, ensuring batteries are changed between performances, make sure they're on the right frequencies, so they've got a real good head start into the industry at GCSE level.
"Last year, I got the opportunity to actually go in and spend a session with the GCSE students that were just about to do their exams and talk about what they're going to do after their GCSEs and what options are out there. I find over here, a lot of people get stuck on the island and don't get off and see what opportunities are out there. So I was really emphasising to them, 'there is more out there. Go and look.'"
Outside of his work in live sound, Jerome has also been working as an artist manager for several bands from the Isle of Wight; a happy accident that came about around the same time that his interest in live sound first blossomed.
"At the time, I was off the island doing the college course and looking into live events and event management and one of the modules was doing fully project managed events. I knew a few bands back home, but they only played shows on the island, so I thought how could I incorporate this into not only my college course, but also support the acts over here.
"From there I brought a number of acts over for my projects and booked them in venues like the Wedgewood Rooms and The Cellars, which are great venues in Portsmouth, and a bit further afield. Then one of the bands said to me, 'would you do this for us full-time?'
"It's grown since then, and I've seen bands I represent headline The Joiners in Southampton, as well as shows in London. Some have been played both nationally and internationally on radio and Last Chance City were reviewed and printed in Rock Sound Magazine, too.
"I've kind of made it up as I've gone along a bit, but the intention has always been to support local bands on the island and try and get them as many experiences as possible off the island."
Both sides of the coin
As we begin to wind down our chat, we ask Jerome what the biggest lesson he's learned in his time in the industry, to which he unsurprisingly answers, "patience." It's no secret that most live sound engineers will encounter their share of performers who don't really know what they want from a gig other than 'to sound good', but Jerome's time managing artists has given him invaluable insight.
"Being an engineer, you rock up on stage, you've got quick changeover times and you're there as a monitor engineer asking a band that's never played in this venue, 'what do you want in your monitors?' and they don't know.
"Having worked with artists and understanding where the band is coming from, but also where the engineers are coming from, I'm able to impart my engineer head on the band and the band imparts their musician head on to me as an engineer. When you can do that and break down the live sound lingo you can quickly avoid things getting heated or just chucking stuff into a monitor mix because you don't know what they want."
Jerome may be in a unique position thanks to his experience in artist management, but it's just one part of why he's found success as an engineer.
"I always try to communicate with the band beforehand and try and get a tech spec from them. If they've got some live videos I'll listen to those, but also their recorded material and see whether their live set differs to their recorded set. Is that done on purpose by the band or is that because they don't have their own touring engineer, and they get what they're given and no one's really taken the time to understand their sound. So yeah, it's trying to work with the bands as much as possible, because it makes life easier for you as an engineer and for the band."
No day is ever the same
So what does Jerome have to say for the next generation of live sound engineers?
"It's very much a hands-on industry and perfect if you just want to experience life; if you get bored easily the events industry is for you because you will never do the same thing twice.
"If you can work on the fly, if you can adapt, you're focussed, and can work well as a team and individually there's nothing better.
"For me, when I'm working on an event I'll have a very tech mindset, but when everything's going well and you step back and you become an audience member for a split-second and you see what they see, it's just an amazing feeling because you know we made this happen."