This month, Sound & Stage caught up with Andy Jackson, general manager ME of Delta Sound Dubai, to explore the ever-changing world of live audio.
S&S: What brought you to Dubai and how did you come to set up Delta Sound?
I have been in Dubai for 12 years — prior to moving to the Middle East I had been in the UK for over 16 years working both as a sound designer and engineer, with the majority of that time spent at Delta Sound. I arrived in Dubai in October 2002 after being recruited by Gearhouse to run their audio department.
At that time, I was a certified L’acoustic engineer, so was in a good position to recommend current systems and start to hopefully bring something new to the region. Following the purchase of a V-dosc system, we were then able to set a new benchmark in the region for audio delivery.
On a personal note, the family and I were very excited about moving to a new territory that could offer a great deal of potential for all of us. I could see then that Dubai and the UAE was very ambitious and wanted to make a statement to the world.
In 2006, following a period of being a freelance sound engineer and production manager, I felt there was a real opportunity to introduce a service as an alternative to the dominant ‘full service providers’.
With my level of experience and audio background that included theatre design, concert touring, large corporate events and communications, I hoped I would be able to create the first ‘specialist’ offering within the market.
The natural choice was always going to be to partner up with Delta Sound, given my existing relationship with the owners Mark and Paul. This relationship has continued for over 25 years now with Mark and Paul playing their part in the success of Delta.
S&S: How has the company changed over the years and where would you say it's at right now?
The company has always grown organically with the initial input and support from the UK. What became clear to me very early on was that in order to compete, we would have to raise the bar and invest in premium products and, most of all, people. In terms of growth, we have grown from a small corner of a shared warehouse in 2007 to over 10,000sq ft in Dubai and around 5000sq ft in Qatar, with over 20 staff, 16 of them being engineers.
The company aim was to become a respected specialist at a global level so we can cater for our clients at an international level. Investment in staff and engineers was made easier given my background and contacts, something that I am hugely proud of.
There was a time when international production companies would be concerned about the level of delivery and service in the Middle East. I think that we, along with all the other reputable suppliers, have really changed this outlook. People really enjoy coming here and getting as good a service as Europe or the States. This is something that we can all be proud of.
Our philosophy has not changed at all during the eight years we have been trading. It is still very much based around the quality of people, training, and looking at new ways to be different.
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S&S: Delta Sound has been known to often give opportunities to recent graduates looking to take their first steps into the industry — why do you think this is important?
We have always been keen to look at the local market and have taken on several students over the years. Because the courses on offer locally are more studio based, we have always put the guys through our internal training programme straight away. If they have the right aptitude, the knowledge always follows. We are also in discussions with local colleges about providing some educational support for some of the ‘live’ elements of the curriculums.
S&S: How does the company maintain its position in the region as one of the leading audio providers, year after year?
Hard one to answer, but I think that we have always been innovative in our equipment choices. In addition, we have always looked at providing creative input for our clients and above all, value for money. We have a remarkable staff retention statistic, which means that over the years, guys that were junior engineers eight years ago are now senior engineers or project managers. Their relationships with our clients have proved invaluable over the years.
We get incredible support from our main manufacturers, L’acoustic and DiGiCo, that allows us to maintain our investment plans, and our global presence is also a key factor. Having three regional offices proves to our clients that we are now a global brand that has stuck to its principles over the years.
S&S: Is it possible to pick out a highlight from the events Delta Sound has catered for in recent years?
There are so many events that we have been involved with in the ME, going back as far as the Atlantis and DIFC launches back in 2006 that were mind-blowing projects.
It is amazing to see the post-2008 turnaround that we are witnessing now and Expo 2020 really gives us something to focus on. My favourite concerts have been The Eagles and, of course, The Rolling Stones. Saying that, I think I am as passionate about every show we do as I was when I started in the industry 28 years ago.
S&S: Where do you think the events industry in general is at right now within the Middle East?
Clearly the industry will grow for the foreseeable future. We have a fantastic client base —many of whom have been instrumental in the growth of our industry. What we can add is a professional outlook and some stability.
Industry-wise, two main changes have taken place that are not production related — one is the inevitable introduction of ‘procurement’ and the other is health and safety.
Dealing with procurement first - we often find ourselves dealing with a procurement department who use the same tactics as a commercial purchasing industry, not realising that we are in a service industry. In my opinion, allocation of budgets should always be left to the production manager and producer.
Regarding health and safety, this is now a huge part of our day-to-day work. I think that on the whole, most suppliers work extremely hard to improve general H&S. I know that the companies that have invested in training will agree it should be monitored closely, making sure that all companies comply.
It is still very imbalanced - only last week I watched a contractor welding in flip-flops and no mask. The client had no interest in the welfare of the staff putting the show together. I am not sure if this will ever change in certain areas.
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S&S: Talking of health and safety, Delta recently gained the OHSAS 18001 certificate. Why was this important for the company?
I decided to look at a health and safety standard following the dissection of one of our risk assessments and method statements last year. It became clear that in order to minimise risk to our employees and those around us — and create a safer working environment — we would need explore our certification options.
We found that the OHSAS 18001 was most suited to our needs. It covered our offices/warehouse and, above all, our on-site practices. The BSI standard also gives a new insight into company structure as well as H&S. It is also something that we are looking to roll out to our other offices.
S&S: Aside from big shows, where does the day-to-day business come from for Delta and how do you adjust when a big gig comes along?
As everyone knows, the economics of the company are based on the day-to-day work, rather than the exceptional projects. We are fortunate that much of this is now repeat work. We are never complacent about the size of project, large or small, they all deserve the same level attention and delivery.
S&S: Has the business seen any notable growth over the past year and - if so - where has this growth come from?
All aspects of the business have grown steadily over the years. If I were to pick out an area that is growing faster it would be communications. It is hard to believe that, until recently, there were virtually no communication rental options in the region.
Over the years, we have worked extensively with the TRA (telecom regulator) to improve our offering and to attempt to deliver complex systems to an international standard.
S&S: Does Delta Sound have any further plans for investment/expansion across the region?
Nothing groundbreaking with Delta Sound - just continued growth in all sectors of the rental and communications market. However, we will be officially launching ‘Delta AV Solutions’ in the next few weeks. This will provide high-end system integration using the same model of quality that we have built up with Delta Sound. AV solutions will run independently to Delta Sound and manage all our sales and integration as a separate entity. We will align ourselves with consultants from around the world in order to maintain the delivery and design aspects to the level our customers expect.