Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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Page 9 of 9

ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón

SUPERIOR SOUND
Forty years on, Ed Pratt still strives for audio excellence.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Making great music is reason enough to place a band or artist on a pedestal. But kudos are also due to those working behind the scenes to ensure that sound is heard. Granted, they don't get their name on the marquee and rarely receive recognition. Without their expertise, however, every big racket would sound like little more than a faint whisper.

Ed Pratt of Salt Lake City-based Pratt Sound can attest to that scenario. As the man responsible for one of the region's most prominent production companies, he's set up sound for countless concerts and events over the past 40 years. A list of those whose live audio he's engineered includes the Doobie Brothers, Diana Ross, John Denver, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Ray Charles, Def Leppard and Crosby, Stills & Nash. "We work with people on their way up," he says, "and on their way down."

Pratt and his team of sound professionals pride themselves on their ability to adapt to any circumstance, from festivals to trade shows and every stage in between. The company maintains a large, ever-expanding inventory of the latest audio components and a network of sound engineers and support personnel who are hired as independent contractors.

Pratt's career got off to a somewhat inauspicious start in the early '70s. An itinerant musician, he worked in a recording studio by day and frequented the club scene by night. When a local club owner mentioned that he'd get more bookings if he brought along his own sound system, Pratt took him up on his suggestion. He borrowed $1,000 and added another $300 from his savings to buy his own PA and learned on the job, experimenting with sound levels while setting up his own stage show.

One night, he was approached by some onlookers who complimented him on his sound and asked if they could rent his gear for a Taj Mahal concert they were promoting at the University of Utah. Pratt immediately agreed. "I realized I would get paid more from renting my gear than I would if I played the gig," he recalls. "The light went on in my head: My gear could become a source of income without me always having to be at the gig. I made $400 from the rental that night and if I had played, I probably would have only taken home $100."

Pratt relished the idea of profiting from production. "We used to make jokes about it," he says. "We play practically for free, but we get paid to haul our gear." Not that he was ready to turn his back on center stage entirely. "I was a really good entertainer and a really good folksinger," he insists. "I played pretty well. I think my reputation as a musician bolstered my aspirations. I never thought I'd be a sound company owner. I thought I'd end up as a guitar player."

Instead, Pratt ended up running sound for big-time venues and events near and far: Twilight Concert Series, Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Live Nite Events, Salt Lake Jazz Festival, Sandy Amphitheater, Utah Pride Festival, Kingsbury Hall, Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Pratt insists that his experience as a performer gives him extra insight into those wildly divergent audio elements and requirements.

"I know how things are supposed to sound," he says. "You don't have to be a musician to succeed at this, but I think it does give you a leg up. It helps you know where to place the equipment, how loud it should be, how to balance it and that kind of thing. It just came naturally to me."

In a sense, Pratt still lives the rock 'n' roll fantasy. As an artist, he opened for some big names back in the day, like Chicago, the Beach Boys and Bonnie Raitt. Has he spent the last four decades living vicariously through the artists he amplifies? "Basically, I really wanted to be part of the culture," he admits. "Not just musically, but also through production."

While Pratt says his satisfaction comes from doing a job right, he also relishes the more intimate encounters, as well. "I revel in the small moments," he says. "I'm not an autograph seeker; that would be unprofessional. I remember being on the side of the stage and Johnny Cash was sitting there playing his guitar and waiting to go on. And I was thinking, 'I'm watching Johnny Cash.' We didn't have an exchange, but it was a special moment for me. We had Kris Kristofferson here [at Kingsbury Hall] last month, and it was the same thing. I didn't go up and say, 'Oh Kris, I think you're the greatest.' That would take my credibility away. You have to be cool and just take in the moment."

Pratt Sound's success steamrolled thanks to a forward-looking business plan, though. Pratt made it a point over the years to reinvest whatever money he made back into the business to keep pace with the technology. "That kind of separates the men from the boys," he says. "All these old guys would say stuff like 'Analog, analog, we want to work with analog!' What I was hearing was that they simply didn't want to learn digital technology. Like many things, if you don't keep up, you get outmoded. When I bought my first digital console, I locked myself in my shop for four weeks and learned it. I've never looked back since."

All these years later, Pratt prides himself on maintaining a consistent list of clients who have come to expect—and respect—his ability to make things sound right. He claims that his team is capable of working three concerts in a single night. "We're not the biggest in town," he admits. "I feel like we're the boutique rock 'n' roll sound company here. [But] any time people want to gather and need a microphone, they should call me."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

Bio:
An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.

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