From Teaching at IPR to Touring with AC/DC
It sounds like an odd piece of advice for those in the live sound and show production field…
“As a freelance light and sound guy, having a passport is really important,” said Jason Arhelger, a former Institute of Production and Recording instructor.
It led to a job in Mexico last year.
“They called and said, ‘Do you have a passport? Are you available next weekend?’ And that was it,” he said.
Arhelger’s passport will serve him well once again in late April 2015, when he heads to Europe to go on tour with legendary rock band AC/DC.
Being on tour overseas with a major act is “everybody’s dream in the production world,” said Arhelger, a 26-year-old native of Rochester, Minn.
Starting in the Netherlands, he will work primarily with lighting during the AC/DC performances, which continue through late July.
“It’s the highlight of my career so far,” he said.
And it’s a long way from his beginnings running sound for church services back home.
Arhelger has been doing live sound and show production since he was 13 years old.
It was at that Rochester church where he translated his love of tinkering with rudimentary audio equipment to eventually being given full responsibility for the sound system around age 16.
“It’s always something that I loved doing,” Arhelger said.
He grew up listening mostly to classical music (his mother was a classically trained flautist) and he enjoyed the technical aspects of composition.
“How (music is) made and produced was always really interesting to me,” he said.
For Those About to Rock
Before the AC/DC tour, Arhelger’s most recent major gig came with Oprah Winfrey.
He was with the media mogul during a cross-country speaking tour from August through November 2014. During those events, Arhelger set up trusses and wiring, getting the details for her lighting just right.
Those who get into the business, of course, don’t begin with major public figures and bands with decades of success. Arhelger said he started out teaching himself and watched others as he began his journey in the field.
He went to school for music in Rochester, but eventually outgrew his coursework and later attended McNally Smith College of Music, studying recording and engineering.
It was at the St. Paul school that Arhelger met Peter Greenlund, the live show and sound production chair at IPR, who helped him land gigs in the Twin Cities and develop industry connections. Arhelger continued to hone his craft, running sound and lighting for shows and church services.
And when Greenlund was looking for a lighting instructor at IPR, Arhelger accepted, calling the opportunity to teach at the downtown Minneapolis creative arts college “an interesting challenge.”
“It’s time for me to give something back,” Arhelger said.
Shoot to Thrill
Oddly enough, it was a “like” on Facebook that led to Arhelger’s preparations for a European tour.
He had followed the Facebook page of Upstaging, a Chicago-based production company that was founded in 1972 and has worked with the likes of Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez and Coldplay.
When Upstaging put the word out on social media in search of lighting technicians, Arhelger—who as a member of a local union in Minnesota has been involved with major shows at the Target Center and Xcel Energy Center—decided to apply.
“Why not?” he said. “It can’t hurt.”
They liked what they saw from Arhelger, and so he went from traveling the U.S. on Oprah’s speaking tour to preparing to head to Europe with AC/DC for shows every three or four days.
He’s set to fly out April 22.
“Then we’re off and running,” Arhelger said.
Who Made Who
Arhelger will be part of a crew of 11 tasked with hitting the right notes, so to speak, for the lighting for the AC/DC shows.
Specifically, they’ll be “framing the overall look of the stage from the audience’s perspective,” he said.
The work began months before the band will hit the stage. Production designers outlined the look and feel of the performance. Drafters came up with designs. Others figured out how much it’s going to cost.
“Then we start dissecting drawings and figure out how we can make all this stuff happen,” Arhelger said.
Mounting lights, putting trusses together, identifying roles, city by city—it’s all part of touring with a major band.
“I absolutely love what I’m doing,” Arhelger said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Back in Black
While Arhelger grew up listening mostly to classical music, his tastes have grown over the years, and he’s into various genres, both for enjoyment and research. He counts Queen, Van Halen and other 1980s and ’90s rock and pop among his go-to selections. AC/DC fits right in.
And just as his musical preferences have changed, so too has the technical side of the industry, from the proliferation of LED lights to media servers that allow pros to more easily layer content and effects together.
“It’s amazing the stuff that’s out there for people to play with,” he said.
As important as the technical side of the industry is, there’s plenty of value in networking, job shadowing and working hard, Arhelger said. Relationships are significant.
“Don’t burn any bridges,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to need that bridge again.”
Being professional on the job and staying disciplined are other vital aspects of success in the field.
“People appreciate that and they’ll remember you for other things,” he said.
Though Arhelger said he had a great time touring the U.S. with Oprah, he’s never been to Europe before… Good thing he’s got his passport ready.