Elon Music Production alums part of 2019’s top-grossing concert tours

Emily Phillips '13 and Benjamin Scanlon '16, both Clair Global employees, helped engineer the sound for last year's BTS and Ariana Grande tours.

Millions enjoyed 2019 tours by K-pop superstars BTS and pop diva Ariana Grande in 2019, and a couple of Elon’s Music Production alumni had a hand in pulling those continent-hopping spectacles off.

According to Billboard and Front of House magazines, BTS’ “Love Yourself/Speak Yourself” tour was the third highest-grossing of 2019 — taking in more than titans Elton John (no. 4) and the Rolling Stones (no. 5). Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener” tour came in at No. 7, just ahead of Paul McCartney’s “Freshen Up” tour. Clair Global managed the sound for both the BTS and Grande tours.

Alumni Emily Phillips ’13 and Benjamin Scanlon ’16, music production and recording Arts majors, helped engineer the stadium-filling sounds on those tours as employees of Clair.

Here’s what they had to say about their experiences and how Elon’s Music Production and Recording Arts program prepared them.

What was your major?

Emily: Music technology (which is now the music production and recording arts major. Music technology is offered as a minor).

Ben: Music production and recording arts with an emphasis on recording arts.

How has your career progressed since graduating from Elon?

Emily: I worked for Maryland Sound for a year and a half in Baltimore doing a lot of corporate events down in D.C. and in New York City. I decided to move to Nashville because I wanted to work in the touring side of things. I worked for Sound Image for four years, based out of Nashville. My main tour with them was Lady Antebellum, but I also worked with Sia and Jimmy Buffett. I also did the CMA Music Festival with them for three years.

I decided to move on to Clair Global in August 2018. Since then I have done several tours (Childish Gambino, Josh Groban, Luis Miguel, Sleeping Beauty Dreams), including BTS in spring 2019.

Ben: After graduating, I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, and worked for a number of companies as a freelance AV/live sound technician. I briefly went full-time with Carey Sound in Greensboro. I did a decent variety of work during that time, from corporate and hotel AV setups and events, to outdoor music festivals in Greensboro and the surrounding region. I did that from graduation until I got my current job with Clair Global in February 2018.

What were your duties on these major tours?

Emily: On BTS I was the monitor technician. I took care of the stage and the monitor engineer. So I set up all the wedges and side fills for the dancers, and then set up the monitor world.

Ben: I was a PA technician. So my duties involved hanging the main PA every morning, and deploying and wiring any speakers on the ground around the stage. After the PA is in the air and everything is working, my duties included anything anyone else on the crew needed help with. Then, come showtime, I mixed front of house for one of the opening acts. During Ariana’s show, I carried her spare microphone at all times, so that if her microphone on stage malfunctioned, I was close by and could quickly hand her a spare working microphone with very little quiet time.

(Ben also worked in 2018 on the Canadian leg of McCartney’s tour, performing similar PA duties and monitoring power and PA systems during the show.)

How long did you work on these tours, and where did you travel?

Emily: It was a 45-day tour, including rehearsals. We did two shows per city at the Rose Bowl Stadium, Los Angeles; Soldier Field, Chicago; MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; Allianz Parque, Sao Paulo; Wembley Stadium, London; and Stade de France near Paris.

Ben:  We entered rehearsals in February 2019, kicked off the North American leg of the tour in March, which went until July and included all of the U.S., plus Canada, as well as the festivals Coachella and Lollapalooza. Then there was a European leg that was from August until mid-October, going all over Europe, the UK, and Ireland. Then there was another North American leg added that went from November to late December.

How did Elon’s Music Production and Recording Arts program prepare you for your career?

Emily: A lot of my time spent in the studio I worked on mic placement and making sure the engineer was happy with everything. Neatness, especially, is a huge thing. The critical listening class I found extremely helpful after college as well. It’s not just about listening to a record and picking out where instruments are, but learning to hear what frequencies stick out in a room while tuning a PA, and if something doesn’t sound right in the in-ear mix or coming through the PA.

I think the biggest thing that helped set my course was working for Rick Earl on the events around campus, and the concerts put on by the Music Department groups. It really helped solidify that I wanted to do live events, and I gained enough knowledge, experience, and confidence to have a successful internship, turn that into a job, and continue to succeed into where I am at today.

Ben: My studies at Elon gave me a great foundation for what I do every day on the road. While this is a job where so much of what you do you only learn from experience, Elon’s curriculum really gave a great foundation to build upon. I also worked extensively in Cultural and Special Programs, which gave me a great foundation in specifically live audio. I use things I learned on that job every day.

What advice would you give current students?

Emily: Take every opportunity you can, and don’t squander them. You may not want to trek all the way to the studio at midnight, because that’s the time slot you got, or work another orientation weekend, but those are the times you need to. I don’t want to get up for a 5:30 a.m. lobby call, but once I get to work and start loading in, it doesn’t seem that bad.

Have confidence that you know what you are doing, but make sure that you are also humble enough to ask for help or accept advice. Know that you are not going to graduate and jump right into a successful career as an engineer. You have to work for it. I know the professors all say that, but trust me, it’s true.

Also, bring a book. Learn to like sitting around for hours on no sleep, waiting for catering to be up.

Ben: My advice for students at Elon is to learn by doing. The music production and recording arts curriculum is great, and like I said, is a solid foundation, but in the realm of live events, you can only really learn by doing it. Take on projects or help upperclassmen with their projects, work under knowledgeable older students and faculty. And always be humble and unafraid to ask questions. Sometimes, especially when I was freelancing in Greensboro, I felt like I was getting hired again not because I had some great technical knowledge or was super skilled — it was because I was humble, eager to learn, hardworking and didn’t talk too much. It’s a people business as much as it is a technical business.