Live engineer and producer. Owner, BeatingHeart Sound+Light
With both West Kowloon Cultural District and Central Harbourfront Space being used for large-scale events like Road to Ultra and Clockenflap, Hong Kong is experiencing a rising demand for large outdoor festivals and concerts. Key to the success of such events are the masterful sound engineers that run the booth from downbeat, such as the likes of 26-year-old Ash Tsang and his company BeatingHeart Sound+Light.
After studying in Australia at the School of Audio Engineering, in Melbourne, Tsang returned to Hong Kong to work as a production manager at the Vine Centre, before establishing BeatingHeart in 2013 in the space of a defunct live house. Now, Tsang frequently gets the call to take charge of many of the international acts that come through Hong Kong. At Clockenflap, his company has run Club Minky and Tsang himself worked the main stage last year as an assistant engineer.
“I think I was 14 when it all started,” Tsang says when considering the start of his audiophilia. “In church, I was in a band and I got really frustrated with the sound. I was a bit pedantic about the quality of the sound, so I migrated to the soundboard.”
A normal production cycle involves meticulous preparation: production meetings, 3D modelling of light and speaker layouts, as well as dedicated teams who are prepped well before the day of the event. “Everything is preset,” Tsang emphasises. “By the time we get to the show, we don’t spend time running into emergencies because of all the prep we do.”
We ask Tsang what his motivation is for all of this. “You have to treat the sound desk as an instrument,” he replies. “If you think about it, you’re controlling the band. How good they sound is almost totally based on you. So you want to gain the band’s trust, figure out what they like and what they want or expect from the sound.” It’s no easy task. “Audio engineering is a tough thing if you don’t know what you’re doing,” admits Tsang, “but if you do, it’s very rewarding to know that you put all the pieces together.”
For Tsang, his whole life has been spent in pursuit of the best way to solve that puzzle. However, Tsang feels that engineers get a raw deal most of the time. “International acts make everyone on crew feel like a part of the band, a part of a family,” he comments. “In Hong Kong, the engineer is the engineer. When they’re done, they usually don’t get to say bye to the band. They just go.” Tsang much prefers to be completely involved, to sit in on rehearsals, bond with the band, share jokes and chat over coffee. “How else,” he emphasises, “are you going to make them sound good if you just rock up and mix? You want to get to know what they like, make suggestions. Talk to them as a musician. Get to know them.”
In the end, Tsang reiterates the necessary artistic approach to sound engineering. “It’s all very subjective,” he states, “but you have to know what you’re looking for. If it’s based on nothing, then you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve. You have to know what a painting looks like in your head before putting brush to canvas.”
Clockenflap, Tegan & Sara, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike
What I dig
Must-have on the job
Clear head and a flat white
Learn more about BeatingHeart Sound+Light at beatingheart.asia