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Inside the sound of Live Aid

Steve Harvey and Clive Young look back at the live sound effort that went into the legendary 1985 charity concert, a live sound challenge from the first note to the last.


Queen’s 17-minute set at Live Aid became the stuff of legend. The performance of Freddy Mercury (left) and Brian May was all the more dynamic because, according to Roy Clair of the band’s U.S. audio provider, Clair Global, FOH engineer Trip Khalaf “did opposite of what the movie Bohemian Rhapsody said. The movie said that he turned the volume up, but he actually pulled it down because everyone was overloading the system.” Photo: Pete Still / Popperfoto / Getty Images

To say that the Live Aid benefit concert was ambitious is an understatement. Held simultaneously at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium on July 13, 1985, it was broadcast live to an estimated 40 percent of the world’s population and featured an all-star roster of artists who had to be shepherded on and off stage with almost split-second timing—whether they were ready or not. And just to make things more difficult, the first time anyone really heard the PA for the London stage, supplied by Malcolm Hill Associates, was when Status Quo kicked off proceedings with “Rockin’ All Over the World.”

On paper, the audio production for Live Aid was just a regular festival spec, according to Hill, with dual A/B desks and associated control gear at front of house and monitors, and dual sets of mics—the only items not manufactured by Hill Audio—and wedges. “Just a normal day at the office,” he says. In reality not so much. READ MORE@MIXONLINE


When nearly 90,000 people packed into JFK Stadium on July 13, 1985 for Live Aid, none of them knew that the stage had broken just the night before. Jacques M. Chenet / Corbis Via Getty Images

Philadelphia, PA—By the time the US half of Live Aid kicked off at noon on July 13, 1985, the UK edition had already been rocking for five hours, but given everything that happened before the US show even started, it was as if the entire production had been running a marathon for days.

Once the US edition began, from there on out, performances would alternate between the UK show in London and the concert in Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium until the UK called it a day at 10 PM London time / 5 PM in Philly, with the US then continuing on until 11 PM. During the overlapping hours, broadcasters worldwide alternated performances between the shows, giving crews on each side of the Atlantic extra time to set up and tear down while the other continent’s acts were performing. However, just getting to that point was already an accomplishment for the live sound pros on hand, given that the entire gig had come on short notice. It helped that the Clair team was familiar with JFK Stadium, having provided audio for a Peter Frampton/Lynyrd Skynyrd show there in 1977, but being picked as the sound vendor so late meant there was little time for the Clair team to prepare. READ MORE@MIXONLINE

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