1 Sep 2021

Bringing back the Rock to the Hard Rock Café

by Jason Allen

The Hard Rock Café brand has always struggled a bit in Australia, with the Melbourne branch closing in 2007. With its spiritual home in Surfer’s Paradise and a venue at Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the brand has never taken off like it has overseas, where you’ll find an astonishing 185 cafes, 25 hotels, and 12 casinos. New owners Upsense Media Capital  plan to bring it back to life by doing the seemingly obvious – bring back the Rock!

Unlike most other countries, the Hard Rock franchise in Australia has never really done what it’s famous for elsewhere, which is host live music. This is a fundamental underpinning of the brand and what has been attracting people to the venues since the first branch opened in London in 1971. Thankfully, the new owners ‘get it’, and have embarked on a new fit-out designed to host live music, loud and proud. They even plan to bring the Hard Rock back to Melbourne and expand to Darwin and Perth.

Starting with the iconic Gold Coast venue, Hard Rock approached Brisbane-based production and installation company IJS Productions Australia to implement a PA that would provide the power they need. “They’d already spent considerable money on the refit, and done some interesting acoustic treatment to the stage,” relates Scott Mullane, Business Development Manager at IJS Productions. “The stage itself had been filled with rockwool batts, creating a deep acoustic trap. The stage’s rear wall had been covered in batts, then panelled with 3cm wide strips of beautiful hardwood, spaced apart by 3cms, creating a kind of diffuser. It looks great, and radically improves the stage sound.”

The five metre by four metre stage is built to hold a rock band, as per the venue’s heritage. “The Screaming Jets originally played at the opening of the Gold Coast branch back in 1996,” Scott continues. “The aim is to get that level of gig back in the room. It’s about full bands, and they have full backline, making it easy for any band to get in and out. They want to run four nights a week of proper band work. In the current environment, we need more of that!”

With a rough PA design already in place based on other venues within the organisation, Scott got in touch with CMI Music & Audio’s Brian Vayler, the Queensland-based Product Specialist from their Audio Solutions team, to discuss system design.

“Scott and I put our heads together and came up with a solution that met the client’s requirements,” reports Brian. “Because of height restrictions, the circular design, and the width of the room, a point source PA was going to be the best option. We decided to go with loudspeakers from Adamson’s IS-Series.”

“Hard Rock Gold Coast hosts about 350 people in a circular room, so you can’t shoot straight,” outlines Scott. “We had to spread the horizontal dispersion to the sides. Our solution was to use one Adamson IS10p per side for the main left-right, splayed out.”

The IS10p is a two-way, full range cabinet with two 10” drivers and a 1.4” exit compression driver, part of Adamson’s IS-Series, designed for installation. Available with either 70° x 40° dispersion or 100° x 50°, the horns are rotatable, allowing Scott and IJS Productions to get the coverage they needed.

Joining the IS10ps was a single IS7p (two-way dual 7” and 1.4” exit compression driver), flown above the stage and functioning as down and front fill. Two Adamson IS219 subs were fitted under the stage, coupled in the centre. On stage, four Adamson M15s handle monitor duties, running a single 15” and 1.5” exit compression driver. All loudspeakers are powered by Lab Gruppen installation amps with Lake processing. The in-house mixer is a Soundcraft Ui24, which is standard in Hard Rock Cafés the world over. Brian Vayler put the finishing touches on the system by commissioning and tuning.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, the building housing the Hard Rock Café, Harbourside, is slated for demolition in three years. While Hard Rock management still wanted to duplicate the capabilities of the PA at the Gold Coast, they wanted to pare the budget back a bit. This didn’t phase Scott and Brian, who knew they could get major SPL out of a smaller Adamson rig.

“In Sydney, they’d enlarged the stage to support a band, so we used the same number of M15 monitors,” Scott explains. “For the FOH PA, we knew that, despite their size, a pair of Adamson IS7ps would make a killer left-right. We installed one IS7p a side and three IS118 subs clustered at centre under the stage, which are teeny; I can lift one by myself. We also added an Adamson Point 8 single 8” outfill for about 20 people off to one side of the stage.” With a tight turnaround on the job, Brian made sure the whole rig was shipped in time for local contractor Brad Law to get the system in.

Legendary Aussie pub rockers The Choirboys were the first band to use the PA. “We knew we’d done alright when I got a call from the Hard Rock Cafe’s Mark Spillane,” retells Scott. “He said, ‘When I saw the size of the left-right boxes, I was nervous, but I was absolutely floored. Not only did it sound clean and clear, the SPL was like a much bigger system. I was standing towards the back of the room and could feel the air moving.’ That was the big tick for me. We saved some money, but with zero sacrifice. It’s a tiny system, in a serious venue, performing very well. The techs from JPJ Audio are in-house in Sydney, and the feedback from them has been very good. Having worked with Adamson for a few years, and knowing what it can do, even I was impressed with what we managed to achieve in Sydney.”

Back on the Gold Coast, Brian chats regularly with sound techs who have mixed on the Adamson rig at the Hard Rock. “The locals love it,” he extols. “Everyone who mixes there walks away very happy, and the client is exceedingly pleased with the result.”

With Scott often out touring with a regular roster of top-tier Australian acts, he’s developed a clear preference for his choice of PA. “Adamson is number one on my rider at the moment,” he reveals. “I believe objectively that they have market-leading power to weight ratio. Subjectively, I prefer their voicing. One thing I find outstanding about an Adamson PA is its pattern control, which I believe rivals other brands, but Adamson don’t seem to talk about it as much as its competitors. When I put problematic sources like headsets and lecterns behind an Adamson PA, I find I’m carving them up less with EQ because I’m getting less rear bleed off the back of the boxes. As for the voicing, I find that vocals hover in the phantom centre like they would on good studio monitors. I’m not driving the vocal so much as letting the mix sit below the vocals naturally, which makes me feel like there’s more dynamic range.”


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