Before we get started, a note to the BBC-watchers out there. No, The Doctor has not taken up pro audio. This is about that other David Tennant. The one in Las Vegas.

By Jake Kelly and Rev. Bill

Before we get started, a note to the BBC-watchers out there. No, The Doctor has not taken up pro audio. This is about that other David Tennant. The one in Las Vegas.

David Tennant’s career has—like most folks involved in audio—spanned bunches of gigs, many venues and more than a few states and work on more than one continent eventually leading up to owning and running his own pro audio company. But he didn’t follow the “usual path” (if there is such a thing) to achieving success.

Sure, he did the “standard” A/V thing in high school all those years ago. But, a mere six days after graduating high school he was an enlisted man in the U.S. Army as a crewchief on AH-1 Cobra helicopters.  And, after his initial run, he re-enlisted after hearing the call to support his country at the beginning of the Desert Storm campaign in the early 90’s. But rather than shipping him off Iraq, the Army put his “admittedly limited” audio skills to use with the Army Entertainment Division in Washington, DC. Yes, there is an Army Entertainment Division. Check them out After some quick training in wireless systems and on their brand new Yamaha PM3000, David found himself as FOH engineer on a fifty-seven show tour of the United States Army Soldier Show bringing entertainment and morale to the troops and their families stationed around the world. 

“Entertainment for the soldier, by the soldier” is the unofficial motto of the division established by Irving Berlin during World War II. Their charge is to provide entertainment to the troops, veterans, retirees and civilians. 

“After my enlistment ended in 1994, and through an acquaintance gained in the years prior, I interviewed with RoadWorx Audio, of Greensboro, North Carolina. There I sharpened my audio skills and got my first real taste of the industry. Shortly thereafter in 1995, Dan LaVeglia (Director of Audio for RoadWorx, now with Claire Bros.) moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to open a new concert venue as Technical Director. He offered me one of two audio positions there and I couldn’t say no. Dan was a great mentor and I can never thank him enough for all he’s taught me.”

In 2000, David returned to Army Entertainment (this time as a civilian) on a two year contract to instruct new soldiers in audio and prepare the shows for touring. For Tennant, this was a tremendous amount of responsibility, since he was not only overseeing all the technical aspects of the U.S. Army Concert Series, but three other entertainment programs as well. And, if that wasn’t enough, he trained others to operate the sound systems for the various installations that he had a hand in designing.

It is the kind of discipline and the attention to detail (not to mention accountability) that the army instilled in Tennant that made him attractive to the Cannery Casio & Hotel in Las Vegas when they were putting together their Entertainment department in 2002.

Once upon a time, casinos used entertainment as a way to draw crowds to their more lucrative business venture, gaming.  And since gaming draws such large profits, it was able to subsidize the entertainment side of the business before all of the resorts in Vegas were taken over by mega-corporations and entertainment became just another department that was expected to cover its own expenses.  Dave came into Vegas at the tail end of that era and it allowed him to design and develop the Cannery’s entertainment venue with state of the art audio, lighting and staging equipment and oversee a multi-million dollar budget. In addition to the Cannery in North Las Vegas, Dave oversaw entertainment at the Rampart Casino in the pricey Summerlin suburb and oversaw the opening of two more Cannery locations including a state-of-the-art performance venue on the top floor overlooking the entire Vegas Valley and The Meadows Casino in Washington, Pennsylvania.

 Tennant’s tenure at the Cannery would last nearly a decade, first as the Technical Director and later as the Director of Technical Entertainment. The venue which one Vegas local referred to as “A “B” casino in a “C-minus” part of town with an “A” room boasted an analog Midas console at house, a JBL VerTec rig and better lighting and video than a lot of showrooms in venues on The Strip.

It would seem that nothing could stand in his way. Except for the near total collapse of the nation’s economy. In 2010, along with the throngs of other production directors and tech folks unemployed in Las Vegas during the Great Recession, Tennant found himself needing to reassess his career options.

Since his background in entertainment was so far reaching in many different aspects from scheduling, coordination, budgeting, not to mention the technical aspects of audio; he quickly found employment. H.A.S. Productions (a company we cover a lot at SPL because we love the “started in a pick-up truck and ended up as probably the biggest indie service provider in Vegas thing) was well known to Dave as they were his first call provider when any of his venues needed to rent gear for larger productions or additional rooms. They were in need of an operations manager and the timing was right. Dave applied his talents for both tech and organization as the Operations Manager for the next couple of years.  “Two and a half years,” Dave quipped. “I think I hold the record.”

 But as the economy recovered, new opportunities arrived.

Hanging his own shingle, Tennant started his own freelance consultant service which led directly into several profitable jobs.  Anyone who has been in the production biz for any length of time will find it no surprise that everyone in Vegas knows everyone else and people move freely between companies and gigs. When he was not consulting, he was freelancing as a house engineer, often for venues run by HAS. When one of those venues—The Silverton—decided to expand their entertainment with a poolside series of tribute bands throughout the summer, opportunity and smart planning then allowed Tennant to purchase enough equipment to start his own audio production company.

“I did a stage down on Fremont Street for New Year’s Eve and Larry (Hall, owner of HAS) had hung 9 per side of the RCF HDL20-A’s. They were small and light and we are all really impressed with their performance. When the Silverton approached me about this summer series and included a big chunk of the contract up front, it allowed me to buy a system plenty big enough for this gig and expandable.” And with that, DTPS (David Tennant Production Services) was born.

Of course, in the beginning phase of such an enterprise, DTPS is a small, often one-man, operation though he’ll often hire extra help as the situation requires. The compact RCF system makes that do-able. Dave can pull up in a car pulling a single trailer and handle the system solo if he needs to. While the Veil Showroom hosts B-level country and classic rock acts and is outfitted with an HAS provided JBL VerTec rig and Yamaha PM5D,  the poolside series is more, um, compact.

“We are using a Behringer X-32 and it does everything we need it to for these shows.” For the pool series, Dave hires an old Cannery crew-mate Blake Norris as the side of stage guy while he mixes house. But there is only one console. And Blake is manning it.  They run the X-32 surface as a monitor console in flip-fader mode and Dave mixes the show from a pool chair out front. On an iPad. Really.

“Before the Veil room opened, they did all of their shows at the Silverton on a larger stage out here by the pool and I did my share of those at HAS. We had a house position and a monitor position and a much larger JBL or Adamson rig with the requisite snake and amp racks. And a couple of times this summer we had national acts with their own engineer out at the pool and for that we rented an Avid Profile and ran the snake and set up a mix position. But there was no way that was going to fly financially for this summer tribute band series. And the gig is too small for a company like HAS. The combination of the RCF rig and the X-32 has made this whole thing doable with a quality level that would have meant at least twice as much gear and a crew of at least four guys just a couple of years ago.”

An important part of Dave’s success is one that is little noted or discussed. His discipline is something that has served him well as an employee and now as an owner. And that all comes from his military experience. He knows that and pays it forward in a military way. He has headed out to bases in the Middle East a couple of times in the past few years doing production and mixing gigs as a volunteer for the troops stationed there. 

The new generation of smaller, lighter, more powerful and better sounding gear has certainly helped facilitate Tennant’s venture.  His knowledge of audio technology, discipline and well-rounded experience in all other aspects of the entertainment industry has given him an edge in the entertainment capital of the world.