Neal C. Duffy was once kissed on the cheek by Erykah Badu, Ludacris requested his presence for a handshake and hug, and Jay-Z ran into him in New York and apologized.
The cool, sweet, jet setting Neal Duffy is Front of House Sound Engineer with Neon Trees. He also works with Lisa Marie Presley & Tilly & The Wall. From what I gather as his FB friend, Neal has his pick of many other major artists to play with. He’s in hot demand.
Neal C. Duffy, 33, was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. He studied Audio Engineering at Recording Workshop, and also likes to play dance music for crowds of people under the moniker W.E.R.D.
Able to hear and learn like a prodigy, even now that he’s in the big leagues, he will sometimes lend a hand when he’s at small local events with bands who battle terrible systems. Neal makes them sing, no matter the space. He spins, too. Great vibes.
Here, Neal answered FIVE QUESTIONS. Read on to learn more about the happy, virtuosic engineer.
1) How did you get your start in music? Who were some of your early musical influences? Who are you hot on listening to right now? Who are Omaha bands/DJ’s/sounds you dig?
ND – I first got my start in music when I was born I think in 4th grade I started playing music, started with the violin and immediately moved on to the trumpet. I really enjoyed playing trumpet, although I felt kinda embarrassed to be playing a horn and not a drum set or guitar, but that all changed when I met Mr. Walker, in 7th grade at Norris Middle School. Mr. Brian Walker still to this day was one of my favorite teachers and mentors, if you know Mr. Walker, well then you know. He made me feel so far from embarrassed to play trumpet, I mean he wore Converse sneakers! What teacher wears Chuck Taylors?! He probably still wears em. He made learning about music so fun and interesting and also would always challenge you to be better. I knew from that young point in my life I always wanted to be around music. One of my first memories, well a memory that continues to replay over and over in my mind, looking at all my parents vinyl records. I would find myself meticulously studying the physical album, i.e. album artwork, reading who engineered, produced, played on the record, lyrics, where it was recorded, basically dissecting an entire album. It would unknowingly make my listening experience euphoric. My early music influences: Michael Jackson, Queen,Talking Heads, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Third Eye Blind, Prince, Otis Redding, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, INXS, David Bowie, A Tribe Called Quest. Recently, Ive been listening to Flying Lotus, Kimbra, Run the Jewels, Miley Cyrus, Vampire Weekend, Flume, Nicki Minaj, Future Islands, Justin Timberlake, St. Vincent, Kanye West, Walk the Moon. My music library is all over the spectrum, but you can tell Im a sucker for a great pop song 🙂 Omaha musicians/artists I love: Criteria, Twinsmith, Conchance, The Faint, Nater Smith, Keith Rodgers, Matthew Amandus, Dojorok, Black Jonny Quest, Icky Blossoms and M34N STR33T, my Mom and Dad.
2) How did you start running sound? When did you discover the huge role sound has on a live performance? If you could be a world-reknown DJ, or continue running sound for international groups, which would you choose?
ND – When I went to college I knew I wanted to to do anything music related, so I started doing radio broadcasting at Iowa Western Community College, had my own radio show on Sundays where I would have musicians come in from time to time and perform live. That’s about when I figured out where I really wanted to be with music. Producing, recording, engineering, all the behind the scenes stuff making recordings. Making it sound perfect! I then went on and furthered my education at Recording Workshop in Ohio where I learned so much about the science of audio. After I finished that program I came back to Omaha and went on tour with a Canadian band called The Clumsy Lovers, I had them on my radio show a time or two and they knew I was just finishing up school so I jumped off the high dive, into the deep end, with no floaties I loved it, I learned so much in such a short amount of time. Doing that short tour, I knew I was set to do live sound as my career. I still loved doing studio work, but I loved the challenges live sound presented to me. In a studio everything is so sterile and clean, you don’t have to make it perfect on the first time, whereas in a live setting you have so many different variables and you have ONE chance to make it perfect each night. I live for succeeding under that pressure. After that tour is when I met some of my dearest friends in The Jazzwholes or The Wholes, when I first saw them play I knew they had something very unique and I wanted to be a part of their drive, determination, and dedication to their craft. We played every Sunday for years, first at Goofy Foot Lodge downtown, then out west at Barfly. I’ve since toured with Go! Motion, Tilly & the Wall, Eagle Seagull, CSS, Lisa Marie Presley and currently am working with Neon Trees. I discovered early on how important, actually how critical a sound engineers role is on live performance. A bands sound engineer could almost be considered an extension of the band, their role is more than important. There is a lot of pressure for an engineer to make it sound perfect for a crowd of people, the engineer is the first person everyone looks at when something is wrong. You want all eyes looking forward at the band, not turned and death staring you. I totally consider myself a hobbyist DJ so I would easily prefer to continue touring the world working for the best musicians.
3) You’ve performed all over the world. How do the technical requirements change from continent to continent? Are there differences in what multi-cultures want in their sound set-ups and have for electrical configurations? Can you speak to some of the challenges and how you have overcome them?
ND – Touring all over the world definitely has its challenges, really I think the only technical differences touring in the States vs. any where else would be power, different countries have different power ratings and you had better know what your plugging in and where before you blow up yourself and or your gear. As far as sound systems go worldwide, they are all pretty similar. The only other real big difference would be language barrier, but most promoters provide translators.
4) Who have been your favorite acts to work with? Who is on the short list that you would like to work with?
ND – My favorite acts to work with, Neon Trees, CSS, Tilly & the Wall, Lisa Marie Presley, The Jazzwholes, Go! Motion. Every single person involved with all those named groups are family to me. I spend more time with these people than I do with my real family. Its so important to have that feeling when touring, if you are a happy functioning family it shows! The short list of who I would love to work with: Kanye West, he’s a perfectionist, I would eat that challenge for dinner and burp in his face I would also love to work with Rick Rubin in a studio setting, that man is a legend!
5) What does the future hold for you, short-term/long-term? Projects in the works, travels coming up? Anything locally?
Ive always had a passion for photography, especially film photography, some of the musicians I work for are taking some time off, so I may take some time this winter and work on another photo show. Also, I would love to finish a record project I started about 2 years ago. The future for me, I’m not sure, it feels like its gonna be BRIGHT & PURPLE.