In Conversation with Don Drucker
More than 30 years have passed since Pyramid Audio put on its first live production, but even after that much time, the company remains an industry leader in sound and video innovation. Pyramid’s meticulously designed experiences are poised on the cutting edge, with many of its recurring clients—like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and the Krewe of Endymion—representing significant benchmarks in the New Orleans cultural zeitgeist. Even if you don’t recognize a Pyramid production by name, you’ll know it when you feel it—and according to Founder and CEO Don Drucker, that’s neither an accident nor an easy undertaking. Drucker spoke with REGION about how he came to establish such a successful business and build such a prolific portfolio, as well as where he’s taking Pyramid next.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get started on your career path?
I started as a freelancer. I literally worked everywhere for free. In my very early days, if I heard of a show or event taking place, I would just show up and work it. My path really started on the first day of high school, during the first hour, when I found my first friend. I sat next to him in orientation, and as we were talking, he said he was starting a band. I said I was happy to join in. By the end of the school year, we had a band and booked our first show at the school’s Hop Sock Dance. Packing up the equipment to head to our show, I realized I didn’t know how to get the equipment there. I asked everyone what to do. My friend simply said, ‘Call a taxi!’ What a great day to remember, because as of now, it takes 53-ft. semis to do the same work.
What led you to launch Pyramid Audio? Did you always see yourself becoming a business owner?
After playing in a couple of bands for a few years, I found myself starting to work audio engineering with many of them. As guitar players had their own guitars, I decided I should have my own mixing console, so I bought one. Only a few were even available back then. This led to buying more equipment and working with more and more bands. Being the only engineer with a console, I stayed very busy. Eventually, I collected all my equipment from several bands and, with the help of a disaster loan, I created a large sound system that I was able to rent for large events. I did dream of doing this earlier in life, but it was really never a plan.
Pyramid is behind several culturally significant events in our region. Can you tell us about some of your favorites?
What is New Orleans without Mardi Gras and the Jazz Fest?! Pyramid’s very first real job ever was the Endymion Extravaganza. I had worked the event many times before, but not as a Pyramid event. I went to Mr. Ed Muniz, the captain of Endymion, and asked if he was interested booking my company. He said yes, and the event turn out great. At the end of it, Ed came over to say how brilliant it was and that he wanted to book me again next year. I was extremely ecstatic, but I told him, ‘We need to add lighting to the event,’ and he agreed due to the stages being completely in the dark. I am now in my 42nd year with them, handle all the production of the event, and I am proud to still be with them. I have the same relationship with the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which, funnily enough, I started working with the exact same year. Now, I am their oldest production vendor providing sound at several stages and LED video walls at all larger stages.
Have you ever worked on a production you found exceptionally challenging? What was it, and what was the process for bringing it to life?
I consider most shows inspiring and in need of different kinds of planning; they are all unique, with different acts, different venues and certainly new people all the time. You have to love that. Touring for the Eagles from 2001 to 2007 as their stage manager and on to production manager was very, very challenging, and the Endymion Extravaganza is always a challenge. But a unique one that stands out is a private Queen performance that took place outside of Las Vegas in the middle of July for a very large corporation. What made this unique, besides being in the desert during the middle of summer, was it being Queen’s first private show ever. They were starting a new tour and analyzing what was needed That included: large invisible LED screens, a large-formatted sound system, pyro, remote control spotlights and wireless sensors to be placed on the artists. It was a challenge on every aspect. The planning of the event started 6 months out, but with little information as they were still sorting necessities. We did not have the full scope of what was required till 30 days before the event took place, which caused changes and challenges every day. From cutting large holes in a brand-new stage, to installing hydraulic lifts, runways, and invisible LED walls, everything was multifaceted. Not to mention that adding 100 tons of air conditioning to an outdoor open-air stage was very interesting. The outcome was spectacular for the audience, the band and me. Everyone was happy and it was a perfect show. I will always remember this one.
As we return to in-person events, how do you see the live production industry evolving?
New Orleans is an entertainment city. Always has been, and always will be. We produce several events out of state, but the majority of events take place in New Orleans. Due to COVID affecting our industry so deeply, we went from two years of no shows to booking systems and technicians hourly. Our industry is suffering from not being able to purchase new equipment due to electronic manufacturing shortages, hence backorders going into 2023. I was fortunate that months before COVID, Pyramid updated several large audio and video systems, so now we still have current technologies to serve the New Orleans and surrounding areas.
What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned on your professional journey?
Every day is a new lesson, but most important is staying current with new developments in technology. The day a business stops acquiring new technology is the day that business starts to die. Another lesson we all need to learn is how to organize our efforts and talents into a group with a united goal in mind. I am very impressed with GNO, Inc. and their efforts to correlate and grow the local musical industry. They are supporting the local industry not just for economy expansions, but also to recapture national appreciation for our region’s musical heritage.
Q: Are there any upcoming projects or changes you’re excited about right now?
Always. I have several shows/events coming up in New Orleans at the Smoothie King Center, Champions Square, UNO Lakefront Arena and The Fillmore, as well as at the Baton Rouge River Center and out of country in Monaco next month [September 2022] with Sting. We just finished a run in St. Barts for Sheryl Crow, B-52s, Train and Sugar Ray. We have systems out on tour in Nashville and at the Lollapalooza Festival. But one event in particular is the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which is always exciting. They are the largest fundraising event in New Orleans that helps children in many areas of need and education. Their event, Carnivale du Vin, has a silent auction, live auction for wine and trips, a 5-course dinner pairing and entertainment for folks from around the country. What makes this exciting for me is the ability to create stunning visuals using LED media and lighting. I try to create a new look every year, but still pull in a portion of an old look. It is a challenge to create a look that the audience has not seen before. But what makes this especially exciting is being able to work and be in sync with their creative staff. Between us, this event is always the best you will ever see.