Jim Fay on Sculpting the Sound of Entertainment
By Carol Badaracco Padgett
Georgia is now home to another entertainment ace. ICP, an Atlanta-based events services heavyweight with world-class audio production at its core, has gained the expertise and project management skills of audio veteran Jim Fay as vice president of business development.
With a career spanning over four decades, Fay has worked for several, notable, entertainment companies and providers. Fay states, “When I was 16, I was fortunate enough to be hired at a weekend job fair for the Walt Disney company in Orlando, FL. I landed in the entertainment division and eventually moved into broadcast television known as Film and Tape. Unlike larger markets where it is typical to get pigeon-holed into a particular genre, it was all hands on deck for every show shooting at Disney MGM Studios. For young up and comers like me, our training ground shifted weekly from soap operas, sit-coms, game shows and music videos to enormous press events and live entertainment in the parks. By my late 20’s I had the amazing opportunity to be the Audio A1 Mixer for The Mickey Mouse Club, All My Children, Wheel of Fortune, Full House, Star Search and so many more. It was baptism by fire for all of us, but we rose to the occasion and came out seasoned, flexible problem solvers who could accomplish anything!”
During that time, Fay had an opportunity to work on the audio/communications crew for a decade plus of Super Bowl Halftime Shows. He eventually left Disney and joined Masque Sound & Recording, a Broadway based company with its corporate division in Orlando. He was immediately deployed onto the World Cup Soccer event. By 2002 Masque Sound New Jersey brought Fay to the home office as an Audio Project Manager/Mixer. The desire to migrate west prompted a short stint in Las Vegas where Fay entered the freelance corporate market and the world of Cirque du Soleil. Two years later he was recruited by ATK Versacom in Southern California to serve as Operations Manager/Comms Tech and was eventually promoted to General Manager of the Comms division of ATK Audiotek. During his time with ATK Fay was fortunate enough to work on The Oscars, Grammys, CMA’s, The Voice, American Idol, to name a few, becoming a four time Emmy Award winner for both audio and communications.
When asked about his new role at ICP, a full-service provider including audio and communications Fay simply states, “It’s all coming to Georgia, baby.”
Georgia Entertainment sat down with Fay to learn about the state of the art of audio, ICP’s industry-leading focus and passion, technology’s latest mind-blowing advances, and why the audio veteran with four decades under his belt sees Georgia as the globe’s next creative frontier.
GE: What drew you to ICP—and what does the company do differently, from your long-running vantage point in the audio industry?
Fay: What attracted me to ICP was Jay Rabbit [founder, president and CEO] and his team. He absolutely stands for customer service and excellence. Jay, who started this company back in 1980, and Todd [Landsiedel, senior vice president of operations], his first employee, are still here together. Todd is his right-hand man.
I started doing business with Jay back in 2011 and have enjoyed our relationship. Jay has continued to say to me over those 12 years, ‘Jimmy, don’t miss it. It’s all coming out here. He’s been absolutely right, and he will continue to be—even more so.
His vision includes training the freelance [workforce] to use the gear we provide. We offer classes for them, because we figured out a long time ago, if the labor pool that surrounds you is onboard with how you work, with a real [ability] to perform at the highest level you will be successful. Producers and executives expect excellence—you’re only as good as your last show. That’s the truth in this industry. So, Jay is adamant about training … on any new gear we buy.
GE: Tell us about the area of the events business at ICP that falls into your wheelhouse here in Georgia. And what pulled you into the business here in the first place?
I decided to jump into the business development role to help build confidence in the Georgia Market. In my earlier days living in Florida, I experienced first-hand the expectation from LA’s above the line creatives that talent did not exist beyond California’s borders. Fast forward to 20 years later, the Florida film and television labor pool had risen to the top of the LA contingency due to the diversity of projects they supported back in Orlando. The same is true of Georgia. There is tremendous talent here, and the Georgia market has staying power. Everybody wants to watch the big guy, and we’re the big guy. We’re building this new division, which illustrates Jay’s commitment to the industry.
Jay has seen for years that there’s a need for the intercom portion of the business to grow, catch up, and advance as the shows coming here are getting more and more complex. For this reason, I have taken on the intercom venture to help fill a much-needed gap.
The producers coming [into Atlanta] from LA are saying ‘WOW! We can be doing this from Georgia? These people are nice, and they have all the same stuff.’ We have the infrastructure here—and it’s growing.
It takes years to get where LA is, but the Georgia Entertainment Investment Act and [organizations like] Georgia Entertainment News are luring big productions here. Hats off to the state of Georgia for realizing [the need for] the tax credit and investing in the infrastructure … Georgia is now the one to watch.
GE: The broadcast media landscape has changed immensely over the past two decades alone, and you’ve been in the business for 40+ years. What are some of the most fascinating global developments you’ve witnessed in technology?
Fay: Being part of the changes in the industry has been amazing.
And yes, my career spans a long range in this business. I’d say [these areas] immediately come to mind: the ability to do VOIP (voice over internet protocol) for intercom. I’ve been an audio guy the majority of my life, and in the last 15-18 years I made the jump to intercom. So, for me, watching the growth of intercom and communications has been amazing. I never imagined you would be able to do intercom over IP.
In the throes of the pandemic an entire industry came to a grinding halt; we were doing a show for American Idol [at the time]. And hats off to American Idol, specifically mixer Sean Prickett and ATK’s comms engineer Juan Gallardo, because they figured out a way to remotely engineer the show’s production on the internet.
So, the audio, video and comms department heads got together at this warehouse in LA, and we started building kits—a little mixer, preamps, etc., and they[we] shipped them all over the country to the contestants. The singers(s) and musician(s) could plug into equipment which connected them to the internet. This allowed the show host to talk to the contestants. So essentially, American Idol said, ‘We’re not going to let this pandemic stop us.’
To me, the determination of that production group to not let that kick them and hold them down—they did it. [And then] The Voice did it … and the video guys could work from home. We’d provide the coms in a kit in the mail and give them a cheat sheet like we did for Idol, and they just had to follow it.
Another thing: Digital Audio and Comms. It took a while for the audio and comms departments to embrace the power of “digital”. But once they did, there was no looking back. As an example, the ability to change channels on a device with a keystroke, has been a game changer, not only for the comms engineer but the entertainment industry as a whole. Think of it..The show engineer can now program their entire show on the plane on the way to the job. Once on site, shoot the file into the equipment and off you go. It’s a beautiful thing!
We need to open our minds for the industry to move forward. Because as [new technologies] become commonplace, the productions want to use it – it saves time, lightens loads, and speeds up load ins and load outs.
GE: Tell us about some current ICP projects you’re excited about. And how is Atlanta, specifically, accommodating these projects?
Fay: So, for productions that go on for months, like game shows, we do a lot of them here in Atlanta, there’s lots of sound stage space. Family Feud went on for four months. Think about the amount of labor employed that had work for all that time. We want that, because we want the talented tech people to want to be here.
Atlanta is the way it is [because production] is easy to do, and it’s starting to lure the creative folks out here. Lions Gate studios is a perfect example. The facility is located in
Atlanta and has 500,000 sq ft of studio space spread among 12 soundstages. It opens later this year (2023).
Above all else, [if nothing else pulls them in], when people get here it’s the Southern hospitality that grabs them. It’s real. [The South is] kind of a hidden gem.