Relix 44: Audio Engineer Derek Featherstone
photo by Jay Blakesberg
Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on Relix.com throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.
Sonic Drive: Derek Featherstone and UltraSound
The second day of this past summer’s Dead & Company tour also represented a first for the band’s front of house audio engineer Derek Featherstone. While he was in the midst of a line check at the venue before the show, his lawyers were closing a deal that would enable him to become CEO of UltraSound, the California-based sound provider where he had been employed for the previous 30 years.
Featherstone, who grew up in New Jersey, began working on production for school plays in the sixth grade. When he was 18, he relocated to Northern California and during a 12-month stint while he established the in-state residency that would allow him to attend UC Berkeley at a reduced rate, he connected with some local bands. Then, while still an undergrad, he took to road with The Looters, a politically charged reggae-funk collective, who were starting to gain an international following. He ended up graduating from college as an English major—the quickest path to a degree, even though his initial studies were in engineering and physics—and started the next phase of his career at UltraSound.
Over the years to follow, he traveled with Primus, Tracy Chapman and Dave Matthews Band, while also running sound for a series of one-off clients. Featherstone eventually took on duties for the Grateful Dead’s family of bands and will continue in this role for the foreseeable future. However, a new opportunity presented itself in 2017 when UltraSound owner Drew Serb decided to retire, enabling Featherstone and fellow industry vet Ralph Mastrangelo to purchase the enterprise. (Mastrangelo will serve as COO.)
Moving forward, they will continue to take inspiration from Dead & Company, which decided— just a few days before the close of summer tour—to switch Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti’s spots on stage in order to facilitate musical connections, which necessitated some nimble thinking by the crew.
Featherstone acknowledges, “That’s one of the reasons I stay working with these guys. It’s a crazy environment, it’s complicated, but they have a similar drive to make it better every day.”
This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interview, album reviews and more, subscribe here.