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A-T interview with Linkin Park FOH & Monitor Engineer

On a busy Summer Sonic day, Linkin Park Front-of-House (FOH) engineer Ken “Pooch” Van Druten and Monitor Engineer Kevin “Tater” McCarthy took time to sit down with us for a talk.

On a busy Summer Sonic day, Linkin Park Front-of-House (FOH) engineer Ken “Pooch” Van Druten and Monitor Engineer Kevin “Tater” McCarthy took time to sit down with us for a talk.

Audio-Technica: How long have each of you been with Linkin Park?

Ken “Pooch” Van Druten: Three years, we started at the same time. Actually he did a couple of shows before I did, so he’s probably three and a half.

Audio-Technica: And where did you guys come from prior to that?

Kevin “Tater” McCarthy: Together we did Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, and Puddle of Mud.

Pooch: Prior to that, he was doing Godsmack and Judas Priest. And let’s see, I was doing Kid Rock and KISS. And System of a Down and that kind of stuff.

Audio-Technica: Obviously you guys work together, but how much communication do you have on a daily basis being front-of-house and monitor? How intertwined are your gigs?

Pooch: I’d like to believe that it is pretty intertwined, but I have to say on a day-to-day thing we each know what each other is doing now, especially with this band. So communication is like, “Hey, you ready to go? Okay, cool.”

Audio-Technica: Who’s got the harder gig?

Pooch: Tater for sure. Monitor guys always [have the harder gig]—the physical work and the prep, making sure that every single frequency’s clean, making sure that all the microphones are working properly and cleaned, and ready for the artist.

Audio-Technica: So Tater, how did you get your start in audio?

Tater: I started out as a bass player in a band in junior high and high school, and by the time we were in high school we actually owned our own P.A. system. I got more involved in that angle than playing, and it just evolved from that.

Audio-Technica: So mostly all on-the-job training.

Tater: 100%

Audio-Technica: And yourself?

Pooch: I’ve been a musician all my life. I started playing classical piano when I was three years old and went to boarding schools in high school that were performing arts boarding schools. When I was in high school I won a couple of competitions, my band won a couple of competitions, and ended up in a recording studio. I really enjoyed watching what the recording engineer was doing and really didn’t give a shit about what I was playing, it was like—I want to do what that guy does. I went on to Berklee College of Music for five years and got a Bachelors degree in Music Production and Engineering. Then I moved back to Los Angeles and started working as a studio guy. Worked as a studio producer and engineer for years and then got a chance to do live shows and fell in love with the whole instant gratification, 10,000 people screaming for what you’re doing.

Audio-Technica: That’s a common theme, too. You can’t go back; there’s no fixing the mix.

Pooch: Well, it’s interesting, because for me it’s come full circle. Now I’m doing this recording stuff for Linkin Park and releasing—anything that’s live out there is a mix that I’ve done—so I’m now right back to being a recording engineer and a live sound guy.

It’s a little bit different now that we’re in Japan and elsewhere, because there just isn’t physically time for me to do that. So what happens is that when we go home, I mix all the shows that we were just at, and they extend their delivery times by a month. They say okay, you’re not going to get the show that was recorded, you’re not going to get it in 8 days, which is what we’d normally do; you’re going to get it in a month and a half.

Audio-Technica: I remember you telling me before that there are fans that actually will compare your mixes from show to show.

Pooch: Yes. There’s this, and they’ll be like I don’t remember, or you must have turned the guitar up in that section because it wasn’t that way live, or whatever. They’re pretty sharp about that. So anyway, a day in the life for me normally outside of here, in the U.S., is 8:30 a.m. go in, start mixing a previous show on some Near-Fields, mixing that all the way through until about 7 o’clock at night, take a break for lunch or whatever. Sometimes if I get a chance I’ll go out in the afternoon to take a break to go hear the P.A., but I really have to count a lot on my systems engineer, more so than I ever have. He’s the one that sets it all up, he’s the one that tunes the P.A., he’s the one that does all those things that I normally do. I happen to have a great systems guy and I trust him fully, so it allows me to do the mixing all the way to 7, go have dinner for an hour, and then go out and mix a live show. That’s my day.

Audio-Technica: That’s crazy. So you get to see a lot of the city, do a little touring.

Pooch: (laughs)

Audio-Technica: So what are some specific challenges that you face in monitor world? Obviously having ended up as the monitor dude you’re doing something right and you’re doing something that the artists dig, right?

Tater: I hope so.

Audio-Technica: Isn’t that pretty rough?

Tater: Absolutely, it’s the hardest job. Think about how many times an artist has heard their own song. A million times in the studio. They know it so intimately it’s scary, they go, “Oh, that one little hi-hat thing, turn that up a little bit.”

Audio-Technica: And if someone like Tater can make them happy in that situation then man, I have total, absolute respect.

Tater: I’d say especially these guys because they’re very studio savvy, very ProTools savvy, they’re very educated. They want it to be right and expect it to be right.

Audio-Technica: Any other challenges? It seems like you’re kind of juggling a lot of things out there.

Tater: I’d say it’s a lot of things, but the frequency coordination probably now is the biggest hurdle of the day.

Audio-Technica: Have things gotten better or worse for you since DTV switchover?

Tater: I would say worse. But I’ve really only done one show in the United States this year.

Audio-Technica: Well the good news is all those analog stations got turned off.

Tater: They’re finally off. So hopefully that’s going to free up some bit of the spectrum.

Audio-Technica: But that’s another aspect that 10, 15 years ago you didn’t have to worry about.

Tater: You never even thought about it. The job is moving 100% into something that you didn’t even think about 15 years ago.

Pooch: We always talk about how there’s guys out there that just set up their stuff and turn it on. I don’t know how they get away with that. I think eventually it catches up to them. They’ll have a show where it’s just a disaster. But it’s our #1 priority and concern—making sure that our artist has clean frequencies for wireless.

Audio-Technica: With in-ears and all the wireless and guitars, how many frequencies are you juggling typically a show?

Tater: I think we’re at 28. Oh, actually we’re in the 30s now with DBS.

Audio-Technica: That’s a challenge. Not a ton for a theater, but that’s ridiculous for a rock show.

Pooch: Yeah, especially when you’re coming into a festival situation where there’s a million other people, there’s video frequencies, there’s all kinds of stuff.

Tater: There’s I don’t know how many bands on the bill today, 5 or 6, and you’ve got to know everything that they’re all doing, all day.

Audio-Technica: And you don’t know when they’re turning on and off –

Tater: Exactly. Constant communication with them and what’s going on.

Audio-Technica: Linkin Park has been an A-T supported band for quite some time. Any specific products that stand out to you guys?

Pooch: Every single mic on stage is an A-T product. And so obviously we like it, otherwise we wouldn’t be using it. I think the real standouts for me are the old school AT4050s, just a great large diaphragm microphone. I find I put it in front of anything and whatever’s coming out of it, I like: the electric signal is an exact match for the acoustic pickup.

Audio-Technica: And what are you using those on?

Pooch: Guitars, overheads. Along with that we use the 4047s on guitar.

Tater: I like the hi-hat mic, the ATM450. It’s one of my newer favorite mics. Especially for the in-ears because sometimes the high end gets real splashy in the in-ears.

Pooch: And for placement, the side address is awesome.

Audio-Technica: How’s the stuff been holding up for you on the road?

Pooch: Great.

Tater: I think the only problems we’ve had so far was we ripped that cable and we were near Ohio when we did it, and you replaced it right at the shop that day. On an ATM350.

Pooch: I don’t think we’ve had any other issues.

Tater: And we don’t treat them any way special, I’ll tell you that.

Pooch: Well, we try to.

Tater: We try to. When you’re doing these festivals they’re getting ripped down and ripped off, we leave them on the guitars and there’s just guys throwing lids on them.

Pooch: Yeah, our 4050s and our 4047s ride in the guitar racks themselves.

Audio-Technica: Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

Pooch: I think that the most important thing—and a lot of people fail on this when they first start out in this business—is you have to have a passion for this more than anything. You have to be ready to live in a studio apartment and eat ramen noodles for five years. It’s funny to meet all these recording schools that just turn out dudes that are expecting to be mixers right when they walk out the door, you know? So I would say there are kids that I see that have a passion and have a desire and whatever it takes will go the long mile to make it, and I see one out of ten of those kids and I go okay, I’m going to see that kid for the next 20 years.

Audio-Technica: You can tell.

Tater: You can tell right away. In any position, really. Audio, backline, lighting, you can see it.

Audio-Technica: Any comments from you [to Tater]?

Tater: I’m sure there’s lots of things probably.

Pooch: Keep the mics clean. Sanitized. Sanitize the microphones.

Tater: I do that about ten times a day. We need to mention we’re using the M3 now for the backline guys.

Audio-Technica: Oh yeah, the M3 ear monitor system.

Tater: We are using M3 for all of our backline ears.

Audio-Technica: Obviously that’s some of those 32 channels that you’re coordinating.

Pooch: Indeed.

Audio-Technica: We put the in-ear systems on separate bands from our other wireless. So hopefully that helps.

Tater: Yeah, it does actually. We don’t have much problem with that. And the sound is great.

Pooch: We couldn’t ask for anything more out of the vendor or a company. When you make comments and they respond positively to it, and then the next generation you go oh, they did it. That’s cool.

Tater: There’s nothing worse when they don’t. You’re seeing the same problem and somebody else is having the same problem, you talk to another monitor guy or front of house guy and they’ve got the same problem, you’re going, “I said something about that a year ago, they haven’t fixed it?” “Nope.” Nothing worse than that.

Audio-Technica: That’s good. Do you guys find yourselves doing anything to maintain the health of your ears?

Tater: I do more now than ever, yeah.

Pooch: Yeah, me too.

Tater: Constant earplugs where you’re working with bands all day. Constant earplugs.

Audio-Technica: Is that maybe one of these tips you’d tell these young kids?

Tater: Absolutely.

Pooch: Protect your ears.

Tater: Not just around musical stuff, around anything. I notice now I get on an airplane, sometimes the speaker will be right on my head and the stewardess is screaming down and it’s feeding back, or you’re loading the truck and people are dropping load bars, how loud is that when you’re in the truck? All that kind of stuff, it all plays into it. The other day this guy right after the show was banging on this metal truss with a metal hammer, it was more than 130 dB, right next to me after a show. All that stuff now I’m very conscious of. I wasn’t before; I just played through.

Pooch: I’m the same way. I wear earplugs every opportunity when I’m not mixing. The only time I’m not wearing earplugs, especially around music, is when I’m mixing my band.

Tater: That would be a good tip for younger guys.

Pooch: Yeah, protect your ears for sure.