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A-T interview with Paul Owen, Metallica Monitor Engineer

“The AE2500 is one of the best mics that has ever come into this business. Considering so many people put condensers and dynamics together in guitar you never get it right. That is just an amazing bit of engineering.” Paul Owen, Monitor Engineer for Metallica

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Audio-Technica: One of the things we like to do when we talk to people is not make it an Audio-Technica commercial, but make it useful so someone reading it can take something out of it—maybe someone who’s starting out as an engineer, or who is currently an engineer. Is there any advice would you give people starting out in this business?

Paul Owen: Funny you should say that, because my own son has just graduated Full Sail. One thing I didn’t want him to do is come and work for me straight away. He keeps going back to the lecturers at school looking for work, and they’re telling him he’s crazy: ‘You need to go and work for your dad. He’ll give you the best experience that anybody can give you.’

I worked for my father when I was a kid, and I hated it. I said to my son, ‘You can come into the shop.’ But I don’t want to have anything to do with him at work. When I come home, I go through his day, and ask him what he has learned. And I say, ‘This is what you should do. Write this down, copy these manuals. When you wire something, make a journal and write everything down because most people don’t do that, so I’m advising you to do it.’ So he’s getting off-campus training of what I think he should do. I want him to record what he has learned, to be able to go back to it as a reference.

The real-world stuff.
I’m sending him on a big festival, he’s going to wire and mic the stage for five bands, and I’m teaching him how to prepare for the changeovers by letting his local crew know in advance what changes have to happen such as, these two wedges move here, these microphones move--and have a plan before you go into it, instead of just complete chaos.

How did you get started in this crazy business?
I was a DJ when I was 14. By time I was 16, we'd built such a big PA for the audio—it was big PAs then for disco—then local bands started coming to us to rent it. It went on from there. The sound company I started when I was 16 still functions in England. It’s ironic that I came out of it, and spent years touring as an engineer and now I’m running an audio company again.

You’ve come full circle.
Probably end up being a DJ. (laughs). They say you go back to your childhood.

Starting a company at 16, you obviously were pretty on the ball at that age.
I started looking at the industry from different side, and Mick [Big Mick Hughes, FOH engineer for Metallica] will vouch for me on this. I honestly think that the equipment as it is now, and the people that are coming into the industry, there’s a certain amount of integrity that you have to have as an engineer. You have to believe in your own ears. You have to put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I’ve tried this, I’ve tried that and this is the best.’ There are engineers coming in today’s world, out of school, who have never stacked a PA, never worked on anything but a digital board. You throw them outside of that, and dive them into an analog system and have them stack a PA, they’re going to be lost. They really are.

What is your favorite Audio-Technica microphone?
The AE2500 is one of the best mics that has ever come into this business. Considering so many people put condensers and dynamics together in guitar you never get it right. That is just an amazing bit of engineering. It’s just a perfect application for what we use it for…go straight in the middle you never go out of phase, you never have a problem.

You have to have a certain amount of consistency and it has to come from the source. So therefore when you start with a mic package, we carry it everywhere, regardless. We don’t go, ‘Oh, whatever you’ve got, send it.’ Even if we’re doing a TV show we always bring out our own mics, regardless of whether the producer says, ‘We want this, we want that.’ Well, run another cable, because we’re using this.

We won’t use anything else. Even if we’re doing a club, I still take the iso boxes and I set up the 2500 and I don’t care what it is …I’m using it, that’s it, period. There’s no compromise on it.

When we first took on the endorsement how many years ago? 7, 8 years ago. I think you’ve pushed the envelope [since then] because you’ve put it in front of engineers who really do care about tone quality. You know what I mean? You’ve come to the forefront; people are starting to copy what you do. You’ve become leaders.