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A weekend at Summer Sonic

Links to Audio-Technica interviews with front-of-house engineers and artists at Tokyo’s 2006 Summer Sonic music festival.

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Links to Audio-Technica interviews with front-of-house engineers and artists at Tokyo’s 2006 Summer Sonic music festival.

We’ve made our way to Japan to interview front-of-house engineers and artists at the Audio-Technica sponsored 2006 Tokyo Summer Sonic music festival. Audio-Technica has supplied more than 1000 microphones for the event; two of the headliners, Metallica and Linkin Park, along with many other featured artists and audio engineers, are A-T endorsers. It will be a working weekend, but I feel like a tourist the night before the festival opens, as we listen to Metallica run through several songs during a well-past-dark sound check in the mammoth Chiba Marine Stadium. While the group prepares for its first ever open-stadium performance in Tokyo, it feels like a private concert, Metallica and a few of us from A-T (it’s too dark to say for sure who else is here, but I’m only aware of a handful of spectators) in this wildly foreign time zone.

Big Mick Hughes, Front of House Engineer for Metallica
Our first handshake with Big Mick Hughes, Metallica front-of-house engineer, is after hard rain has deposited a sheet of water in the stadium. Big Mick lives up to his name, towering over us (picture Harry Potter’s Hagrid, complete with wild mane, exuberant beard, flashing eyes, English accent). When he finishes his sound check, we follow him off the platform to the stadium backstage area, up the elevator, into the spacious lounge where Metallica unwinds.

Hughes is a mentor to front-of-house engineers around the world, but he’s modest about his renown as an innovator: “What it is, I think, is I’m afforded the luxury to try pretty much anything. When you’re working for a smaller band that doesn’t have as much funding, so to speak, they have to kind of settle with what they can scrape together, whereas I have the opportunity to try many things…things that you normally wouldn’t have the time or funding to do.”

His genuine appreciation for A-T products is impossible to miss, or to mistake for a purely commercial endorsement: “I love Audio-Technica mics. The vocal mics sound stunning. You can definitely tell an Audio-Technica gig as soon as you walk into it. Absolutely. Cleaner, crisper highs.”

“We’ve had this mic package for four years now. We’ve roared tonally about the 2500. We’ve roared about the 4050s prior to that. They’re all really good and they sound really, really nice.” Check out the interview here.

The following morning, as we walk from our high-rise hotel to the festival, and in countless treks between the six stages of Summer Sonic, we encounter a more polite, benevolent, and orderly crowd than I could have predicted for a sold-out music festival.

There are further surprises for the first-time visitor to Japan. Even the traffic is considerate. Where are all the angry, impatient drivers, the tailgaters, the incessant lane changers? Cars are pristine; motorists orderly; most pedestrians have ideal posture and perfect weight. Taxis are white, with doors that open and shut automatically, and drivers dressed in coats and ties, looking like college professors up for tenure review. Then there are the Harajuku girls; these teens and young women who dress up as comic book characters and dolls don’t generate stares from the youth of Tokyo…but we find it hard to look away. Most concert-goers are dressed more simply in jeans and T-shirts, through the shirts often display English-language inscriptions that are new to me. My favorite: a young woman who looks as if she’s never eaten anything less figure-friendly than sushi wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of gigantic burger (absolutely everything on it) and one word: “Hamburger.” On back, just this: “No hamburger. No life.”

With a tight schedule, we don’t have the luxury of attending any single event front to back. Ducking in and out of several concerts, we have the good fortune to catch the Flaming Lips’ TheYeah Yeah Yeah Song. Oversized balloons float above the crowd, multiple Santa Clauses bop around on stage, streamers and confetti appear out of nowhere. “If you could watch everybody work while you just lay on your back, Would you do it?” The song’s refrain—“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”— is my answer to that question; I have acquired some nasty blisters on the bottom of my feet. Interviews, and the chairs they’re conducted on, are my salvation. Listen in on a few:

Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park and Fort Minor
“We use A-T mics on stage with Fort Minor and Linkin Park. They’ve always been reliable for sound quality and durability. In the studio, I used the 40 Series mics for some of the more unique vocal tones and some of the percussion sounds on the Fort Minor album.” Read more.

Ted Keedick, Front-of-House Engineer for Avenged Sevenfold
“My favorite A-T mic is the AT4050. I have used this mic as primary guitar mic for all my artists for the last seven years. More recently, I just love the AE6100’s for vocals and have requested them exclusively for the past 2 years. The AE3000 is a great all-around condenser, great on toms and guitar, and probably whatever you want. The AE5100 really does a nice job on cymbals, particularly hi-hat and ride.” Read more.

Eddie Mapp, Front-of-House Engineer for Taking Back Sunday
“A-T mics are indispensable. Particularly the AE2500. It's been an all-around great mic. Everything I’ve put it on, it’s always delivered. The phase coherency is amazing. How the two capsules [dynamic and condenser] interact is amazing—it’s all constructive between the two.” Read more.

Paul Massaro, Front-of-House Engineer for Andrew W. K.
“You come across Audio-Technica mics every once in a while, usually on bigger tours. It seems that’s where they show up more rather than smaller venues, where they usually just have older mics and whatever. It’s always a joy when you see some nice Audio-Technica mics up there—you know your guitar’s going to sound exactly how your guitar sounds, so you won’t have to do much EQing. It’s unfortunate they’re not in more of the smaller clubs where you actually need that because the boards are usually pretty sub-par, so if you had a great mic, it would be perfect. Hopefully we will always have Audio-Technica now, so we’ll be ahead of the game there.” Read more.

Dave “Big Shirt” Nicholls, Front-of-House Engineer for Stone Sour
“The first time I ever encountered an A-T mic was in ‘96 when I was working for Corrosion of Conformity. We were opening for Metallica—I’ve known Big Mick probably 25-26 years. He was using 4050s, and he basically said, ‘You need to try this.’ And then I tried it. I loved it, you know.” Read more.

Paul Owen, Monitor Engineer for Metallica
“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.” Read more.

Mo Russell, Front-of-House Engineer
"I love the AE4100 for vocals. I think it sounds great. And I love the AE2500 on guitars…they’re perfectly phase-aligned. You never have to worry about phase, so your tone’s always right there and up front." Read more.

Heading home
We’re back at Narita, waiting to board our flight to Newark. An exuberant three-year-old Japanese boy leaves his parents almost out of sight and races to the empty seat beside me. He is thrilled with a new acquisition, a glowing beetle sticker, and shrieks with delight, showing it off to me and the grandfatherly-type to his right. When I admire the bug, he replies (my friend translates), “I can’t understand your American,” and dodges back to his family. Five minutes later the child reappears with another sticker, a tiny heart, which he shyly gives to me. I imagine he forgets this generosity before takeoff, but I’ve been back on American soil for weeks now, and the blisters have all vanished, but the blue paper heart remains. A fitting souvenir from a memorable weekend at Summer Sonic.